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When a feature appeared on the BBC One Show about the ubiquitous Mirror dinghy, I was transfixed. I grew up sailing this exciting little boat and have very fond memories of the successes and failures encountered on the waters around Great Britain as I learned to love the nautical life.

Sailing Phenomenon

I enjoyed many days afloat in this marvellous plywood construction. I began sailing, at a very young age, as crew to my father. We enjoyed considerable success and were crowned Scottish Mirror Champions on at least two occasions.

We also achieved a creditable result in the National Championships in Newquay and came 14th in the European Mirror Championships in Wexford.

Barry Bucknell, Jack Holt and the Mirror Newspaper

Sailing wasn’t a cheap hobby. Boats were built by hand by craftsmen, however one man dreamt of making sailing accessible to just about anybody.

Barry Bucknell DIY Sailor
Barry Bucknell Dream

By designing a boat that was affordable to ordinary folks. He was Barry Bucknell, the BBC’s very own DIY guru, a man usually seen on dry-land. Yet, in 1962, Bucknell began drawing up plans for what became the Mirror Dinghy.

I’ve come here to the annual gathering of Mirror sailors to find out how Barry Bucknell’s boat became the most widely-owned two-person sailing dinghy in the world.

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Dougal Henschel has researched the origins of this boat and its links with the daily paper.

Dougal Henschel “Barry Bucknell – Mr DIY, goes to the pub with the BBC team and there were other people there from the Mirror who picked up on the story that Barry Bucknell was designing and building his own boat.”

In post-war Britain, the idea of owning your own boat was highly fashionable, so the Mirror newspaper put up the money to develop Bucknell’s plans.

On the condition that the boat was named after the newspaper and its sails were red after its logo. With the aid of dinghy expert Jack Holt he devised the first kit boat which anybody could build at home.

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The little boat with the Big heart

Dougal Henschel “Everything came in a box, you took the book of words and you built yourself a boat.”

Dougal at Mirror Bow
Dougal Henschel

The key design feature of the Mirror dinghy was the lack of a traditional pointed bow.

Dougal Henschel “The hardest part of building any boat is getting that pointed shape at the front. By putting this flat panel in, you take away over half the complexity of the whole task. You stitch the two panels together with bits of copper wire and then lay a strip of glassfibre tape along that and you’ve made the joint.”

The first Mirror kits sold for just £63, about £800 in today’s money.

Dougal Henschel “They took the idea of building a boat and made it into something that anybody could build, didn’t need to be a boatbuilder, you didn’t need to be a woodworker, you could make one of these in your lounge in 100 hours in the winter.

Mirror Dinghy Success

And the great thing was you could turn it upside down and put it on the roof of your car and drive around with it, and they did. It wasn’t long before these were selling at the rate of over 250 a month.”

Mirror Newspaper Article
Mirror Newspaper

Mirror mania swept the shores of Britain within only a few years.

Suddenly, suburban garages up and down the country were filled with the sound of planing, sawing and hammering. The Mirror is now over 50 years old. And its appeal hasn’t aged a bit.

But, this little boat is capable of high performance sailing. And the popularity of the Mirror dinghy was accompanied by the rise of sailing as a competitive sport. Today, Britain has more Olympic gold medals in sailing than any other nation.

Dougal Henschel “It’s a little boat with a huge heart. It sails like a big boat. You learn skills in one of these, you’ve got good skills that will take you right the way through life.”

However, the Mirror Dinghy was an important part of my life. Indeed, it was an important part of many people’s lives. This was a hugely popular little sailing vessel. Sadly, I don’t see them very often these days.

Finally, I remember one occasion, off the west coast of Scotland, where we sailed through a vast shoal of jellyfish. I’m fairly certain they weren’t Golden Jellyfish.

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