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Monday 24 September 2012

Aile - a pretty pre-war keelboat

A modern Aile in GRP, built by ACCF of Pont L'Abbe, Brittany 
The Aile is a one-design keelboat, built originally by the Finnish Abö yard. It was adopted by the Parisian yacht club, Cercle Nautique de Chatou (now the Yacht Club Ile de France – YCIF) in 1936, when the club's previous one-design keelboat racer proved to be unsuitable for the new waters to which the club had moved.

The club committee had originally intended to adopt the Star class, and to import as many as 100, but on discovering that a rival Parisian yacht club, the Cercle de la Voile de Paris, already had the French monopoly on this design, as well as the sole rights to organise regattas for it, they moved swiftly to look for an alternative.

Restored 1937 Aile "Aquarelle"
The Aile is, in the view of many, a far better and prettier boat than the Star, which is notorious for its ugly coffin-style hull, difficult handling, and ridiculously flimsy and unbalanced looking rig. Within a few years the YCIF had 160 of its Aile class based at Meulan on the Seine downstream of Paris, and there were additional fleets at Ouistreham in Normandy as well as on France's Mediterranean coast.

Aile sailing on the Seine (photo: YCIF archive) 
A strange peculiarity of the original Finnish built Aile was its hard chine construction in “Masonite”, a type of hardboard made from processed woodchips, invented by an American in the 1920s. The waste material from sawmills was boiled and blasted under pressure into sheets which were then pressed to form smooth flat boards. No glue or resin was used in the process, and although Masonite had excellent mechanical qualities for many construction and furnishing uses, it may have lacked somewhat in resistance to long-term exposure to water – not an ideal characteristic in a boat-building material.

On the plus side, however, it allowed the Aile to be constructed and sold in France at a lower price than the Star, and no doubt this advantage, together with the boat's good looks, excellent sailing performance and reputation for ease of handling helped the class to grow rapidly.

During the war the Luftwaffe bombed the YCIF's storage sheds, thinking they were aircraft hangars, and many of the boats were destroyed. Later, the Allied forces made the same mistake and bombarded the ruins again, finishing off many more of the boats. What had been one of France's most popular keelboat classes was suddenly a casualty of war, and reduced to a fraction of its former numbers.

Fortunately, after the war, the class recovered some of its strength, and the class association published plans for DIY home building in marine ply, although the 200kg keel, with its fin of cast iron and lead bulb would obviously have to be fabricated by professionals.

Nowadays few of the original boats survive, but you can find some pages dedicated to a restored 1937 boat at the Association Verguillon site.  

It is now possible to buy an Aile built with a GRP hull, plywood deck, alloy mast and with lots of nice varnished mahogany on show - or you could always build your own in marine ply.  Sail numbers are at over 300, and according to the class association 20 new boats are currently on order.

Aile class:

Designer: Iarl Linblöm (Finland)

LOA: 7 m 10
LWL: 5 m 90
Beam: 1 m 58
Draft: 1 m 04
Hull weight: 450 kg exc. rig
Ballast keel: 200 kg

Sail area (upwind) : 18.7m2
Spinnaker: 27m2

Links and acknowledgements:
YCIF (photo)


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