Fairey Aviation

Fairey Aviation, once one of Britains great aircraft companies, was responsible for the Swordfish torpedo bomber, the world speed record breaking Fairey Delta 2 and the vertical take off Rotodyne airliner. The company Fairey Aviation was founded by Charles Richard Fairey, later Sir Richard, in 1915. One of Fairey’s factories was near Southampton at the mouth of the Hamble River, intended for the assembly and testing of seaplanes.

Fairey Marine

Thirty years on, in 1946, Fairey Marine was set up to mass produce sailing dinghies at the Hamble plant to utilise the spare capacity when wartime aircraft production ceased.

A very real advantage that they had over other European boatbuilders was their technique of hot moulding which produced high quality identical hulls.

Hot Moulding 

This process made use of Fairey’s expertise and equipment, devised for aircraft parts during the war. The hulls were a plywood shell built in one piece, of layers of shaped strips of veneer laid up over a solid wooden buck carved to the inside shape of the hull. The shell was then baked under pressure in an autoclave to cure the glue. Whilst a small sailing dinghy was of only three laminations, parts of a large boat were up to nine, which was reflected in the curing time. 


This was a very busy year for Fairey Marine: dinghy and sailing cruiser sales were booming, and although Sir Richard had died the previous year, his elder son Richard (here called Dick) was becoming more involved in Fairey Marine. Dick had lost his legs to frostbite, adrift in the Atlantic during the war, but had learned to fly once again, and was working full time. 

Fairey Marine’s plans included a fourteen foot outboard runabout, and engineers at Fairey Aviation were working on a new boat drive concept. We shall never know the precise circumstances of Dick’s school chum, former de Havilland test pilot Bruce Campbell joining Fairey Marine after five years as sales director at Albatross Marine, but he started work on developing the runabout – to be known as the Cinderella, the equivalent of an Albatross, except hot moulded rather than aluminium. 

Dick and Bruce’s circle of friends included the Hon Max Aitken, owner of the Daily Express, George O’Day, who imported Fairey dinghies into the US, and importantly, Ray Hunt, the naval architect from Boston. 

Hunt had won the Cowes Cup in 1955 sailing Harrier, one of his own 39 foot Concordia class designs. He had designed Aitken’s yacht Drumbeat in 1957, with drop keels engineered by Fairey, and Easterner, one of the three 12 metre yachts built to defend the 1958 America’s Cup challenge. He had also been experimenting with powerboat hull forms since 1946, which concluded with the deep-V hull form which transformed the performance of smaller boats in rough water. The group all knew of Hunt’s experiments and it was decided that Fairey would build his 23 foot open launch, just as designed. Fairey also thought they would try their new drive unit in this launch as well as in a version of the Cinderella, to be known as the Carefree. 

Ray Hunt’s Deep-V Hull 

Traditional planing hulls were flattened out at the stern to maximise speed, but were very uncomfortable in the rough, when they jumped from wave to wave and landed heavily, stressing the boat’s structure, machinery and more importantly, the crew. Ray Hunt’s experiments, based on the theories of Lindsay Lord, led him to form the bottom into a constant deep-V shape, at an angle of 24 degrees from the keel, from forward of the mid point right through to the transom. The effect of this is that the jumping from wave to wave is reduced and when a deep-V does take off it also lands more softly and has better directional stability,  Hunt also introduced spray rails under the hull to reduce the wetted area, generate lift and control spray. 

Setbacks and evolution 

Bruce Campbell led the development of the boats at Fairey and insisted that a designer was needed, so in the summer of 1957 the young naval architect Alan Burnard was offered the job, with instructions to refine the Cinderella. 

Four of the the 23 foot open launches were built, but even after a trip to the South of France, Bruce Campbell was unable to sell them. So he decided to buy the first boats himself and fit them with cabins at a yard at Badnam Creek upstream on the Hamble. These boats were marketed as Fairey / Campbells. Meanwhile the Fairey drive was abandoned as it was considered too heavy and had steering problems. 

Despite these setbacks, Bruce continued to evolve the launches into the Bruce Campbell Christina 23, with well finished cabins for overnighting. Max Aitken urged Fairey to build their own version of the boat to Alan Burnard’s design, which Max christened the Huntress, and bought the first one, called Rumble.

After building nineteen Christina 23s, Bruce then obtained his hulls from Walter Lawrence, one of which, Thunderbolt, driven by Tommy Sopwith, was the winner of the first Cowes- Torquay race in August 1961. The 23 and 25 foot Christinas are very similar in appearance, and glass fibre versions of the successful 25 foot hull are still available today. 

Despite the obvious rivalry between Bruce Campbell and Fairey Marine, there seemed to have been no animosity and they continued to be supportive of each other.