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The search for Mad Max... Now extends beyond the Thunderdrome!

by David Henshall 6 Jan 2018 04:35 PST
The 505 © Dan Phelps / US 505 Association

If there is one true 'sea story' still waiting to be told, then it has to be the narrative that goes back some 65 years to the birth of the 505 and then comes forward in time, charting the progress of this amazing and truly world beating dinghy.

With detailed research and a lengthy list of interviews, some of them with sailors who were actually present at the time, the book of the 505 is now taking shape and what a tale it has to tell. Those who think they know the story of how the Anglo-French 505 came into being will have to think again, for there is a lot more to the story that has been previously understood.

Crucially, this is not a one-dimensional story of yet another British innovation, but is more akin to a highly detailed analysis of how international competition went global in those halcyon days of the 'golden era' of our sport; this will be the story of an International Class, told internationally. However, there are some issues, as currently the book is very 'bow heavy' in that the opening chapters, 1952 – 1960 take up almost one third of the book to date. Yet this is probably the last chance for this detail to be collected and even now, many of the trails are cold, as key players in the story are sadly no longer with us.

One such stumped line of research is vital to the correct telling of the birth of the 505, as it involves the man who was the patron of the Coronet, the boat that would ultimately become the 505. Yet the story of Max Johnson is lost in time. We know who he was, his birth, marriage and death and a bit about his sailing, but nothing in any detail. Max was though the funding behind the whole project, though he may well have had his own agenda for this.

Max had been born in Birmingham in April 1912 and had been in the Navy and travelled to the US, before ending up living near to Chichester. Max was an International 14 sailor at Itchenor and was well known to other 14 sailors of the time, amongst these was John Westell. Max clearly believed and trusted John's obvious eye for a quick boat, as he commissioned him to design Coronet for the IYRU Performance Dinghy Trials and the rest, as they say, is history!

We also know that Max was something of a visionary regarding the development of GRP/glass fibre as he was involved in the development of the very earliest 'plastic' car bodies for the young Colin Chapman and his innovative Lotus racing cars. Max was also involved in the early production of GRP dinghies and he is pictured below taking his family for a row in what would then have been a novel development. Sadly, Max would die at the early age of 55 in July 1967 – and at that point, the trail does indeed go cold.

The hope is that there is still someone out there, who might remember Max, or Max and John and what they were doing in these extra-ordinary days that would do so much to define the very nature of performance sailing. Do YOU have any recollections of Max at Itchenor, or anywhere else, back in the day when maybe glass fibre was a poor alternative to wood? If you do have any stories regarding this crucial part of the story, the Project Office for 'Simply the Best; The story of the 505' would love to hear from you. Please email in the first instance to .

In the meantime, work on completing not only the chapters telling the story of these formative years, but on how the boat became simply the best dinghy, sat at the pinnacle of the international dinghy scene, will continue.

Many thanks and a Happy New Year to all,

Dougal/Simply the Best/2018

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