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Manly Junior - worth its weight in Gold

by Genelle Aldred on 24 Sep 2012
Nathan Wilmot - Invader Philip Copeland
The 2012 Australian Sailing Team returned from the London Olympic and Paralympic Games with four gold and one silver medal collectively, and four of the twenty-one sailors representing our country started their sailing careers in a Manly Junior. There are many Olympic and World Champion sailors whose names appear on the Honour Board of the Manly Junior Association and their achievements are testament to the longevity and success of, what has long been considered, the best junior training boat for young children.

The first MJ was designed and built in 1959 by Ralph Tobias from what was the Manly 14’ Skiff Sailing Club. In setting out to design the MJ, Ralph needed to take into consideration that any new boat needed to have a mainsail, jib and spinnaker so that they would become an introductory step to the 14’s.

Another critical factor was storage, with the 14’s already taking up all available rack space, the new boats would need to be stored vertically, and so the length of the new boat was determined by the ceiling height of the shed, just over (8’6').

Wanting to give the young sailors a boat with the potential to plane and with the buoyancy to allow for a crew of two, Ralph decided on a snub bow. Other criteria were the boat should be able to be built by a handyman, and it should be of low cost. A local sail maker, Laurie Mitchell helped develop a sail kit that included all the sails, ropes, rigging and fittings, the price was 40 Pounds. A local timber yard provided a kit with all the timber parts cut to a pattern, this also cost 40 Pounds and thus the Manly Junior was born.

In the two years following the launch of MJ 1, four clubs; Manly, Clontarf, Palm Beach and Royal Prince Alfred were competing in interclub events, in 1961 the Manly Junior Sailing Association was inaugurated and by 1967 1400 boats had been constructed with twenty-two clubs competing. The first task of the Association was to draw up a set of class restrictions and with the assistance of Naval Architect and designer of ‘Gretel’, Alan Payne, those same class restrictions stand today:-

'The ‘Manly Junior’ class is intended be a training class for learning to sail and a racing class in which success will be achieved by the skills of the helmsman and crew. It is not intended as a development class to encourage the building of finely finished lavishly equipped, lightweight boats. The intent of the class is to develop the children rather than the boat………'


In the 53 years since MJ 1 hit the water, 2783 have been built, the most recent in July this year. MJ 1 is on display at the National Maritime Museum.

Australia’s Stephen Churm, 2012 Paralympic Sonar sailor, started his sailing career in Mk I MJ’s in the 1960’s. The original design had forward and aft buoyancy and a seat for the crew. In 1967, MJ 1400 ‘Transition’ was built, the first of the Mk II’s. The design was changed to make the boats safer and easier to retrieve after capsize, the aft and rear buoyancy was replaced with side tanks, which meant when righted correctly, very little water was left to bail.

By 1970, the class had spread to Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. State Associations were inaugurated and the first Australian (National) Championship was hosted by, what was now, the Manly Yacht Club, where MJ 1 had been built.

After 20 years and with the construction of almost 2500 timber boats, 1979 saw the introduction of fibreglass hulls. By 1985, 2581 boats had been made and MJ 2569 ‘Malfunction’ won both the State and Australian Championships with Malcolm Page at the helm. Malcolm has since become one of our country’s most respected sailors, having the honour of carrying the Australian Flag in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. Malcolm has won Gold at both the Beijing and London Olympics in the 470 class, as well as five World Titles.

In 1990/91 James and Katie Spithill competed in MJ 1885 ‘Ventura’, the following year they sailed MJ 2655 ‘Sudden Impact’ and in 1992/93 Katie skipped MJ 2625 ‘Jester’. In 1999 as a 19 year old, James became the youngest sailor to compete in the America’s Cup challenge and the youngest helmsman of an America’s Cup Yacht in the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenge Series.

In 2010 James was the youngest winner of the America’s Cup, at the helm of the most extreme yacht the competition has ever seen; the 90-foot long by 90-foot wide trimaran USA 17.

James has long list of career victories and was named Australian Male Sailor of the Year in 2005/06 and 2009/10. Katie would also go on to great success winning Silver in the Women’s Match Racing Worlds in 2007, first place in the Keil Week World Cup in 2009 and first place in the Grade 1 Match Cup in Sweden that same year. Katie has been ranked No. 2 in World Rankings.

In 1991/92 another future Olympian would be crowned MJ National Junior Champion Skipper, Nathan Wilmot in MJ 2658 ‘Greased Lightning’. Nathan would follow this up in 1992/93 winning both the Australian and NSW State Championships in MJ 2669 ‘Invader’. Joining forces with Malcolm Page, Nathan has won five World Titles in the 470 Class and Olympic Gold in Beijing in 2008.

Six time Australian Women’s Match Racing National Champion; Nicky Souter started her sailing career in MJ 2569 ‘Jester’ in 1995/96, returning in 1996/97 sailing MJ 2691 ‘Level Crossing’. Nicky has an impressive list of Women’s Match Racing World Championship results including her ranking as No. 1 in 2011.

By 2001 the MJ design was undergoing another change with the introduction of false floor conversions, this enabled the hulls to completely self-drain. At the same time, two of the 2012 Olympic Women’s Match Racing Silver Medal winning team, Olivia Price and Nina Curtis were on the water in MJ’s.

Nina Curtis started sailing in MJ 2689 ‘Screaming Lizard’ and has gone on to achieve some outstanding results including Women’s Match Racing World Champion 2009, Australian Female Sailor of the Year 2010 and Gold at the Skandia Sail for Gold in 2010.

Olivia Price skippered the Silver Medal winning Elliot 6m in the London Olympics Women’s Match Racing. Olivia started sailing as a crew on MJ 2686 ‘Sinking Beauty’ in 2000/01 followed by MJ 2723 ‘With Attitude’. As a 16 year old Olivia started competing in ISAF World Cup Women’s Match Racing Tour where she was the youngest woman in the competition, a title she held into 2012. In 2012 she was ranked the ISAF Women’s World Ranking number one bowman and the Australian Women’s Match Racing Champion skipper.

In 2005 the MJ mould underwent its most recent change and now almost all MJ’s competing in State and Australian Titles have false floors.

Currently, the MJ Association of Australia and the MJ Association of NSW work side by side to continue to maintain the Manly Junior class. Primary NSW Clubs affiliated to the Associations include Avalon, Bayview, Cronulla, Hornsby, Manly 16’s, Manly Yacht Club, Middle Harbour 16’s, Port Hacking and Port Kembla, with Nedlands Yacht Club in Perth continuing to support the few MJ’s left in W.A..It is anticipated that between 50-60 boats will take part in the three Round, nine heat, NSW State Championship events in 2012, with numbers increasing at round 3 where a Rookie division is invited to participate.

In 2011, with funding from Communities NSW, six MJ’s were purchased for Wallerawang Sailing Club (near Mudgee) and Lake Keepit Sailing Club (near Tamworth) with five of the six boats attending round 3 of the 2011/12 State Title regatta as rookies. Further funding from Communities NSW will allow an Association Trainer to visit three emerging MJ clubs in 2012; Jervis Bay, Bonnie Vale and Coffs Harbour. Yachting NSW funds specialised Class Development Training and in 2012 this will take place at Avalon, Bayview, Cronulla, Port Hacking, Port Kembla, Jervis Bay, Middle Harbour, Manly Yacht Club and Hornsby. The NSW Association is extremely grateful for the on-going support of both these organisations.

Season 2012/13 promises to be another great year with round 1 of the States being held at Port Kembla Sailing Club, round 2 at Middle Harbour 16’s and round 3 at Pt. Wolstoncroft, Lake Macquarie. St. George Sailing Club will be hosting the MJ Australian Championships and it is hoped that St. George will have a regular MJ fleet competing at Club level in 2012. All efforts are being made to have Western Australia part of this year’s Nationals.

The future of the MJ’s is bright, numbers will never be as they were in the 60’s and 70’s, with the evolution of the design, the introduction of fibreglass hulls, foils, and aluminium spars, the days of Dad building one in the garage are long gone. However, with its two crew and three sails, the Manly Junior teaches children all the fundamentals of sailing and the disciplines of racing, it teaches children independence, decision making and team work, skills that have been learnt by an estimated 10,000 children since 1959.

There is a very long list of Champions on the MJ Honour Board who have gone on to great success those mentioned above are only a few. Ralph Tobias should be very proud of his ‘little boat’, as should the 1000’s of parent volunteers and Clubs who have supported the class during its 53 years. Manly Junior website

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