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Thursday 11 August 2011

Opera Class

To the south west of Liverpool, the Wirral peninsular forms the northern shore of the estuary to the River Dee. The unique geography created a deep water sea-lake, the Hoyle Lake around which were established fishing communities and safe havens in the protected waters was far back as Roman times.

The Hoylake Sailing Club was established in 1887, in response to the silting up of the river and channel at the turn of the twentieth century the members decided to adopt a shallow draft boat which was suitable for the area. The boat they chose became the Opera Class, a 16 foot gaff rigged clinker boat, based on a design by club member Captain Winchester and built locally by another club member and boat builder Alex Latta.

The first race of the Opera Class took place in 1902 and boat numbers quickly grew to 17. The class celebrated it's centenary in 2002 with 14 of the original boats still racing at Holylake Sailing Club, another boat "La Poupee" is on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

In 1909 one of the class "Orchid" made a voyage to Ardrossan, in Ayrshire, Scotland and then acros the Irish sea to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland, a remarkable voyage for a 16 foot open boat.

All the photographs are kindly provided by John Hughes who sails his Opera Class Iolanthe, named after the operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Opera Class boats at Hoylake Sailing Club

1: Fidelio
2: Aida
4: Valkyrie
5: Country Girl
6: La Poupee
7: Princess Ida
8: Geisha
9: Carmen
10: Orchid
11: La Boheme
12: Betty
13: La Tosca
14: Silvana
16: Iolanthe
17: La Gioconda


  1. Another Smart post from you Admin :)

  2. I remember an Opera boat at Hoylake called Merry Widow but she doesn't seem to appear on any lists. Is my memory playing tricks?

  3. You may want to note for the sake of accuracy of detail that Operas are not 'gaff' rigged but are 'lug' rigged, albeit high-peaked lug rig that superficially looks rather like gaff rig. I know it currently says they are gaff rigged on the Hoylake Sailing Club website, but this is incorrect. With lug rig the foot of the yard extends forward of the mast, as can be seen clearly in some of my photos above.

    Operas are clinker-built, the hulls sixteen feet in length, with high-peaked balanced lug mainsail, jib on a short bowsprit, and asymmetric spinnaker. They have relatively flat bottom, shallow keel, retracting steel centre-plate, and draught of about a foot with plate up. Over the years unfortunately some have been lost, 'Merry Widow' was one of them. Currently the newest Opera is 'Princess Ida', completed in 2017 by local builder and HSC member Alan Tolley. She takes the name of the old 'Princess Ida' that she replaced. They are lovely boats to sail!

    John Hughes