NotesThe designer of the VJ was Charles E. Sparrow who was born in England in 1906. His father retired from the Royal Navy, joined the Royal Australian Navy, and ended up in Sydney on the old training ship "Tingira" in Rose Bay. Charles finished school in Sydney soon after the First World War and undertook an apprenticeship as a shipwright at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney Harbour. He went on to become a journeyman draughtsman and later a naval architect.
Sparrow's first job in the drawing office of the Dockyard was working on plans for the RAN seaplane carrier, "Albatross". He finished at Cockatoo Island just before the Great Depression and later worked at the State Dockyard in Newcastle, Morts Dock in Sydney, the Australian Steam Navigation Co. and even Holden body builders, until 1931.
In the early 1930s any work was hard to come by and Sparrow used to go sailing with the Sydney gun dealer, Sil Rohu. Rohu lived on the waterfront at Vaucluse and knew how enthusiastic young boys were about water sports so formed a sailing club for under 18-year-olds. He asked Sparrow to design a boat which could be built by a boy and his father and was easy to sail. In only 7 days Sparrow prepared drawings for a simple V-bottom boat, with a cockpit large enough for two boys' feet. The first prototype constructed from the plans was "The Splinter", built by members of the Vaucluse Amateur Sailing Club. After minor adjustments, the final plans were prepared ready for sale (10 shillings and 6d) and the first production boat built, "Chum", was launched in August 1931. The new craft was called the Vaucluse Junior, or VJ.
To build, the VJ required 4 pounds 10 shillings worth of timber (Red Pacific Maple, Clear Oregon and Colonial Pine); 13 shillings and 6 pence for the fastenings (copper nails and brass screws); and 3 pounds 5 shillings for the sails. The early VJs had oiled canvas, wood or galvanised iron-lined cockpits to make them as waterproof as possible and carried a small hand plunger pump. They were built from solid timber but from 1935 onwards the stronger and lighter marine plywood was used. It was suggested that the centre board be made from 22 gauge galvanised iron or 3/16 inch (0.5 cm) mild steel plate, fencing wire for the stays and a perambulator-wheel trolley built for transportation by hand or towing by a bicycle.
Sparrow donated all proceeds of his plans, list of materials and instructions to Vaucluse Junior Sailing Club. The first VJ race was held on Sydney Harbour in 1933 and it went on to be a great success. It was not long before enquiries for the plans came from England, Canada, the USA, India, Denmark and New Zealand.
In the meantime Sparrow took a job as a technical instructor in Papua New Guinea but returned to Sydney just before the War. The Vaucluse Junior Sailing Club was thriving but it was found that once the young VJ skippers reached 18 they were no longer qualified to race and left the club, but being still too young for open sailing boats. To remedy this Rohu asked Sparrow to design a sailing boat a bit larger than the VJ capable of carrying a crew of thee or four. This is how the 15.5 ft (4.6 m) Vaucluse Senior (VS) craft for young adults came about. The cockpit was large enough to sleep in with a sail over the boom to make a tent. The VS quickly became popular and with the growth of the two classes a new clubhouse was opened in 1939 in Marine Parade, Watsons Bay, the site of the Vaucluse Yacht Club. By 1948 the Vee Jay and Vee Ess Amateur Sailing Association had been formed with 35 affiliated clubs around Australia sailing with about 500 Vee Jays in senior and junior sections and some 3000 plans having been sold. This had increased to 4170 in 1958.
Meanwhile, just before the War, Sparrow had become a ship's draughtsman at Garden Island in Sydney before moving up to Brisbane as the Naval Overseer at the Evans Deakin Shipyard constructing corvettes, frigates and repairing war-damaged ships. After the War he returned to Garden Island as Chief Draughtsman and Senior Naval Architect in charge of the drawing office. Cataracts forced his retirement in 1960 to Wyongah on Lake Tuggerah where he did engineering drawings for new houses and designed fishing vessels and a charter ferry, the "Tamboi Queen".
In 2000 Sparrow was awarded an Order of Australia for sailing. For 70 years he had been a member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and a long-time member of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. He was a life member of the Vee Jay Association and donated a perpetual trophy, which bears his name, for the overall handicap winner each year at the Australian Championships. Charles Sparrow died at Wyoming on the Central Coast in 2004 at the age of almost 98.
Andrews, Graeme "A Mainly Maritime Live Charles Sparrow OAM FRINA, the Designer of the VJ" in "The Australian Naval Architect", August 2002, pp.43-5.
"The man who launched 10,000 VJs: Charles Sparrow" in "Afloat", June 2004.
"National sport began as yachtsmen's hobby" in "Pix", 13 November 1943, pp.14-17