Tag Archives: John Spencer

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