John Spencer (1931 – 1996) – Javelin Class Designer

Image of John Spencer
John Spencer

As most of you will be aware John Spencer, the designer of the Javelin died in 1996.

I thought it would be appropriate to have something to remind us of the man behind the class.

“A brilliant designer and superb craftsman, John’s lifelong passion was to get as many people as possible particularly youngsters – onto the water in their own affordable boats.”

“Knowledgeable in many areas, complex and multi-talented, well-read, or quick mind and keen humour, popular and generous, many believe that only Johns modesty and dislike of publicity kept him from being a national hero.”

“He was the champion of the amateur boat-builder. Next to affordable, his boats had to be simple and fun. They were always fast.”

“In his final years John returned to his roots – to his affinity for small boats, dinghies which kids could build with their parents. Earlier generations had grown up with Spencers Flying Ant, Cherubs, Javelins and Frostplys. Now kids and their parents were discovering his Jollyboats, Firebugs and Firebirds.”

“Internationally John is best remembered for his series of radically fast, lightweight but strong keel-boats. Yachts like Infadel (now Ragtime), Buccaneer, New World, Whispers II, Sirius and many others changed forever the old concepts of a performance off-shore sailboat.”

“More than anything in his life, John abhorred ‘bullshit’. Expensive ways of doing things which could be done as well, if not better, in an affordable way were the worst ‘bullshit’ of all.”

Timeline, of the Javelin design

  • 1957-58 – The Javelin was designed along with a “much-improved” Cherub.
  • 1960 – More cherubs on the water, an improved Javelin and new keel boats
  • 1962 – He was building a number of Javelins, Cherubs and powerboats up to 6.7m

Prolific Letter Writer

John was a prolific letter writer, often sending and receiving as many as 17 letters in a day, to and from all corners of the world.
Some excerpts from his more than 300 letters to Peter Tait:

“One and a half weeks to go to the pension. Will believe it when I see it on the bank statement. I wonder if they pay it before or after. I suppose they would not pay it in advance in case you dies before the fortnight was up.”

“Social Welfare department informed me today that my first ‘guaranteed’ retirement income will be deposited in my bank account tomorrow and henceforth every 2nd Tuesday. I brought after much hesitation this afternoon, a plastic bottle of $19.95 gin to celebrate. It is as good as any other London Dry but had one and decided I had lost my taste for it. I guess it’s all just habit but why can’t I get a habit for fruit juice?”

Reproduced with permission. – Boating New Zealand, April 1996

Flying Circus – New Rudder Build

Update: The rudder is now completed (rudder stock and gantry to go).  Images at the bottom


Flying Circus is getting a bit of an upgrade. Here are some photos of her new rudder being built by Andrew Howden (boat builder).

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Update (16 Aug 2016): Andrew’s been very busy, and has only just had a chance to make some more progress.  The rudder is pretty much now finished (see below) and will soon be moving on to the rudder stock/cassette, and gantry.

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Andrew can by contacted via Howden Boat Builders


Gidget – The Very First Javelin

Gidget - out sailing
Gidget – out sailing
Gidget - Under Construction
Gidget – Under Construction



Gidget - out sailing
Gidget – out sailing

Jim White bought a set of plans off John Spencer. Originally, he wanted a Cherub, but John reckoned that Jim was too heavy for one of those and that the 14-foot boat he had just drawn – a Javelin – would be better suited. Jim obtained the plans for the price of two pounds.
Jim had never built a boat before taking on the construction of Gidget.
The total cost of building Gidget was around 280 pounds.
Gidget was launched in 1958 or 1959. Jim owned her for three seasons with Don McGowan skippered for him. Gidget did not have a sail number.

2015-16 Season Event Program (NZL)

The dates below are confirmed, except where stated they are not.  There are a few holes at the moment.  If you have any suggestions or requests please let us know by commenting below.

Traveler Series: North Island Sprints
dates: Sat & Sun, 17th & 18th October 2015
host: Rotorua Yacht Club

South Pacifics training: Auckland (venue to be decided)
dates: tbc (early November, maybe even Labour weekend)
host: (to be decided, but somewhere in Auckland for sure)

Just because you can: Napier Summer Regatta
dates: Sat & Sun, 28th & 29th November 2015
host: Napier Sailing Club

Just because you can: Sir Peter Blake Regatta
dates: Sat & Sun, 5th & 6th December 2015
host: Torbay Sailing Club

South Pacifics: 45th Australian Javelin Championships & South Pacific Championships
dates: 28th Dec 2015 to 4th Jan 2016
host: Perth Dinghy Sailing Club

Just because you can: Napier New Year Regatta
dates: 1st to 3rd Jan 2016
host: Napier Sailing Club

Nationals: Might River Power Regatta
dates: Fri, Sat & Sun, 10th, 11th & 12th March 2015
host: Lake Taupo Yacht Club

Sanders Cup: Whangarei
dates: Easter
host: Whangarei Cruising Club
note: All boats welcome, regional representatives only qualify

North Island Champs: Evan’s Bay Regatta
dates: Sat & Sun, 9th & 10th April
host:  Evan’s Bay Yacht & Motor Boat Club

W.E Sanders, V.C, D.S.O, R.N.R

Battle for the “Prize”

In April 1916, Sub Lieutenant W.E. Sanders (a New Zealander serving with the RNR) joined HMS “Sapina” as Second in Command. When a year later Q ships were adopted as a means of combating the submarine menace Sanders volunteered for service and was given command of the Topsail Schooner “Prize” and promoted to Lieutenant-Commander.

Lieutenant-Commander Sanders
Lieutenant-Commander Sanders

On the evening of April 30th, 1917 the “Prize” was 120 miles south of Ireland when they spotted a U93 running awash. The submarine opened fire from 4000 yards sending her first shells well over the schooner. As a courtesy gesture, at this the schooner lowered her topsails and a well drilled “Panic Party” manned their boat and pushed off. Sanders and his gun crews laid hidden waiting for the submarine to come close, however the German commander was suspicious and kept firing as he closed in, reducing the “Prize” to a mass of wreckage.

Sanders and his men stuck to their posts as shell after shell battered the hull. During this time Sanders was perfectly cool and occasionally crept forward on his hands and knees to visit the forward gun crews and ascertain how they were withstanding the shell fire.

Finally convinced the schooner was in sinking condition the Germans ceased fire and steamed close to get the ships particulars. Sanders decided the moment he had waited forty minutes for had come and with a blast from his whistle the gunscreens clanged down, the white ensign fluttered up the mast and the “Prize” opened fire. The first salvo disabled the submarines forward gun. She turned and ran preparing to dive while three men manned the after gun only to be sent swimming by the “Prizes” shells. The submarine was last seen settling in the water stern first, her bow straight up in the air.

Severely damaged the “Prize” limped to port carrying with her the German U boat commander and others rescued from the water.

Sanders was awarded the V.C. on June 27. 1917 but never lived to receive it as the “Prize” was sunk with all hands on August 14, 1917 by a torpedo from a German U Boat.

For his services in this action, Sanders was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order.