The Australian Sailfish is a single hand centreboard dinghy designed by Bruce Scott and Jack Carroll. It is a catboat with a single Bermuda-rigged sail bent to a stayed mast of up to 4.9 m (16’) length.
Length 3.5 m (11’6’’).
Max. beam 88.6 cm (2’10 7/8”). This measurement excludes gunwales, which are not to exceed 25 mm (1″) in width on either side of boat.
Minimum hull weight 28.6 kg (63 lb).
Sail area 6.04 m2 (65 sq ft).
The Sailfish is a scow with a fully-enclosed, fully-decked hull. A shell, of marine ply for the deck and bottom and solid timber for the sides, is built over a skeleton of strongback and keel, frames and stringers.
The design and this construction method produce a very strong and durable boat.
With its squared-off ends, and strongback and sheer parallel with the waterline, the Sailfish has simple lines which make it very easy to build, by even an inexperienced woodworker.
It is also very easy to build well and to the minimum weight. And the boat is light at its minimum weight of 28.6 kg (63 lb).
It is comparatively inexpensive .
The boat is unsinkable and safe. It is easily righted after a capsize and bailing is obviously not necessary. It is a single hander but was designed with sufficient buoyancy to carry 2 people in safety.
The Sailfish is car-toppable. A minimum weight hull can be lifted on and off car roof-racks or a trailer by one person with some effort, and easily by two people. This is a very useful feature, regardless of whether the boat is used for non-competitive off-the-beach fun or for racing. They are very quick to set up and sail.
And, after a day of sailing, they are easily stowed in garage or car-port.
It is a one-design class with strict tolerances (+/- 3 mm sides, bottom and deck; +/- 6 mm for length). This provides for a uniformity of hull and sail plan among racing boats.
This combination of strength, durability, light weight and one-design has the potential to produce boats of great longevity which can remain competitive for many seasons. There is no need for expensive new hulls or costly modifications to old ones. “Janus”, sail number 1918, was raced solidly for 8 years and the only thing that limited its performance in that time was between the ears of the skipper. That boat, built in 1970, remains in good nick and on minimum weight 48 years on. “Furyous”, sail number 2135 seen in the photo below, was third in the 1976/77 National Titles and then, in new hands, was National Junior Champion for five consecutive years from 1982/83. In 1986/87 it was also Open Champion
The Australian Sailfish is undeniably a utilitarian rather than a classically pretty design. It nevertheless provides pretty sparkling performance in a race-tuned boat. It is both responsive in light breezes yet able to punch along in heavy conditions that can force the retirement of other dinghies. The hull form produces exhilarating sailing off the wind where, with the sheet eased and the skipper hiking, the boat will plane easily, freely and thrillingly.
In 1956, two friends in the eastern bay-side suburb of Mordialloc, Melbourne, Victoria had a discussion about sailing. They were keen dinghy sailors, both at the time competing in club, state and national competitions in the VS Class (Vaucluse Senior, 15’, 3-person wooden centreboard dinghy). Bruce Scott sailed his boat “Osprey”. Jack Carroll sailed “Debonair”.
Bruce had seen some articles in North American yachting magazines which had featured the Alcort Sailfish and Sunfish. He showed the articles to Jack. “Look at these boats”, Jack remembers him as saying. “We should have something like them. You don’t need a crew, they’re quick to rig, and you’re sailing”.
A short time later, Bruce presented Jack with a single-page drawing of what he wanted and what he planned to build.
Jack took that drawing and laid it out full-size in chalk on a school-room floor he was constructing at work. He faired the lines to produce a plan view of the hull. He then drew what would have been the side and front elevations. From these full-size drawings he was able to take the overall dimensions of the hull and extract the dimensions for the frames, sides and centreboard case.
Bruce completed his hull first, and cat-rigged it with a very low aspect Bermudan sail, influenced (Jack thinks) by the squat unstayed lateen sail on the Alcort Sailfish. It had a relatively short luff and long foot, and no boom vang. This was Australian Sailfish No. 1, and he called it “Little Osprey”. A photo of this boat on Port Phillip Bay is incorporated into one of the trophies that to this day sits on Jack’s bookshelf.
For his own boat, Jack redrew the sail plan to match a taller mast, with a longer luff and a shorter foot, and he added a boom vang. This boat was “Debonair”, Australian Sailfish No.2. The hull and sail plans have remained unchanged ever since – The Australian Sailfish had been conceived and delivered fully-formed with the first two boats!
Bruce Scott produced a sail insignia for his boat based on an arrow passing through the “O” for “Osprey”. It could be argued that it is a stylised fish.
Is it possible that Bruce, a signwriter with undoubtedly an eye for graphic design, produced an abstraction of the Alcort Sailfish emblem as a nod of acknowledgement to the inspiration for his new boat?
Who can know? In any case, Bruce’s simple but lovely design has remained the class insignia we are all familiar with.
The Alcort Sailfish may have been the stimulus, but the Australian Sailfish is a distinctly different craft to the North American boat. It is considerably lighter and it carries a more powerful and stayed rig. But the more fundamental difference, however, is that the Australian Sailfish is a scow.
A scow has increased righting moment both transversely and longitudinally when compared to a craft with a wedge-shaped bow. Transversely, the centre of buoyancy moves further outboard when the boat heels. Longitudinally, the large reserve buoyancy in the bow mitigates against nose-diving. This increased righting moment both athwartships and fore-and-aft gives a scow the capacity to carry a more powerful rig than a boat with a wedge-shaped bow. Further, the dynamic lift generated from the flatter forward hull form causes the boat to plane earlier and faster, this benefit being evident only off the wind in the Australian Sailfish. Unlike the Moth, a more famous Australian scow, it won’t plane to windward. Its fine bow, however, allows it to punch through the short chop of Port Phillip…and the chop of Lake Macquarie and Botany Bay and other relatively open waters. Flick around the weather mark and an Australian Sailfish in a good breeze can plane for much of the remaining legs of a race.
This performance was eye-catching. The boats of Bruce Scott and Jack Carroll on the beach at Parkdale Yacht Club on Port Phillip attracted the attention and interest of other sailors. It was a classic example of a local design for local needs. When asked for plans for their new design, all Bruce and Jack could offer initially were sketched drawings and hand-written building instructions. Subsequently plans were developed and made available to the public.
Australian Sailfish began to sail with club fleets on Port Phillip Bay, at Parkdale Yacht Club initially and later at Elwood Sailing Club.
The numbers of Sailfish racing became such that in 1961 a Victorian Australian Sailfish Class Owners Association was formed to formulate class rules, distribute plans, measure and register boats and promote the class.
Strong club fleets developed on Port Phillip Bay . Jack reports that at one time there were forty Sailfish racing at Elwood Sailing Club. The Sailfish was also taken up by clubs in country Victoria, including Bendigo, Ballarat and Cairn Curran.
Promotion took the form of displays at the Melbourne Boat Show, the distribution of the Association newsletter, “Sailfish Newsreel”, to clubs and articles in boating magazines such as “Seacraft”.
Any additional input or comments from our readers are warmly welcome
To be Continued . . . . . . .