Tasar: A Bethwaite Legacy

This section is an extract from the book “Tasar: A Bethwaite Legacy” and has been reproduced with the kind permission of the author Elizabeth Kemmis.


In March 1975 the first set of Tasar moulds were shipped from Montreal to Performance Sailcraft’s Banbury plant in England. Three weeks later the first boats were coming off the line. Subsequently, several more sets of moulds were received and this allowed the British plant to produce thirteen boats per week.

In early January 1976 Frank attended the New York and Toronto Boat Shows with Ian Bruce from Performance Sailcraft. Simultaneously, the London Boat Show was being handled by Paul Davies, CEO of PSUK. There they took 72 orders. Paul was a tremendous enthusiast for the Tasar and success was immediate.

Tragically, within a few months, Paul died in a car accident. He was succeeded at PSUK by John Heath.  Within three more years Performance failed financially. In the UK , the Tasar, launched successfully with high hopes, had not been supported, had not been delivered and was no longer being built.

Peter and Mary Brewer, who ran Signal Locker, a chandlery near the Queen Mary reservoir, took on the Tasar and were fundamental in driving its growth in the UK.

In 1978 Peter and Mary organised for Frank to visit the UK. There he sailed, and joined a UK group of Tasar sailors and their friends on a visit to Kralingse Plas, near Rotterdam, Holland. There they started the European interest.

For the next twenty years Peter and Mary Brewer were the cement behind the Tasar in UK. Various association committee members such as Oliver Halford and others like him were administratively sound, but Peter and Mary were always there. Sometime in the 1990s Peter Brewer, during a business trip in France, died of a heart attack.  Mary carried on for many years then sold Signal Locker to Mandy Stock.


In 1981, the Australian class, moving towards national pre-eminence, conducted its first World Championships. Because of personnel and address changes, contact had been temporarily  lost with the UK Association, so the 1981 Worlds were a USA/Canadian/Australian gathering.

In late 1982, Mary Paddon, the North American President, made contact with Ivan Labrun, the UK Secretary and since then communication between the UK/North American and Australian Associations had been fluent.

TANSW President, Phillip Rowe found himself in London for Christmas 1983. Included in his schedule were visits to members of the TAUK committee and visiting Queen Mary Sailing Club for the ‘Bloody Mary’ Regatta and the London Boat Show. Since the re-establishment of communication with TAUK there had been several Sydney Tasar owners calling in to London and he believed the periodic injection of Australian enthusiasm was having a cumulative effect.

Phillip felt that, regrettably, the demise of PSUK and cessation of Tasar building left the British market with a dose of uncertainty about the future of the class. This was a phase which he thought would pass rapidly upon the recommencement of UK production. A concerted effort was being made by Frank to find the right builder.

In the years since the Tasar first made its appearance in the UK, there appeared to be no other class of any significance which evolved as competition for the Tasar and hence it was the same collection of established and out of date classes against which the Tasar was evaluated , principally the Enterprise.

The Tasar had the image of a good performer, but a little difficult to handle. Poor quality of early Tasars was remembered. Very significant was the shrinking of the dinghy market under the onslaught of sailboards and the weak economy. All classes were competing for a reduced demand.

Nevertheless, is was felt that one could not escape a feeling of optimism that the ‘newness’ of the Tasar was what would unlock a demand for new boats as soon as UK production was recommenced.

Frank again visited the UK in mid 1983, this time to find a new builder. He decided to use the RYA’s standard procedure in advertising for the builder.

After due process  John Pollitt of JEP Marine was selected. Much technical information flowed back and forth. Phil Maloney who laminated the Australian Tasars, visited John the following January to help with practical detail. Frank provided the moulds and later returned to the UK to work with John’s team to make their first boats. They were able to display one at the National Dinghy Exhibition at Crystal Palace.

The smart appearance and superb quality of the new hull and the knowledge that there was now a builder making hulls to the same quality and they were readily available, was very well received. Not only did a substantial number of people accept invitations to sail, one or two invitations from clubs to bring boats for members’ evaluation, were also received. Needless to say, everyone was delighted that the overall attitude was so receptive and positive.

In 1986 TAUK was invited to host the Tasar Worlds at Queen Mary in conjunction with the UK Nationals.  Malcolm Lee hoped this event would encourage growth in the Tasar fleet and certainly there were some good early signs at Queen Mary with a number of newcomers buying and sailing boats in preparation for the regatta.

Interest was high. It was expected the five Australian crews who sailed in Vancouver in 1983 and between 5 and 10 from the UK, plus a Royal Australian Navy contingent of between 6 and 10 would attend. The North Americans with less distance to travel were predicted to be more numerous.

At the same time the editor of Yachts and Yachting expressed interest in running a series of articles based on the Tasar. So in the months ahead of the Worlds, it was hoped the visibility of the Tasar in the UK would be much increased.

The experience and organising ability of the UK management team resulted in a wonderful regatta. Forty eight boats from all the regions competed, many more than first anticipated. Thirty from the UK, twelve from Australia, three from Canada, one from the USA (Charlie & Becky McKee – the defending champions) and two from Holland.

From the outset, it was clear that Martin Linsley, Richard Longbottom and Charlie McKee were sailing at a level consistently higher than that attainable by any other crews. After some very tight racing, Richard Longbottom and Louise Scullion became the World Champions for 1986.

In the afterglow of the Worlds, 1987 was hoped to be the best year thus far in the UK. This was in spite of the difficult  conditions that sometimes prevailed. Consider the following :

‘There was one day just before the big freeze when everything froze on the boat and the deck became very slippery. It certainly made for some very interesting sailing when the slightest slip could and did spell disaster and a very cold bath’. Undeterred, this sailor was happy to go events that had been planned at the coastal clubs as ‘frozen ropes don’t happen on the sea’.

During the same season Weirwood Sailing Club were forced to cancel their open meeting due to the reservoir freezing over in extreme conditions.  Later in January, the committee again became a little worried when the Club received three feet of snow and the reservoir froze over for a second time.

An Australian sailor quipped ‘I dips me lid’ to the UK sailors in acknowledgement of their perseverance and enthusiasm. Sailing conditions in Australia are just so easy, comfortable and convenient compared with those of our friends in the UK have to contend with.

In 1989, Mark Barnes, sailing with Louise Harnett, represented UK at the Worlds in Vancouver along with Paul Caldwell, Oliver Halford and Matthew Wetz. Mark was the current 1988 UK Champion and his 7th finishing position in a fleet of 56, demonstrated the high standard of Tasar sailing that had developed in the UK.


Mores troubles on the UK scene in 1990 meant that yet again Frank was looking for a new builder. It was expected that a new builder would shortly be licenced meaning new Tasars would once again be available.

Despite the difficulties off the water, on the water, sailing was continuing to forge ahead. The Whitstable Nationals in 1990 attracted 31 entrants, including boats from Cornwall, Scotland and one from the Netherlands. It was an exhilarating and close fought event with the winner, Mark Barnes taking out his third National title.  At the AGM, long serving officials John Farnham and Matthew Wetz were thanked for their contribution as they retired from the committee.

Finally, Tasars were to  be produced from a new set of moulds which were sent from Australia to the new builders, Rondar Boats. It had been the intention that the first boats produced would be on show at the Crystal Palace Boat Show early in March 1992, but unfortunately the container boat suffered a mishap on the journey, necessitating trans-shipment and delaying the delivery for about a month.

Interest in Tasar sailing meant that fleets were spread from Shetland in the north, to Land’s End, in the south.

Paul Caldwell reported that it was intended the Tasars take part in the British Olympic Appeal event at Brixham in May 1992. This was an ideal opportunity to test out the waters at Brixham where the 1994 Worlds were to be held. A video was to be made of the facilities and location to show at the 1992 Worlds in Japan. Early indications were that five UK crews were intending to travel to Japan.

By August 1994, preparations were on course for the Brixham Worlds. With biting east winds and sub zero temperatures into mid April, the UK sailing season got off to a slow start. However, the summer arrived by the last weekend of April, then sadly departed one week later, but not before they had enjoyed the first 1994 open meeting at Wimball SC in Exmoor National Park. Twenty Tasars took part and the event was won by the 1992 National Champion, David Morgan, sailing with his daughter Alex.

The new racing secretary, John Rischmillar organised a very successful training day at Queen Mary SC run by the European Champion, Paul Stainsby, ably assisted by Scottish Champions Chris Sallis and Phil Manning. The day was well attended and included classroom and on water sessions backed up with video.

All was in place for the Brixham Worlds. Seventy six boats had entered. It was the largest fleet of Tasars seen in Britain, and in fact anywhere outside Australian waters. With three intense days of racing, Oliver Halford and his band of helpers, and the Brixham Yacht Club were congratulated on managing an eventful and successful Championship.

After the success of the Worlds, the committee continued to work hard and organised eight more open meetings around the country along with the Scottish Championship at Aberdeen. The year ended on a high note with several new members signing up, taking membership to its highest ever of 122. One of the biggest problems for potential members was finding a second hand boat. Boats were rarely on the market and when they were, they command high prices. This is a reflection of the longevity of Tasars and due to few new Tasars being built as existing owners upgrade.

Over the years the UK association has maintained a keen interest in the governing of the Tasar both in the UK and on the World scene. It has contributed to discussions on various issues and rule changes. As the world districts were voting on the proposed minimum hull weight rule change, past president of the WTCA and TAUK Oliver Halford and fellow committee member Peter Caldwell reflected on their lengthy time in Tasars. They commented on the ‘one design principle’ of the Tasar as they put together an article that provoked thoughtful discussion on the need to balance one design with the need for steady and controlled change for the Tasar to avoid becoming obsolete.

Many individuals have supported the TAUK and the national fleet. Keith Paul stands out as a committee member from 1986 to the present – 26 years, as does Lionel Rigby a committee member for most of the time since 1992. These folk have worked steadily in the background to support the Tasar in the UK.

The continued enjoyment of the boat would not have been possible without the constant support of the boat at the club level. Queen Mary Sailing Club, Whitstable Yacht Club and Porthpean Sailing club, were a few of the early clubs to introduce the Tasar.

Porthpean is typical of many of the UK fleets. It became the first local club to sail Tasars in the West Country. As often happened in so many clubs around the country, Tasars revolutionised sailing. The ‘plastic’ boat wasn’t well loved where ‘only wood is good’, but many were intrigued by its shape and build. In multiclass racing top placings convinced many that the Tasar was for them. Dennis and Heather Bray bought their first Tasar after Heather was rapidly becoming fed up at being heavy weather ballast in a friend’s Enterprise. Their comment echoes that of many, ‘never had my wife and I been so exhilarated, fantastic and so stable. We knew we had made the right choice’.

The Tasar fleet waxed and waned over the 25 years since introduced to Porthpean but remained the mainstay boat at the Club as other classes dwindled. The holding of National Championships exposed many of the club sailors to the thrills and spills of sailing at a national level. Competition is fierce and a number of their sailors are enthused to compete in national and international events.

Andrew Jackson of Whitstable Yacht club notes that many of their Tasar sailors had migrated from other fleets, with a notable number of Laser sailors venturing out on the water with their wives for the first time. Some had come from other clubs and of course there is a hard core of sailors who have sailed Tasars for decades. Living proof that you can compete well into your 60s and still consistently win against any opposition. Once you have a critical mass of sailors having a good time every weekend, other want to join them.

There are many enthusiastic individuals across the country who continue to enjoy their Tasar sailing. Some are just weekend warriors, others become actively involved as members of the TAUK and compete at all levels. All appreciate the opportunity to experience a modern, light weight, high performance dinghy and the chance to compete against some of the world’s best dinghy sailors.

New Boats

New Bethwaite boats are available from Mandy Stock, Signal Locker. She normally brings them into the UK in batches of three or four:

Phone 01590 678699 / 07970 132110