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Scorpion 1052 "Shandy" built 1967-9
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The National Scorpion Association organises racing events and events to promote the class every year. The Silver Scorpion Travellers' series of Open Meetings sponsored by CraftInsure are spread over the season and over the country. The annual highlight is the National Championships, which were hosted in 2023 by Eastbourne Sovereign Sailing Club in Sussex. The 2024 Championships is at Castle Cove SC in Weymouth.

Derek McWilliam was an engineer working for Ferranti near Wythenshawe, Manchester, building and testing some of the first guided missiles back in the early 60s.

Ferranti supplied the guidance and control system for the Bloodhound missile, for example. Derek’s role was to assemble the electronics and then test the missiles at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Aberporth, and he also spent time testing the missiles in south east Australia.

In those days dinghy sailing and racing was one of the great new inclusive activities open to all and as part of that movement Taprell J Dorling designed the Scorpion Dinghy. International 14s and Merlin Rockets were too expensive and complex for many, and the Scorpion sought to meet that need. Dorling was himself the son of a well-known senior Naval Officer who had migrated from living on a barge on the Thames near Richmond to becoming an antique dealer in Truro, Cornwall. He designed the Scorpion for home construction, and many were home built in the 60s and 70s. It fitted neatly into a normal garage, but some people built them in their living rooms and then removed windows to extract the completed craft.

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Derek's early days racing Shandy

Derek started crewing for a friend in Scorpion no. 28 at Turks Head SC on Sutton Reservoir near Macclesfield and he was soon determined to build his own. He wrote off to the designer to buy a set of plans and started to organise construction. Whilst he was a professional engineer, boat building in wood was a new thing for him and he realised that he would need all the necessary woodworking tools and suitable premises. So, he joined a night school class where he worked on his boat over a couple of years and having completed her, she was registered in 1969.

His children were given the task of naming Dad’s new boat and they decided to christen her “Shandy” after Dad’s home brew which they so enjoyed sampling.

Derek joined Errwood SC in the Peak District where he sailed with his wife, Doreen, as his children were too young to sail a high performance boat like a Scorpion. After several years gaining racing experience, he entered his first national championships in 1974 at Saundersfoot in South Wales in what turned out to be the numeric high point of Scorpion Nationals entries. Derek and Shandy were placed 141st of 161 entries. It must have been a baptism of fire as it was a windy week where, notably, the Curran Twins, Brian and Alan from Elton Sailing Club in Bury Lancashire, won every race, sailing as if in a class of their own.

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After Saundersfoot, Derek didn’t enter the Nationals for a few years – they clashed with the Menai Straits Regatta and the Bruno Bell offshore race, now called the Anglesey Offshore Race, a fifteen mile handicap race from Beaumaris to Traeth Bychan. By this time Derek’s daughter, Alison, had been introduced to Scorpion sailing and she, Derek and Shandy did very well at club level and at the Menai Straits Regatta. Together they achieved a third and a fifth place in the Bruno Bell.

Six years later Derek and Alison sailed the 1980 Nationals at Felixstowe Ferry where they came 74th of 98 boats and watched Tony Wetherell and Andy Barker dominate, just as Brian and Alan Curran had at Saundersfoot. Derek and Alison were back a year later at Tenby in 1981 where their greater Nationals experience took them up the fleet to 49th of 130.

Time passed, his children left home, and eventually Shandy was stored on Derek’s patio under a boat cover. He no longer sailed her, having taken up mountaineering as a hobby and, in 2000, a house move meant there was no room for Shandy. Derek was thinking of giving her to the scouts but when he discussed this with Alison, she wanted to keep Shandy.

She couldn’t bear to see her go - they had had so many wonderful times together.

The father/daughter relationship that had developed over their time sailing together was strong and the boat was a piece of her life that she wasn’t ready to let go.

Derek hadn’t done much handicap racing and Alison was keen to find other Scorpions to sail with. In 2002, now living in Hertfordshire, she joined Notts County Sailing club with husband Bob as crew. Here, she met the late David Stevens who re-painted and varnished Shandy and did some rigging updates. In 2003 Alison started retraining for a new career and this, as well as working full time, meant no more time for sailing.

In 2019, after talking to her Dad, Alison decided to get Shandy out of her garage and sail her again. She joined the Scorpion WhatsApp group and, after asking for advice on insurance companies, got an excited message from the Class Chairman Chris Yates. He was sailing Scorpions at Errwood at the same time as Derek and Alison and he, along with Jerry Hannabuss, had put two and two together and realised that this Alison must be Derek McWilliam’s daughter. Alison eventually met Chris in person at the end of season open meeting and he suggested she do the nationals in Penzance for the Scorpion Diamond birthday. So now she needed a suitable helm for her first outing on the sea for many years. Chris suggested Stewart Robertson, a former Scorpion sailor and former member of Errwood sailing club back when Dad and she were sailing together.

Preparing for her first championships for many years, Alison set about restoring Shandy.

During November 2019, water had got underneath the varnish of the side decks close to the transom so some work was needed to make Shandy water tight. Alison also wanted to make sure she was seaworthy. Chris had put her in contact with Nigel Potter from Paintcraft in Nottingham who dealt with the necessaries and the list of jobs that Stewart and Alison had identified as important. Stewart and Alison practiced on the Medway at Stewart’s club and then at the Eastbourne and Weymouth open meetings and Stewart tweaked the boat a bit more. Finally, they competed in the 60th birthday Scorpion National Championships in Penzance in 2021, a year later than scheduled due to the pandemic, where they finished every race and were rewarded with 50th place.

"I was dubious of course, a wooden boat of over 50 years of age can be a liability in a breeze, something is bound to break, and it's probably waterlogged and heavy. But that persuasive Chris set up a meeting in a pub for the three of us. I recognised them immediately. The enthusiasm of those two just bowled me over but I needed to see the boat before I made a commitment. When I saw her in the spring of 2021, I was amazed at how original she was and dry and well kept. This I thought was a boat as strong as she ever was, as dry as she ever was and probably in better nick than she’d ever been. It was the original mast, and so was almost everything else. The mainsail was measured in 1981 but there was a newer jib and kite measured in 2002. This was not a boat that was going to win the Nationals, some of the gear was antiquated, but this was a special boat, beautifully preserved, full of history, home built by a great rival, something to be proud of sailing and so I took it on." Stewart Robertson

Bitten deeply with the freedom and thrill of sailing a Scorpion in a big fleet Alison and Shandy were back again in 2022 for the Scorpion Nationals in Looe, Cornwall, this time helmed by Tom Daniel from Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club, who was taught to race by Guy Winder. Alison and Tom arranged to meet and sail together for the first time at Notts County sailing club just four weeks before the Nationals. The team gelled and Shandy, with new sails and her new carbon twin poles set on her antique gold Proctor D section mast put in an excellent series of results in a competitive fleet where she was older than some of Alison’s competitor’s parents.

"I genuinely felt privileged to be sailing a piece of Alison's family history. And honestly, the boat felt great. Solid and dependable when some of the newer boats were falling to bits in the big wind and waves of Sunday. It says a lot that the biggest issues we had were my toe strap elastic knots and an ill-fitting buoyancy hatch cover. In the breeze on Monday (buoyancy sorted), we were flying upwind with great height and speed (5 or 6 boats a leg most times). Then, it kept us right up there at times in the light stuff, up and downwind (save for some questionable helming at times we could easily have had more top 30 results I think). I can honestly say that if I age as well as that boat, I'll be a spritely 53 year old - Alison's Dad clearly built a winning hull and trained up a super crew! I'd love to see what it could do in the hands of a top 5 team!" Tom Daniel

Shandy, Alison and Tom came 45th overall out of 75 scorpions. Alison was delighted to be nominated for the Tom Castle Trophy and to win the coveted Scorpion Transom Trophy for the first placed home-built boat at the 2022 Nationals.

"It’s been a truly incredible few years and I still have to pinch myself at times. I can’t thank Stewart and Tom enough for taking us on, and Nigel, who not only has been instrumental in getting us safely afloat and competitive, but who has been so incredibly generous with his time. And Bob, who has been behind me the whole way, always supportive and ready to help, and without whom this wouldn’t have been possible. There are so many others to thank who have helped along the way, you know who you are.  I have reconnected with four friends from ‘back in the day’ at Errwood Sailing Club and made friends anew in the Scorpion fleet, which itself has grown in strength spectacularly over the last few years. It’s wonderful to see the older wooden boats being rediscovered, renovated and sailed again. I even have a new sailing ‘home’ at Hertford County Yacht Club, where I’ve started to learn to helm. I’m super proud to be sailing Shandy again, of what we have achieved in the past as well as in the last couple of years, and I’m so very proud of Dad for building such a beautiful Scorpion. And I have a very proud Dad too!" Alison Sheldrick
 

Thanks to Alison Sheldrick, Lee Whitehead and David Eberlin for photos on this page.