Pt 1.25: Hard chines and one designs

Sharpie start
The Australian version of the 12 Square Metre Sharpies in a national championship off Adelaide in 1949.  The Australian one designs started using fully battened mainsails in the 1930s.  State Library South Australia pic B 7798/660

While the more expensive round-bilge development-class boats dominated the high profile end of the Australian dinghy sailing scene, around the coast most sailors sailed cheaper boats like one designs and smaller hard-chine local development classes. It seemed as if each city had its own range of local budget boats, and above them all were three widespread one designs.

The mindset of those who sailed the one designs and the local development classes seems to have been different to the 12, 14, 16 and 18 Footers in several important ways. Their hull shape and construction was one obvious area. All but one of the major one designs had hard chine hulls, which were considered to cause more drag and were often heavier, but were cheaper and easier to build. Length for length, with very few exceptions, the hard-chine classes carried less than half the sail and half the crew of the 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s. The hull construction, small rigs and small crews made the hard-chine boats much cheaper to build and own than the “skiff” types.

Many of those who favoured the one designs also seem to have been more openly interested in and influenced by designs and concepts from other countries. They took designs and ideas from overseas and gave them the local treatment, adding more sail area and more crew to adapt them to local conditions or culture.  The boats that they created were not as famous or spectacular as those of “skiff” stream, but arguably they had as least as much influence in the evolution of design as their better known cousins.

Although there was plenty of talk in the newspapers about the success of the one design classes in England, the strong development-class ethos meant that the concept was slow to take hold in Australia.  The first one design class to hit the water, the ten foot one designs from Perth, seem to have only lasted a few races in 1898. The only pic I can find shows a rather strange little boat with a vast boom, spoon bow and low freeboard – probably a very unsuitable design for the windy Swan River.

Perth one designs
Australia’s first one design. About ten were built, but the records show that they did little class racing.


Albert Park, that little cradle of Victorian dinghy sailing, was the venue for what seems to have been the first successful one design class in the country. From about 1910 the Albert Park Dinghy Club sailed a fleet of hard chine 8 Foot Dinghies, built and sailed by boys. From the scanty evidence it seems to have been a one design that spread inland to Ballarat and down to the rough waters of Port Phillip Bay, where it either was the junior boat for the St Kilda Fourteen Footer fleet.  The 8 Foot Dinghy seems to have survived into the 1940s, but it was never widespread or influential.

The year is probably 1913, and the spectators for the Albert Park regatta watch the Victorian class of Eight Foot Dinghies on the tiny Albert Park Lake near downtown Melbourne.  The little cat-rigged hard-chine boat seems to have spread to Ballarat and St Kilda in the 1930s but vanished without trace later.


The boat that finally turned one-design talk into popular reality was the 12 Foot Cadet, the first widespread one design in the country.  As the name implies, the Cadet was designed to train young sailors, specifically to fill the shortage of crew for the 21 Footer class centreboard yachts.  One later writer stated that the Cadet was inspired by the International 14, but given the Cadet’s clinker construction and the fact that the Cadet was designed a few months before the 14 class was formed, it seems more likely that the International 12 was the model. The clinker hull carried three boys and a 100 sq ft of upwind sail area, in an era when comparable overseas trainers had much longer hulls and proportionately smaller rigs and crews.  This pattern of a hull modelled from a Northern Hemisphere design but supercharged by a bigger rig and crew was to be followed by all of the major dinghy classes that grew up in Australia between the wars.

The Cadet was an instant success. “At first disappointment was expressed by many yachtsmen that the class of boat was so small, but the tiny craft have proved a fine type of boat for the purpose of training young yachtsmen, their stability and speed exceeding expectations.”

An early 12 Ft Cadet on Sydney Harbour. Hall pic through ANMM Commons
Tas Cadets
12 Ft Cadets in Hobart. The southern capital was the first city outside Australia to pick up on the class. The class still survives today, although only sailed in a few clubs. pic.


The first class race was in January 1923, and just over a year later the first national championship was fought out in Hobart.  By 1930 they became the first class to be sailed in every state, and the list of champions includes names that went on to helm Olympic and America’s Cup boats. The class still survives today, although in another example of the north/south divide in Australian sailing it has long since vanished from the east coast states.

Despite its success, in some ways the 12 Foot Cadet was an exception. It was a round-bilge clinker hull that was normally sailed from the establishment big-boat clubs.  Many of the Cadets were owned by big-boat owners – the first fleet was entirely owned by yachtsmen who named the Cadets after their yacht – and they were dedicated to training big-boat sailors.  As early as the 1930s there were comments that the Cadet was too expensive to survive. The boats that came to form the backbone of dinghy sailing around Australia’s coasts were hard chine boats, often home built and often sailing from clubs that specialised in dinghy racing.

Snipes in Ballarat
A mass christening of Snipes in Ballarat draws a crowd on the club open day in 1947. Snipes were raced as a class in Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, but they kept a low profile and never seem to have had a class association or national title. Their existence seems to be completely forgotten today. Perhaps the fact that they were not sailed in the major centres kept them under the radar, but it may also be significant that no foreign class succeeded in Australia without significant modifications until the 1950s. Pic from the Ballaarat YC history “Ballaarat Yacht Club 1877-2002” by Peter Mansfield. And yes, the spelling of the YC and the town is inconsistent.

The boat that was to take the 12 Ft Cadet’s crown as the major training class was born in 1931.  The Depression had hit Sydney hard, and the local youth had to resort to building canoes from corrugated iron to get on the water.  Watching these deathtraps was sporting goods retailer Sil Rohu, and naval architect Charles Sparrow he decided to create a boat that was safer, but still cheap and simple enough for juniors to build.

Veteran Vaucluse sailor Phil Briggs recalls that for inspiration, Rohu, Sparrow and members of the Vaucluse 12 Ft Skiff Club looked towards a Snipe that his brother had built. Briggs claims that the prototype Splinter was was basically a Snipe scaled down to 11’3” and carrying a borrowed set of 12 Foot Cadet sails.[58]  He recalled that Splinter was “very temperamental and twitchy”, so the hull was modified and widened by naval Sparrow and fitted with a more suitable rig, becoming the first major bermudan-rigged dinghy class in the country. [59]  The hull was flat in rocker and in section; so flat that early on it was sometimes known as the “Vaucluse Sharpie.”[60]  Sparrow created detailed plans and a simple structure for amateur construction “so that any boy of fourteen or fifteen could, with only very occasional assistance from a senior, build his own boat’ and generously waived his commission. [61]

Above – Splinter, the Vee Jay prototype, with its Cadet rig. Pic from the class site. Below – an early sailplan illustration.

Early VJ sailplan

The word “boy” was significant.  Rohu did not believe that women should sail. Teenager Suzanne Hawker, who was so determined to build her own boat that she had already earned a certificate in cabinet making, went to see the VJs at their home club when visiting Sydney.  “I picked my way over miles of wharves before I found the club – only to see a notice which said ‘No girls allowed’.” she recalled. [62] It took years to convince class president Rohu that women should be allowed in the class.[63]

The original Vee Jays adopted the old canoe trick of fitting the cockpit with a canvas bag, which could be picked up to empty the well after a capsize; later boats were fitted with a tiny 2’6” long waterproof footwell.  At a time when a capsize meant the end of the race in almost all Australian small-boat classes, in a Vee Jay race it was “not in the least unusual for several to capsize in a race if there is enough wind, but all will finish as if nothing had happened.”  To sailors bred in Skiffs and other Open Boats, this was anathema; a self-bailing boat was “useless as a trainer beyond a certain point” wrote Skiff designer Bryce Mortlock; “…you can make a mistake in them and learn nothing from it.”[64]  To others, the “self rescue” capacity of the Vee Jay made it a safer and better craft, and Sil Rohu himself advertised it as “the safety sailing boat”.

1934_Howard_Ash Vee Jay
Above – In 1934, when this pic (from the class site) was taken the Vee Jay was a long way short of the highly developed powerhouse it became, but it was still a fast boat in a breeze by the standards of the day. Pic below, showing a Vee Jay at Connels Point, from the Australian National Maritime Museum Commons.

Vee Jay

The Vee Jay was not just safe. With its flat hull, low freeboard and low aspect rig it was also a good performer in a breeze even in its early days. Rohu’s marketing acument and the Vee Jay’s speed and safety made it an instant hit. The Vee Jay even spread overseas in small numbers. One of the British boats was bought by a young man who gave it a high-aspect rig with a fully battened and big-roach mainsail. “Under this rig she gained a first in every race in which she sailed that season” he wrote years later. “She gave me an immense amount of pleasure, and I think probably taught me more about sailing than any other boat that I have since owned.” The Englishman was Ian Proctor; creator of classes like the Olympic Tempest keelboat, the Wayfarer cruising dinghy, and the little Topper scow, one of the world’s most popular boats.

The loose class rules allowed the Vee Jay to transformed from a simple little boat to a lighter, flatter planing machine powered by twin hiking planks. Pic of an early boat above from Hall ANMM Commons; brochure below of a 1960s boat from the class site.


Although it was always largely concentrated in NSW, the Vee Jay put more Australian kids afloat than any other boat. By the 1950s it was one of the world’s biggest classes, with 2,800 registered boats and 8,000 plans sold, and a generation of VJ graduates were transforming the skiff classes. Just as the little Vee Jay was starting to cause a stir in the eastern states, another and bigger sharpie type arrived in the southern states.  It was Germany’s long, skinny International 12 sq metre Sharpie.

The Sharpie’s plans were brought to Australia in 1933 by a sailor, M Lotz, with experience of the class in England and the Netherlands. He showed the plans to “several leading Perth yachtsmen, who very quickly declared that the Swan River was far too rough for such craft, and refused even to consider the idea.” Nothing daunted, Lotz took the plans to the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron, who decided to sponsor the class.  “For some years South Australian yachtsmen have been trying to evolve a class of day-sailing boat, which will be cheaper than the fourteen-footers and the 21 ft. restricted class, and will be a stepping stone for the lads becoming too old to sail In the 12 ft. cadet dinghies” said a paper. “The main advantage of the new craft is that they are entirely of one design, so that racing with them resolves itself into a pure test of seamanship” noted another. “No longer will the rich man, with his several suits of sails and his superior designed hull, have an overwhelming advantage over his poorer yachtsman.”

Sharpies off Adelaide in the 1940s. State Library of South Australia photo B7798/661

While the class was still in the planning stages the Sharpie was viewed as a stepping stone for intermediate-level sailors. You get the feeling that many sailors didn’t realise how potent the Sharpie, so foreign to their eyes, could be. They learned the lesson as soon as the Sharpie Comet, modified to carry a third crewman and a flat-cut spinnaker, entered her first race in August 1934. In a classic example of the typical Australian approach to one designs, the foreign hull had been turbocharged with a spinnaker and a third crewman to provide more righting moment. Sailed by 14 Footer champions O J  and A J O’Grady, Comet “quickly established a useful lead” upwind before she “streaked away with free sheets” on the reach and “further increased her lead to an unassailable position” on the run. Comet beat the best 14 Footers in the state by four minutes. The 14 Footer sailors, so used to being the Grand Prix class of the state, promptly demanded that Comet be handicapped, saying that “a boat of 19 ft. 7 in, and narrow In the beam, will always do better in the short choppy waves of the beaches in a moderate breeze than the beamier 14-footers.”

“Surprise win by new class boat at Henley” read the headlines, and from then on the Sharpie made “meteoric” progress. Here was a boat that could be built for just 35 to 45 pounds instead of the 300 pounds for a top-class 14 Footer or a cheap 21 Footer. Within a year there were nearly 40 boats racing in South Australia, and the class was becoming the major high-performance boat in Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria. In yet another indication of the geographic divide between the east coast states and the rest of the country, the Sharpie took longer to develop fleets in NSW and Queensland, and it never became as popular as the Skiffs and Open Boats in those states.

The Sharpie Havoc in the mid ’50s, showing the fully battened mainsail that was used in Australian versions of the 12 Square Metre. Pic from the class site.

The arrival of the Sharpie seems to have caused a lot of angst amongst the 14 Foot Dinghy sailors. Here was a boat that could not only threaten their class’ pre-eminence in the southern states, but was also promoted by former 14 Footer legends like “Pat” O’Grady, HC Brooke and Rymill. “This swing over to one-designers is following the trend of yachting enthusiasts throughout the world, and the policy seems a sound one” wrote 14 Footer legend H C Brooke in his newspaper column.

The Sharpie may have been one of the most important standard bearers for one designs. Its size and speed took Australian one design classes into a new area. No longer were one designs restricted to training boats – they had become a prestigious form of high performance racing boat for experts.

The local development classes

The Vee Jay and Sharpie were not the first light hard-chined boats in the country. While the media obsessed over the big-rigged Skiffs and Open Boats, all across Australia there were slender, light development classes with small rigs. All but one of these classes has long gone, but the men who were involved with them played a significant part in the development of the racing dinghy.

Perhaps the earliest of all of the cheap local types were the 18ft “flat bottomed square ended punts” that was sponsored by the great open boat sailor J.H. Whereat in Brisbane as early as 1883. The punt racing only lasted a few years, but from 1894 Brisbane adopted a bewildering variety of local sharpie classes, ranging from 18 footers that carried huge rigs (but were barred by the round-bilge 18s) down to 10 footer for juniors. [57]

Regatta on the Brisbane River 1883 JPEG
“Regatta on the Brisbane River 1883” from the State Library of Queensland showing what appear to be the entrants for the “flat bottomed square ended punts, sailed and manned by youths under 18 years”, not exceeding 18 ft in length”.  The class was sponsored by J.H. Whereat, one of the champions in the early Open Boat era.
Nell champion fourteen footer Sharpie ca
Brisbane evolved its own menagerie of hard chine boats, like the spectacular 14 Foot Sharpie Nell (above) Brisbane champion around 1914. John Oxley Library pic. For decades the Oxley Sailing Club had its own  class of 14 foot “restricted sharpies” with smaller 220 sq ft rigs (below). Pic from the Oxley SC site.

Oxley sharpies

Sharpie skiff Brisbane river SLQ
One of the big unrestricted sharpies of the Brisbane River, probably an 18 footer. John Oxley Library pic. They were barred from racing with the normal 18 Footers.

Across in Western Australia there was a class of flat and wide punts that raced on small lakes inland from Perth, and claimed surprising speeds. Down in South Australia a group of teenagers formed the Grange Punt Club, and built skinny 18 footers that could beat the grand-prix 14 Footers downwind in strong winds.  Cheap, rough and hard to handle there were plans to replace them with a more seaworthy 14 foot canoe. [66]  Over in Melbourne, another group of youth formed the Williamstown Punt Club, which also raced canoe-like “punts” in the period before and after WW1. The Williamstown youths even got their own clubhouse, which was opened by none other than the Governor General, the head of state of the country.

Grange Punts
Above – Grange Punts. These skinny 18 footers bred many of the early champions in the 14 Foot Dinghy and Sharpie classes in South Australia. The 14 Footer SA can be seen astern. State Library of South Australia.


Williamstown Punt
The Williamstown Punt was created by youths shortly before WW1.  The Williamstown Punts were about 19ft long and restricted to 3ft beam and 70 sq ft of sail. Pic and information from Williamstown Maritime Association and Williamstown SC.


Despite their economy and the outstanding performance they could show at times, especially downwind in a breeze, none of the development-class sharpies or punts ever grew outside of their home port. It seems they may have been too one-dimensional; too likely to capsize (although some, like the Grange Punts, were self-draining) and unable to beat the round-bilge big-rig boats upwind and in light airs.

“Flatties” in Perth around 1914. This class of 12’6″ boats was said to normally beat the 16 ft Rudder Lark scow. The bottom boat is a typical design. Made in kauri, they weighed only 90 to 130lb. The pic was taken only a few years after club members were permitted to swim in the lake wearing ‘neck to knee’ swimsuits to preserve public dignity. From Yachting World Dec 1915.

WA Flattie plans.png

The development-class sharpies and the punts have all long gone, like the Connewarre punts before them. But one of the early hard-chine development classes has not only survived, but become one of the most influential dinghy classes of all.  In 1928 a small-town dairy manager, Len Morris, decided to build a boat light enough to trailer down to the narrow inlet at Inverloch and fast enough to sail against the inlet’s rapid tidal currents.

Morris comes down the decades as the sort of man you’d like to know. He started sailing on Albert Park Lake on a canvas canoe before becoming a partner in one of the low and fast 25 foot centreboard yachts that sailed there and in Ballarat.  A World War 1 hero, he put a lot back into the sport as a volunteer and sailed – and won – in Moths well into his old age.

As Morris sketched designs in the dairy depot he thought back to his childhood memories of the descriptions in “Rudder” magazine of the Seawanhaka Cup scows, mixed with information he had recently obtained on a trip to the USA for business purposes. He decided to create a little hard-chine 11 footer as “an easily-constructed version of a small scow.” [65] It was a very simple hull; dead flat bottom sections, square vertical hull sides, and rather crude looking. She had a single daggerboard instead of the normal scow’s bilgeboards. “I have thought of using two bilge boards but have given the idea away” wrote Morris years later, referring to the problem of handling the boards and the extra weight or two boards and cases.

Olive as she is today in Albert Park Sailing Club. Pic from the International Moth site.
Olive sailing
A poor quality pic, but the only one I can find of Olive under sail. The sail insignia was adopted from the Crosby-designed Moth from Rudder magazine, although other American Moths had a different insignia.  News (Adelaide) 22 March 1934

Morris’ boat was a singlehander, an unusual thing in Australia at the time. The sail area was a generous 80 sq ft bermudan rig, and inspired by Germany’s renjollen Morris soon fitted the sail with full battens.

Fast and seaworthy because of her small cockpit and wide decks, Morris’ boat Olive inspired a class known after its home town as the “Inverloch 11 foot class”. In 1933, the Inverloch sailors read “Rudder” accounts of the slightly later US Moth class and noted how similar it was to their own 11 footer. They adopted the “Moth” name and the symbol of the boat in the Rudder, but they kept their own taller and larger rig and flatter, more stable hull; the chance of international competition seemed so slim that there was no reason to bring the rules into line.

At first its growth was slow; the little country town of Inverloch was not the ideal place to launch an International class. Sailing events topped the bill in the annual regatta, but they shared the day with events like motorboat races, greasy pole climbing, musical chairs on horseback, and a guess-the-sheep’s-weight competition.  It wasn’t until 1936 that the Moth spread to another small club, which also introduced versions of American Moths including one designed by Rudder Magazine’s Crosby and the “Little Bear” design. “Both with the American and Australian rigs, my Moth Flutterby outclassed them” wrote Morris many years later, who referred to the Vee-bottom US designs and the British Moth as “hopeless” at planing because they “did not exploit the inclined bilge of the true scow”.

The Moth started to make even more of a name for itself when Morris sailed Flutterby in  on Port Phillip Bay, centre of Victorian sailing. “It was when Flutterby sailed in a full-sail breeze and steep seas while putting up second-fastest time” said a later report “that Les Morris began to suspect that Moths were something out of the normal”. “Built on the lines of a scow, they made fast times, and more than held their own against the larger boats and should prove very popular” said a report of the time.


Moth No 3
Len Morris sailing Moth Number 3, Flutterby. Pic from the class site.

There seems to have been some resistance to the Moth from those who felt that a cat rig was “useless as trainees for larger classes” because of the lack of a jib and spinnaker. It wasn’t until after WWII that the Moth class exploded in popularity, spreading singlehanded sailing across the country.

In 1946, Morris consulted hydrodynamic experts from the national science organisation to design the “Mk 2”, sharing Olive’s flat sections and square sides but adding a wider bow and smaller cockpit. The Mk2 set the standard for Moths for a decade or more, and still survives today in the form of the small one-design class known as the NZ Moth. The other great survivor from the Moth’s earliest days is Olive herself.  Today, she still hangs inside a sailing club on the lake inside the Melbourne Formula 1 car-racing course, a unique survivor from the birth of one of the world’s most innovative classes.

NZ Moth plans
Plans of the Mk 2 from the NZ Moth site. Despite its utter simplicity, it remained competitive against big fleets of round-bilged boats for many years.
Stewarts Gully Moth
Above – NZ Moths, a one design version of the Mk II Moths, still survive as a small class in New Zealand. Pic from the Stewarts Gully SC site.


wingmasted Moth
Although the MkII Moth was dominant in Moths for years, there were still innovators. One champion tried bilgeboards unsuccessfully. Another, Pat Smith, built two wingmasts (above) but found the weight made the boat perform poorly. Seacraft October 1949.

The Moth, 12 Ft Cadet, Vee Jay and Sharpie seem to have set the pattern for Australian one designs and small development classes. First, you chose a hull that followed international concepts, and made sure that it has hard chines for economy and wide decks for safety. But, as the relative lack of success of the Snipe showed, that alone was not enough. To succeed in Australia you also also needed flat hull sections for high winds, a bigger rig for more speed, and extra righting moment to match. The light and comparatively small-rigged boats that this recipe created were in striking contrast to the famous 12, 14 and 18 Footers, but just as influential on the history of dinghy design.




“specifically to fill the shortage of crew”: Yachting and the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club Graeme Norman, p 75. The RPAYC was the club that started the 12 Foot Cadet class.

“At first disappointment was expressed by many”;- Mercury 4 March 1924

“The class still survives today”:- One account says that the class died out in Sydney because “The Sydney dinghy Clubs were too numerous and too far apart, so the boys went into the 18ft. and 16ft. skiffs.” See Mercury 9 May 1947

“Under this rig she gained a first in every race in which she sailed that season”:- Seacraft magazine, June 1950 p 395.

“Watching these deathtraps was sporting goods retailer Sil Rohu”: – The Sunday Herald, 18 Jan 1953

“Rohu did not believe that women should”;- The Sunday Herald, 18 Jan 1953

“”For some years South Australian yachtsmen have been trying to evolve a class of day-sailing boat”:- Advertiser 21 Sep 1934

” “The main advantage of the new craft”:-  The Mail 10 Nov 1934

“quickly established a useful lead” :- Advertiser 29 Oct 1934

“The 14 Footer sailors, so used to being the Grand Prix class of the state”;- Advertiser, 2 November 1934

“The sharpies have become popular”: Advertiser, 20 Sep 1935

“Within a year there were nearly 40 boats racing in South Australia”:- Advertiser, 17 April 1936

When the Sharpie and 14 Footer nationals were run  concurrently in 1938, in a pre-champoionships race the Sharpies were rated at 4% faster.

“14s were expensive boats to run – they were built fairly light, carried very big sails and a big crew – usually 6.  Wooden masts 28 to 31ft long, very lightly made and easy to break. Mainsail at 230 sq ft is small, 265 sq ft is normal and 300 sq ft

“They were barred from racing with the normal 18 Footers”:-

“Built on the lines of a scow”;- Williamstown Chronicle, 26 Nov 1938.

“I have thought of using two bilge boards”;  ‘Which Moth is best?’ by Len Morris, Seacraft Oct 1960.

“”Both with the American and Australian rigs” ibid.

“There seems to have been some resistance”:- The Moth Class Story, Seacraft May 1957



NOTE: There were many other one designs that started in the period before the 1950s that may be covered in a later post. There were Fergusons (15 or 16 foot sharpies sailed in Hobart), Kiwis (simply the NZ Idle Along design sailed in Hobart, and also under their normal name in Melbourne).   There were “19-ft One-design Skiffs”[68].  “Trainer dinghies” in Adelaide were hard-chine sharpie-like 12’ gunter sloops pre WW2;[69]

The Fourteen Footer movement tried to get several one design classes going, including a design (or two) by Bill Osborne and the Brooke design referred to in a previous post.

Earlier attempt to get one designs going included a “1900 proposal for a 20 footer in Adelaide”;- the proposed design was by AG Rymill, who had designed and sailed the One Rater Geisha in the Inter Colonial One Rater challenge in Auckland a few years before; Weekly Times (Melb) 17 March 1900. Rymill then turned to become Australia’s top powerboat racer but sponsored his nephew A G Rymill, in a Fourteen Footer.




Author: cthom249

A former sailing journalist and magazine editor, I was lucky enough to grow up in Sydney, one of the world's sailing hotspots and to win national and state championships in classes like J/24s, Windsurfer One Designs, offshore racers, Laser Radial open, Windsurfer OD Masters, Raceboard Masters and Laser Radial Masters, to get into the placings in a few other classes, and do a few Sydney to Hobarts.

2 thoughts on “Pt 1.25: Hard chines and one designs”

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