by lan Proctor RDI FCSD (deceased), designer of the Kestrel.
The Kestrel has the distinction of being the first sailing boat to be built in this country entirely of glass reinforced plastics. The first Kestrel was exhibited at the Boat Show in January 1956 and created a lot of favourable comment in the plastics’ magazines, though yachting journals were not enthusiastic about the material at that
A few timber Kestrels had previously been built and were sailing in Cornwall, but I particularly remember the sailing trials of the first reinforced plastics version. The boat was completed in the very early hours of a December night in Wales. The next day we trailed her through the Welsh Mountains to Llangorse Lake. We launched her in a gale which drove the snow horizontally across the lake. It was perishing cold and the lake seemed very lonely, as we could see nothing but flying snow and the dark wind-lashed water, but the trials were quite successful. On the return journey across the Brecon Mountains we got completely stuck in a snow drift and had to abandon the boat, where she remained for a week at over 1,400 feet.
Unfortunately, in the early days, plastic boat building met a fair degree of mistrust, which was not altogether unfounded, as it was common for plastics firms to endeavour to design their own boats and for most boat designers to know little about plastics. The Kestrel did not prosper in its plastic form and was virtually shelved for the time being. It was not until John Gmach’s firm at Fordingbridge asked to build the Kestrel that real progress was made. This firm had already a sound reputation for workmanship in the material, and the boat went into proper production with very few modifications. The Kestrel class must be grateful to John Gmach for building its boats to high standards for 25 years, including the introduction of a new Mark II version, with, the side decks running right through to the transom, instead of an aft deck.
In 1988 Martin Services in Essex purchased the moulds and was licensed as sole builder of Kestrels. Further small design amendments were made at this stage and Rod Martin modified the moulds to bring construction up to date and make assembly stronger and easier. His enthusiasm for the boat and the hard work and financial investment he has put in to modernize the construction, fitting out and finish to raise building standards to the current high level, has resulted in a dramatic upsurge in the numbers built annually. The class can look forward with confidence to a successful future with this new builder, but it also owes a great deal to past, present (and, no doubt, future) Kestrel Owners Association Committees, for all their hard work steering the class in the right direction. The Kestrel was designed and always intended to be a boat of reasonably high performance, but not a flat-out speed-at-all-costs type. She was intended to appeal to people who wished to race with their families sometimes, and to give them a chance to compete on even terms without needing to have crews of extreme athletic ability. Obviously, the performance of the Kestrel could be still further hotted-up by giving her more sail area, perhaps with a bigger spinnaker and trapeze and in numerous other ways, but this would destroy the chances of racing success by many people who now sail and enjoy Kestrels. This is the reason why, in the past, I have opposed some changes which have been suggested, but my thoughts on this matter are merely guides and the final decisions on such matters must be taken by the Class Association, which now largely controls the way in which the class will develop.
May I wish all Kestrel owners, both present and future, happy sailing and good competition.