The Scorpion was designed by Taprell Dorling, at a time when DIY was the up and coming thing. Accordingly, it was originally intended to be home-built, and made of wood.
The prototype was launched at Porthpean Sailing Club (near St Austell) in 1960. It was designed to be launched through the Cornish surf, with integral buoyancy tanks, and to be sailed in all but the worst of weather. With its hard chine and planing hull, it has more than fulfilled its promise as a lightweight high-performance, non-trapeze 3 sailed boat, which is both exhilarating and relatively forgiving.
The class has allowed some development over the years, as well as visual changes in side tank layout. The more recent introduction of a fully raking rig has enabled crews of different weights to handle the boat with ease in both light and heavy weather, and has allowed the boat to be sailed competitively in handicap fleets across ALL weather conditions.
With occasional individual exceptions, the traditional Scorpion has been made of wood, but the high specification and resilience of the design has resulted in many of the older boats retaining their performance for 10, 20 or even greater numbers of years.
The class now has a fully competitive foam sandwich construction boat available alongside the traditional wooden construction, with both types of materials widening the appeal of the class without compromising the competitiveness of either method of construction.
Over 2000 boats have now been built and although the basic boat has remained the same, there have been considerable changes in rig control systems and certain other features, including experiments with different materials. It is difficult to date these developments accurately, so in the next few paragraphs, where a change is related to a sail number range, – this is only very approximate.
Early boats (up to approx 700) had a full-height bow tank, a stern tank, and no spinnaker chute. The rig was fixed; boats had a single spinnaker pole; and otherwise fairly simple controls including a conventional end-mainsheet, and they were almost exclusively wooden. Many of these boats would have been home made. By 1967 the stern tank had disappeared and about the same time the conventional fixed point centre-mainsheet had become the standard. Around 1000-1100 there were various attempts at utilising GRP either for the entire boat, or for just the hull – with wooden decks, but generally these were not successful and the idea soon died out.
Circa 1300, spinnaker chutes had appeared, engineered as a tube through the (still full) bow tank. In 1972, 1329 was the first wooden boat to adopt the split bow tank (half height), and 1349 had adopted a more comfortable side-tank shape, both copying the design of the GRP boats of the time. Some boats were experimenting with travellers or tracks across the thwarts, or with a Laser-style centre/end sheeting system with a block fixed to the transom. And, with the advent of the chute, the normal position for the jib tack moved from the bow to a point behind the chute.
The Irish builder Trevor Stewart entered the scene at this stage producing three successive (and successful) designs between hulls 1300 – 1880. Evolution generally continued, and boats of this period featured single-ended single-pole spinnaker systems, round-topped “Loveday” hoops to carry an extra centre-main purchase, and shroud levers or fixed-position adjusters.
1812 was the first boat built by Jon Turner and in several respects it “broke the mould”. Turner used the build tolerances to produce a flatter hull behind the bow, one which planes more quickly than the original vee-shape, and which sails better upwind in waves (whereas the older shape does better inland). 1812 also introduced the first square hoop, and Turner’s quality was a challenge which other builders had to meet. From here on the quality improvements in build and finish produced boats which are very attractive to look at as well as to sail, although prices became very hard to swallow for a while.
Almost all later boats (1880 onwards) are the “new shape” (Turner’s) or close to it, but it does vary with builder. Most boats after 1880 “Shockwave” have a rig which can be raked while afloat, which makes the boat more manageable in heavy weather. Poles are now usually double-ended single poles; the square hoop has been overtaken by the end-main with split-mainsheet; and the centreboard is usually pivoted at the front edge. Some boats are also equipped with a “stuff luff” for the last word in sophisticated control.
Later on, some hulls (1940/50’s) were constructed of foam sandwich, but the majority of boats have remained wooden, and the latest “innovation” is to reinstate the full bow tank and remove the chute. This is claimed to lighten the bow to promote early planing and upwind speed, although it forces a return to spinnaker bags which some argue makes handling slower – time will tell !
In 2000, Specialised Marine produced a new prototype plastic boat (1973). Now being produced by Pinnell & Bax, these boats are performing well, and have won the Nationals for the last 4 years. In 2008 the class also approved the use of laminate sails. Wooden hulls still predominate, but there is now little to choose between wood and foam for performance.