In November 1953, Robert Tucker announced that he had designed a small sailing cruiser especially for the amateur builder. She was 16ft 6ins LOA, 12ft 6ins WLL and 6ft 3ins beam with a draft of 1ft. The sail area was 115sq ft with a gunterlug, or 99sq ft with a bermudan rig. All the materials could be bought for £100.
The SI hull was hard chine marine ply on oak with two metal plate bilge keels set at quarter beam and at equal depth to the deepest part of the hull. The ballast was carried internally.
She was designed as a two - berth boat. This small inexpensive cruiser was of interest at that time, particularly as the cult of "tenting in dinghies was beginning to be popular.
Early in 1954, the first Silhouette was launched on the Medway. SI/1 Blue Boy had been built by two students from Battersea Polytechnic for £85. Naturally with the first Silhouette launched, alterations, variations and modifications began.
The builders of the SI/1 were a bit dubious about the bilge keels and so a special fin keel was designed and fitted. This keel it's trailing edge leading forward more sharply than it's leading edge,'(this design seemed to be still in favour with one ton cup designers).
Incidentally after a change of owners and a move to the Broads, SI/1 reverted to bilge keels. SI/2 started as a bilge keeler and was converted to a fin keel in 1973. In both forms, she had been winning races. Silhouette I's were mostly built by amateurs and have been found around the world including some sailing 600 feet above sea level in the Transvaal.
In 1954, the west Hartlepool YC asked Bob Tucker if he could extend the SI to 18ft LOA for racing. This was done and the "Fantasie" came into existence and examples are still around.
In 1954/5, the SII arrived as a greatly modified SI. Drawings for the Silhouette were first published in the American magazine RUDDER in April, 1955. Some of those who saw the drawings commented on the good outline or silhouette of the boat and the name "Silhouette" stuck.
The first boats were centre - boarders and the credit for pushing the marriage of the Mark II and bilge keels must go to Jimmy Hamilton, whose SII/2 preceded Robert Tucker's own SII/1 by a few months. The measurements were increased to 17ft 3ins LOA, 12ft 6ins WLL, 6ft 7ins beam and 1ft 6ins draft. The SII was again a hard chine bilge keeler, this time with a centre stub keel which was her ballast. The distinguishing serpentine sheer came - so it is claimed - from an owner - builder, and the boat we now know as the SII started life. No.3 was built by Lee and Boswell of Great Yarmouth and was shown at the London Boat Show in 1956 selling at £245. About 20 were built by this firm before the yard decided against continuing and George Hurley of Plymouth began his association with Silhouettes which continued until 1976. Plans for the wooden SII are still available although Tucker Designs are no longer actively promoting the class. Sets of A4 mini - plans for the MkII are available from the Hon. Secretary for a couple of pounds and are a useful guide to general construction details.
In about 1962 moulds were taken off a plywood hull so that Hurleys could commence production in fibreglass. New deck mouldings were also produced, which established the 'softer' look of the later MkIII boats. The marine ply boats still continued to be built both by the works, by amateurs and by the smaller yards. With the GRP boats, the jib size was increased again to 53sq ft and the forestay and the jib tack carried to the stem head. This reduced some weather helm which had been a criticism of the previous boats. Too much weight in the cockpit area was a major cause of weather helm. Correct trim and stowage play an important part in achieving a balancewith these small cruisers. Many owners fail to read the instructions about the mast angle or to follow the waterline; the result being that with the weight of the crew on board, the mast is raked aft and the transom is well dug into the water. The spate of owner modification continued but the GRP boats provided less scope for altering the internal layouts. 2133 sail numbers have been issued to SIIs and there are at least another 1000 sailing without SII numbers.
A major lengthening of the SII produced Silhouette Senior 20ft LOA. which had a finer bow and entry into the water. She was a very fast small cruiser built around 1967 in Essex, and later by Tankard Yachts.
In December 1967 Practical Boat Owner reviewed the 'Super Silhouette' S20 which had been designed in the previous year. Afloat, it resembled a scaled up plywood MkII. Underwater details were quite different though, with a hydrofoil - section skeg and balanced rudder and torpedo - bulb ballast at the bottom of the bilge keels. Later models featured a mainsheet traveller on the large stern deck, a lifting tiller, modified standing rigging to allow more flexibility to the mast and aluminium window trims. Below decks, the three berth version the galley was to starboard, with a Formica covered worktop which could be used for chartwork of food preparation. With four berths, there was an ingenious sliding galley arrangement which was pushed away under the bridge deck when not in use. The S20 sailed well and was a well balanced boat. Several of them made Atlantic crossings.
Varne Yachts introduced the S21 as a fibreglass successor to the S20 in the early eighties. Their 1981 catalogue lists the standard version at £5,058 complete, (compared with £3,996 for a standard SV). The S21 is instantly recognisable as a Silhouette, having the characteristic reverse sheerline but a considerably finer entry to the bow. Accommodation comprised a vee berth forward, with the heads between and two quarter berths aft. On the port side of the cabin was a gallery and a good sized stainless steel sink and on the starboard side, removable table on a pillar. The fittings and finish to the S20 were of a high specification. Pulpit, pushpit and guardwires were standard. For ballast, 16mm thick steel bilge keels were bolted to the hull and like the S20, carried grey cast iron 'bombs' totalling 480 kg in weight. In the mid eighties the moulds for both the MkV and the S21 passed to Beresford Marine, Belper, Derby but they did not mould any S21's and have now ceased building boats altogether.