Review by Tom Dove
Flying Scot
FEBRUARY 2009
 
   
LOA  19'/ LWL18' 6"
Draft  8" / Board Down48"
Sail area  Jib & Main 191 sq ft     
                Spinnaker 200 sq ft
Weight1,200 lb w/trailer
Displ. 850 lb empty
           1,150 w/ optimum crew

Base Price  $2,500-$20,000 (new, fully equipped)

Gordon K. "Sandy" Douglass had already designed and built the popular mid-20th-century plywood Thistle and Highlander racing dinghies when he built the prototype Flying Scot in 1956. He wanted to put the speed and handling of his first two successful designs into a boat that would be easier to maintain (using the then-new material of fiberglass), less stressful to sail and tame enough for an average couple or family to enjoy. Since those ideas became a reality in 1957, more than 5,700 Flying Scots have been launched, first from a facility in Ohio and later from a factory in western Maryland. Douglass's little 19-footer has turned out to be one of the most successful and beloved boats in the world of sailing.

Test Sail
Small boats can be inherently fun to sail--often more so than larger boats--but some are truly special. The Flying Scot is one of those. Some years ago I watched a husky friend who had sailed only keel boats step aboard the deck of a centerboarder about the size of a Scot. The little craft heeled over, dropped him into the harbor and bobbed back upright before I could shout a warning. In contrast, I can stand on the rail of an unrigged Scot, lean out while hanging on to the shrouds and not come close to putting the rail underwater. That's remarkable for a 19-footer. That stability is one of the traits that have made the little sloop so popular with sailing families.

Even more impressive is how well this stable boat performs on the water. Although the Flying Scot is rather heavy by modern raceboat standards, it has enough sail area to give it good speed. Owners seem to agree that Scots begin planing shortly after the whitecaps appear on the water, in about 15 knots of breeze. The builder's website, www.flyingscot.com, has excellent videos of a boat ripping across the water in what appears to be about 20 knots of wind. The website also has videos of a capsize and recovery.

The wind was only about 6 to 8 knots on a lake in central Florida during my test sail on Flying Scot number 5703 with Greg and Pat Murphy. A 2006 boat, it had the company's Radical Race Package, which consists of a cluster of cam cleats on the centerboard trunk for the boom vang, a Cunningham, spinnaker sheets and a topping lift. This is hardly America's Cup technology, but it does make sail adjustments easier. Launching from the trailer went smoothly, even on a narrow, shallow ramp.

Greg Murphy is a longtime racer who's sailed in the Lightning, Star, International 14, NACRA 5.2, Windmill, MC Scow and Hobie 14 classes. "My first boat was a Thistle. On that boat, you're sitting on a rail about this wide," he said, separating two fingers of his left hand by a couple of inches. "The Scot is much easier on your body. "I've had some health problems, including a hip replacement. That's one reason I got the boat," Murphy added. "It's a pretty forgiving boat, and you can right it from a capsize. There's not much water in the boat [after a capsize] at all, and it has a ladder on the transom."

The Scot is a beamy boat, and when it's floating 90 degrees over, it's a long climb from the side to the cockpit. That's why the builder offers the ladder. "It's easy to get the boat planing on a reach," Murphy said. "We used to call these boats ‘Flying Sidewalks' when they first started sailing them here. But it turns out that they really sail well if you know what you're doing." 

At displacement speeds, I enjoyed the light tiller feel, the boat's quick but predictable responsiveness and smooth ride. The Flying Scot tacks easily, its high boom clears the heads of the crew, the seats and side decks are spacious and the solid feel underfoot is relaxing.

Builder Harry Carpenter attributes much of the boat's popularity to those traits: "The Flying Scot has done so well in comparison with other one-designs because it's primarily a daysailer. It makes a tremendous racing boat because of its performance, because it has a spinnaker and because two people can handle it. The Flying Scot is the kind of boat that will be in a family for generations."

My test sail bore out Carpenter's statement. With three adults onboard, there was plenty of space to move about. Racing calls for a crew of either two or three, depending on their sizes and experience and on how hard the wind is blowing. The spinnaker is not too large for a woman of average size to handle, so this is a popular boat for couples. Even daysailing with four people, it would seem uncrowded.

On Deck
The Flying Scot is a simple boat. The sail controls consist of the main and jib sheets, a vang, an outhaul and a Cunningham. The jib-sheet track is only about 6 inches long, so you can't tweak the leads much. The three sails are closely specified by class rules, and there's no on-the-water mast adjustment or trapeze. The boat has no hiking straps. There's a line attached to the midline of the hull for the middle crew. The Flying Scot doesn't even have a traveler for the mainsheet.

This kind of simplicity has two virtues on a small boat: First, it emphasizes tactical racing skill by minimizing rig tweaking. Second, it makes the boat perfect for introducing new sailors to the sport because the control lines are easy to understand.

Hull Features
When I saw my first Flying Scot as a teenager in the late 1950s, I thought it looked odd. Compared to other boats of the day, it seemed wide and flat, with a sheer line that lacked drama. In contrast to the gorgeous lines of its relatives, the Thistle and Highlander, it looked, well, dowdy.

But the Scot has aged well. From my more mature perspective today, the boat's straight sheer, broad beam and low freeboard seem quite attractive. If you do manage to capsize, not much water will get into the boat, and it's possible for a crew of average fitness to climb back aboard and keep sailing. If you dump a traditional open dinghy like the Thistle, you spend the next 30 minutes bailing. And the Scot's wide side decks are more comfortable than the narrow rails on a Thistle.

Proof of the design's success is its popularity. There are dozens of Flying Scot fleets active in North America today, but you'll need to look hard to find much activity in other classes designed in the 1950s. Because the class organization keeps it strictly one-design and the builder has been consistent throughout its production life, an older Flying Scot can be just as competitive as a new one.

Construction
The Flying Scot is carefully constructed the same way it has always been, with hand-laid fiberglass mat and roving and a balsa core throughout. This was new technology in 1956, but it seems old-fashioned in this era of Kevlar-reinforced, carbon-sparred, resin-infused wonders.

Just like the boats it builds, there has been remarkable stability in the company, which passed from Douglass directly to two subsequent owners (both former employees) over the years. This has ensured continuity of thought and philosophy. Harry and Karen Carpenter, who've owned Flying Scot Inc. since 1991, race Flying Scot number 1 and have a reputation for providing good factory support to other skippers in the class. It's a true family business.

Price and Availability
The price of a Flying Scot has roughly followed inflation over the past 50 years, and a new boat today will cost you about $16,000 to $20,000, depending on how much racing gear it carries. 

A trailered fiberglass sailboat protected from the elements can have an infinite lifetime, so there are plenty of Flying Scots of all vintages available. Older boats sell for $2,500 to $12,500, depending on age, condition and equipment. You can find a good middle-age boat, ready to race, for $5,000 to $8,000. Check the class website www.fssa.com, local fleets (there are 10 on the Bay) at www.flyingscotracing.com or use Google or a web-based classified-listings site to find private listings.

Since the design has been consistently popular, there's an active market for used boats, and that maintains the prices. Buy a 20-year-old Flying Scot now, race or daysail it for 10 years, and you can probably sell it for what you paid—or even more. That beats the stock market right now, and it's a whole lot more fun.