Uffa Fox

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A Fox-designed airborne lifeboat, shown rigged for sailing, in front of a Vickers Warwick

Uffa Fox, CBE (15 January 1898 – 26 October 1972) was an English boat designer and sailing enthusiast, responsible for a number of in innovations in boat design. Not afraid of courting controversy or causing offense, he is remembered for his eccentric behaviour and pithy quotes, as much as for his original boat designs. [1]


Uffa Fox was born on the Isle of Wight and was raised in East Cowes.[2] He lived for a while in Puckaster on the Isle of Wight.


Grave of Uffa Fox, Whippingham, Isle of Wight, showing lifeboat of his design on parachute

He was responsible for many of the developments which have contributed to the modern popularity of dinghy sailing. He first introduced the technique of planing to dinghy racing, and was influential in the introduction of trapezing.

In about 1943 he designed a 27  ft lifeboat to be dropped from Vickers Warwick aircraft when rescuing downed aircrew or mariners; its deficiencies led to the more sturdy American A-1 lifeboat. An example of this craft and of others built and/or designed by Fox are in the collections of the Classic Boat Museum at East Cowes, Isle of Wight.[3] These boats could be released from under the aeroplane retarded by six 32  ft diameter parachutes. Although initially adapted for the Warwick, the lifeboat was subsequently also carried by Air-Sea Rescue Lancasters and B-17 Flying Fortresses. The museum also holds a large collection of photographs by and about Fox.[3]

He became a friend of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1949 and they raced together at Cowes Week on many occasions. They raced on Fox's Dragon "Fresh Breeze" or the Duke's 'Royal' Dragon "Bluebottle". He also took the Royal children sailing at Cowes.

Apart from having a highly successful racing, cruising and sailing career, he ran successful boat design and boatbuilding businesses in the south of England. He designed many of the significant classes of boats around today, including the planing International 14, the Foxhound, the Foxcub and Super Foxcub, the Flying Fifteen, the Flying Ten, the National 12, the National 18, the Albacore, the Firefly, the Javelin, the Pegasus Dinghy, the Jollyboat and the Day Sailer. Many of his designs exploited the wartime developments of moulded plywood, extruded aluminium, Tufnol etc..

In addition to dinghies, he designed several keelboats all loosely based on the same concept as the flying fifteen, with separate fin keel and rudder. They were very lightweight compared with other boats of the era. Huff of Arklow for Douglas Heard was 30'-0" on the waterline and Flying Fox for Fred Brownlee was 35'-0" waterline length.[4]

Uffa Fox designed the Britannia rowboat, used by John Fairfax for the first solo-rowing expedition across the Atlantic Ocean in 1969.[5] The Britannia was described as "the Rolls-Royce of rowboats, made of mahogany." It was self-righting, self-bailing and partly covered.[5] He also designed Britannia II, used by Fairfax and Sylvia Cook to row across the Pacific Ocean in 1971 through 1972.

His character is perhaps best indicated by an escapade whereby he led a group of Sea Scouts, without their parents' consent (they thought it was a weekend sailing camp), across the English Channel and up the Seine to within a few kilometres of Paris in a 25  ft open boat. On July 30, 1921, Uffa and a crew of nine sea scouts set sail for a few days trip to the western Solent. He decided to take them to Paris in their 27-foot open whaler Valhalla. They got to within 70 kilometres of the city but turned on Saturday August 6, because some of the crew were due to be back to work on the Monday. When they arrived back on the Wednesday, they were greeted by a worried coastguard who had assumed they were shipwrecked, and shortly after Uffa was relieved of his role as scout leader. [6]

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in January 1963 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Colston Hall in Bristol. He was also among the crew of the Typhoon, an account of which was written and published by William Washburn Nutting in In the Track of Typhoon (1922). Fox joined the crew in England for her transatlantic return via France, Spain, and the Azores into New York City.

Fox is said to have been the instigator in the 1950s of the "quintessentially English" annual cricket match on Bramble Bank in the central Solent.[7]

Uffa Fox died in October 1972.[8][9]


  1. ^ http://www.uffafox.com/uffabiog.htm
  2. ^ Uffa Fox biography, Uffa Fox official website
  3. ^ a b "Classic Boat Museum". Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Huff of Arklow". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  5. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (18 February 2012). "John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  6. ^ https://www.iwbeacon.com/news/features/100-years-since-uffa-foxs-foolhardy-journey-from-cowes/
  7. ^ Majendie, Matt (10 January 2014). "Cricketers at sea: The world's most pointless sporting contest?". CNN. Retrieved 4 January 2015. It is quintessentially English, a land to have spawned more than its fair share of sporting eccentricities. On the surface of it, this match is supremely pointless – and actually, that remains the same even if you dig below the surface.
  8. ^ The New York Times October 27, 1972, page 44| https://www.nytimes.com/1972/10/27/archives/uffa-fox-is-dead-yac-ht-designer-prince-philips-companion-in-many.html
  9. ^ Isle of Wight Hidden Heroes| https://iwhiddenheroes.org.uk/uffa-fox-1898-1972/

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