Sharp focus

The Notice of Race for the 2020-21 National Championship for the iconic Sharpie class has just been released.

Written by Peter Campbell

28 April 2020


All being well, the 2020-21 National Championship for the Sharpie class will be held on Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin from late December.

Incredibly, this will be the 78th National Championship since ‘Sharpies’ were first introduced to Australia back in 1935, the first Nationals in Adelaide in 1937.

Originally, the boat was called the International 12 Square Metre Sharpie, a gunter-rigged, timber planked ‘Heavyweight’ Sharpie,  but subsequent to its appearance as a class at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games it was developed by Australian sailors, given a modern rig and new boats were built of lightweight materials.

It became the Australian ‘Lightweight’ Sharpie and remains a truly iconic national class, with 100 or more racing out of clubs in all States of Australia, headed by South Australia where 75 boats contested the Nationals last summer.


Most encouraging is the resurgence of Interest in racing Sharpies this past summer in Tasmania, with an historic result in Kirsty Salter becoming the first woman State champion in the 85 year history of the Sharpies on the River Derwent.

The current Australian ‘Lightweight’ Sharpie had its origin to back in 1931 when a German, Herr Kroger, designed a half-decked centreboard boat, six metres overall in length, gunter-rigged, with a sail area of approximately 2.7-square-metres.  The hard chine hull was a comparative narrow design, fine forward and flat aft, and therefore capable of easily planning and high speeds.

The class quickly spread to other European countries and, in 1933 the International Yacht Racing Union (now World Sailing) granted it international class status.

In 1935 the 12 Square Metre Sharpie was introduced into Australia and in the same year Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania member George Peacock purchased Gull in Adelaide and brought her to Hobart.

Local sailors showed immediate interest and the class became one of the most popular in Tasmania, interest booming with the development of the ‘Lightweight’ Sharpie in the 1960s.

Tasmanian sailors won their first Nationals in 1939 when Gull,  skippered by Jim Taylor with Reg Gorringe and Reg Hornsey as crew, sailed to victory on the Brisbane River. This was Tasmania’s first National title victory in Sharpies,  but certainly not the last.

The International 12 Square Metre Sharpie reached is peak in 1956 when it was chosen as a class for The Melbourne Olympics, with West Australian Rolly Tasker winning the silver medal.

The International 12 Square Metre Sharpie was a solid wooden clinker style boat, but with the increasing use of marine ply and the ‘need for speed’, the design was updated by the Addison brothers in Western Australia to take advantage of advances in modern technology.

Australian interest in the ‘Heavyweights’ began to wane with the birth of the modern ‘Lightweight’ Sharpie as an Australian National class.

The hard chine hull shape has not altered since the 1960s, and only a few minor changes to the rules have been allowed. As a restricted development class, the aim of the Sharpie Association is to safeguard the one-design element.  Even the latest fibreglass Sharpies still retain the distinctive hard chine design which makes sailing Sharpies ‘so fiendishly competitive’, to quote their web site.

Recent developments include larger spinnakers, digital compasses, and carbon booms and spinnaker poles.  But strict rules still allow only incremental developments.

The national competitiveness of the Sharpie in post-War II years has attracted many of the best young adult sailors in Australia with the record of champions reading like a ‘who’s who’ of sailing in this country.

National champions in the 12-Square Metre Sharpies in post-World War II seasons included Eddis Boyes (Tas), Rolly Tasker (WA) with four title wins, John Cuneo (Qld) with three wins, and Jim Hardy.

Tasker won the silver medal in the class at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Cuneo won the gold medal in the Dragon class at the 1972 Munich Games, Jim (later Sir James) skippered Gretel II in the 1970 Australian challenge for the America’s Cup.

Cuneo continued his victories in the Australian Lightweight Sharpie Nationals, first held in 1960.  He went on to win four more Australian Championships.

Cuneo’s overall record of National championships in Sharpies has now been equalled by South Australian legend Mal Higgins who has won seven Lightweight Sharpie Nationals since 1999. His crew since 2009 has been Sam Sanderson and Andrew Chisholm.

The 78th Australian Sharpie Nationals on Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin will be conducted by the YMCA Sailing Club between 29 December 2020 and 4 January 2021. Up to 12 races are scheduled.

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