Inside the Collection

Sailing VJs

Large model of sailing ship
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

With the famous 2010 Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race recently finished I thought it would be timely to write about Sydney’s famous sailing skiff, the VJ, on which many of the Sydney to Hobart yachties would have learnt to sail.

VJ stands for “Vaucluse Junior” and Vaucluse is an exclusive Sydney harbour-side suburb. In the early 1930s there were really no vessels suitable to teach children to sail so several members of the Vaucluse Sailing Club initiated and built the Vaucluse Junior. The first version of the VJ or Vee Jay was designed in seven days by marine architect, Charles Sparrow, and launched in 1931, named Chum. The craft was an instant success because of its ease of handling and low cost. It was simple enough for a boy and his “handy” dad to build in marine ply at home, from Sparrow’s plans which were eventually sold by the Club world wide. It is estimated that some 10,000 VJs have been built. They went on to become a popular racing class in India, New Guinea and other Commonwealth countries at the time.

Black and white photo of two men in a sail boat on the water
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

According to the maritime historian, Graeme Andrews, the VJ “changed the sailing scene in Australia. It was the first ‘unsinkable’ and inexpensive sailing skiff and taught generations of sailors their trade.” It was ideally suited for teenagers and novices because it was simple to right after capsizing, handled easily, was fast-sailing and especially popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. The speedy VJ spawned generations of sailing enthusiasts including Ben Lexcen and Kay Cottee.

Two men standing and holding on to the keel of their capsized sail boat
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

With the availability of low-cost materials such as fibreglass and aluminum in the post-War period, a greater variety of mass-produced sailing boats became available. These modern, easy-to-sail craft have opened up the sport to more people than ever. However, they’ve become more complex, much more expensive, and can’t be made at home any more.

Charles Sparrow with the Museum’s VJ in about 1982
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

This VJ was built in about 1955 and called Giselle. It was owned by brothers, Lynn and Maurice Joseph, sailed on Sydney Harbour in the 1950s and 60s, and was donated to the Museum by Dr Lynn Joseph in 1980.

(Image shows Charles Sparrow with the Museum’s VJ in about 1982).

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator

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