Whether racing or cruising, the Flying Fifteen offers an exhilarating sail with the safety factor of a keel to bring you up if things get out of hand. The continuing popularity of the class means that there are many boats racing at clubs around the country (not necessarily with fleet status) which are well maintained and offer good value.
The success of the classic and silver fleet sections means that many older boats have been upgraded with modern rigs, sails, rudders and keels, with many hours lavished upon them by their owners in keeping them pristine. These boats undoubtedly represent the best value when they come on the market as little, if any, work will be required on them before sailing competitively at club or higher level.
That said, a lot of owners are extremely practical. Many boats have been recovered from the back of the boat park for very little money (free is not unknown!) and then gradually restored and improved as time and budget allows over a number of seasons. Some of these boats are now top flight and very quick in their respective sections.
Before buying a Fifteen, it is worth talking to owners about their boats, what they use and what works for them so that you approach a purchase with some degree of knowledge. If new to the class, try and arrange a test sail, most owners will be happy to take you out to show you the boat. It is also worth looking at the ‘For Sale’ list on the website to get a feel for prices and equipment available. Contact the list controller by phone or email – he is there to help and advise both buyers and sellers and encourage people into the class with impartial advice. When going to look at a boat, it is always helpful to have someone with you who knows what to look for.
Whether you prefer the joy of a varnished wooden boat or the easier maintenance prospect of a GRP or composite boat, the main point to remember is that the youngest of the classic boats is around 30 years old with the silver boats around 20 years and should be approached accordingly. Unless you are not averse to major surgery, boats which have had regular care and maintenance are a better prospect for most owners as equipment can be upgraded as required, provided the hull is sound.
Main areas to check on the hull are around the keel and mast foot where stresses are greatest. There should be no significant cracks or softness in either wooden or GRP hulls which may need the hog replacing to restore strength. Shroud and forestay/jib attachments are also stress points. Modern rig tensions are higher than on older boats so look for signs of weakness which may need repair or reinforcement. Replacement rudder bearings are a routine item, but check that the rudder tube is not leaking into the aft tank or coming loose in the hull as a result of old age or impact damage. Access to the rudder tube is awkward to say the least so well worth checking.
Buoyancy compartments should be sound and flotation bags in good order where fitted. Check that fittings secured through the deck are not likely to puncture a bag at the time you most need it!
If you can, try and have the hull weighed. The boat is unlikely to be on minimum weight, but the lighter it is the better. GRP boats in particular tend to absorb water, so the hull may need to be dried out and then resealed to prevent further ingress. Particular areas for ingress are into the hog through the keel bolts or in the reinforcing ribs. Opening the buoyancy tanks and thoroughly ventilating the boat under cover over the winter can reduce weight significantly before starting any resealing work. Wooden boats also absorb water, so ensuring protective paint and varnish coats are in good order is important.
Rudders and keels are critical to performance and expensive, so a boat which has had either or both upgraded is a definite plus point if you want to race. Keels on older boats had a narrow cross section across the throat area between the flange and the bulb. This reduces lateral area and decreases windward ability. Practical owners have been known to grind the back of the keel off and build the area up with epoxy, but it is a time consuming job! Modern rudders have the shaft near the centre of the blade which gives a much more balanced feel to the helm and aids speed. Older rudders had the shaft almost at the front of the blade which tended to be thinner giving greater weather helm and making the boat harder to steer. The narrower blades can also stall out more easily at high speeds, leading to loss of control at critical moments – exciting to say the least!
Having looked at the hull and foils, you might perhaps think the rig would be next. I would suggest, however, that the next item to look at is the trailer/trolley. The advent of low slung trailers where the keel sits below the axle line has transformed the practicality of the Fifteen. Low trailers allow easier launch and recovery in less water as well as a more enjoyable towing experience with the centre of gravity very low and giving great stability as well as less drag behind the car. It is also easier to reach into the boat when setting up or packing away, reducing risks of a fall when climbing in or out. Whether old or new, check that the trailer, wheels, tyres and bearings are sound and capable of transporting the boat.
Modern trailers are usually galvanised and a cross beam above the side bars to support the mast off the boat when trailing is also a useful feature. Many trailers are used for launching, so check wheel bearings regularly, particularly if towing any distance and launching in salt water. Finally, a trailer with a pneumatic jockey wheel makes moving the boat around a lot easier than one with a solid rim, particularly over grass or shingle.
Coming to the rig, you may not need to replace the mast immediately, if at all, but check the shroud wires for fraying and ideally replace them, unless you know they are almost new, they are not expensive . Check the mast and boom for corrosion or stress cracks around fittings, also that the spar itself is straight. Popular masts are the Proctor/Selden Epsilon or Superspars M2 so a boat with either of these is a plus point.
For those at the top of the fleet, sails are an annual expense, but for those entering the class or on a budget, sails may need to last for a while, so check they are sound and with some life in them. If your budget won’t run to a new set of sails, it is worth talking to the sail makers as they often have good second hand suits available from top sailors buying a new set and cost can be up to half of new.
The layout and choice of fittings on the Fifteen is free, giving the owner plenty of choice to arrange things to his or her personal preference. Key to it all though is that fittings work, are mounted securely (bolt everything) and that lines run freely. It is not necessary to have expensive ball blocks on everything, but the most expensive block is wasted if the line run is tortuous with bad angles of entry and exit to the block. Time spent making sure controls work properly is a good investment and need not mean replacing fittings – often a good clean, proper mounting and free running lines can transform the boat.
Final points to look at when purchasing are accessories such as over and under covers, rudder bags, compasses and any spare gear which may save expense later on.
Having bought your older boat, enjoy it; look after it and it will reward you with many happy hours of great sailing and racing.
Return to Classic & Silver page