John Spencer's designs

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by Milan, May 20, 2005.

  1. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

  2. CT 249
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    CT 249 Senior Member

    There's basically very little in the way of a comprehensive round-up of John's boats, Milan. Or, at least after going through every issue of NZ Sea Spray, Modern Boating, Seacraft and just about every other Aust/NZ mag for most of his career.

    Isn't there a bit on Peter Tait's Firebug page?

    Did I ever scan and email you that piece John wrote on the Sirius 45 design? I've got photocopies of the pieces he wrote on his 24, 25, 28, 33, 35 (IIRC), 38, 40, 45, footers and Infidel/Ragtime (60+', depending on what year) and Buccaneer (73'). He also wrote a column in NZ Boating for years....rambling but good.

    From memory, he did a few 25'-ish cruiser/racers (Tom Thumb, Marianne or sometjhing like that about '64/65) then the skinny 35' Scimitar for Tom Clark who later had Infidel and Bucc. Her success kept 'em coming...Infidel about '67, the Sirius 45s about '68 (Whispers II for Geoff Stagg (now pres of Farr Int) was a good one of those), Bucc in 1970.

    With the short rig and lack of ballast, though, his boats weren't always faster, or much faster, than the heavy S&S boats and a Spencer not sailed or geared well can be a bit doggy.
     
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  3. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

    Thanks for the reaction, Ct 249

    Considering originality and the influence of John's design work, it's really a pity that there isn't a book about his life, work, and boats, with a lot of photographs and drawings.

    Yes, nice short article at the P. Tait's page. No pics unfortunately.

    I would appreciate very much if you could e-mail some scans. I only found 2 or three photos of Ragtime, couple of photos from the renovation of Andante, (she is about 25 ft if I remember correctly), and small drawing of one big schooner in the one Australian book from the 70's.

    I'm not suprised that they are doggy, if under rigged and under ballasted. Being narrow for their length, there is quite a lot of the wetted area, and little form stability so they need a high displ/ballast percetage.

    Milan
     
  4. jda
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    jda Junior Member

    John Spencer Designs

    Did you ever find the design info you were after? I'm looking for design info on a John Spencer 32 and am not sure where to look. :)
     
  5. Gary Baigent
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    Gary Baigent Senior Member

    Spencer

    11. iconoclasts
    ALTHOUGH NEW LIGHT DISPLACEMENT designs were breaking heavy boat tradition with young designers like Davidson, Young, Marks, Townson, Birdsall, Stewart, Brooke and Nelson being loosely influenced by Bill Couldrey and had started to make their own mark developing light craft, John Spencer arrived from a different environment and training. Spencer was an architect, and his dinghies were of sheet plywood, chined versions of British designs, namely the work of Uffa Fox. Spencer’s Cherub was very similar to Fox’s National 12 with its deep chest and straight run in the after sections. However converting the National 12’s hull form to sheet plywood created some limitations and resulted in excessive buoyancy forward. To keep the first Cherub on level trim, the crew was forced to sit forward of the shrouds – a point that Spencer later emphatically denied saying that that was just Jim Young talk. However he soon overcame the problem by modifying the keel shape, forcing an arc into the bottom after sections and Cherub suddenly became very fast on all points of sail – to the disappointment of detractors.
    Young was also very impressed by Uffa Fox’s International 14 and International Canoe and when Fox was commissioned to design the Tornado 18 for the Olympics, Young built and launched an example, then realized “that Fox must have had a bad day for it was a bloody awful boat: tender, deep chested with a deep, straight run and because it only had five foot beam and little form stability, once it lay over a little, there was no righting effect. The rudder was steel and had lee helm – or felt like it. His Flying 15 and 30 were also flops. Fox was an overrated designer and went off the rails after his excellent first two designs – but who were we to question such an icon.”
    After Cherub Spencer designed a light displacement plywood keelboat called Adrienne which lacked hull stability and therefore was poor to windward. By the early 1960’s Spencer had learned from his mistakes and designed the beautifully proportioned 35 foot Scimitar for Alan Vause, a light displacement, single chine keel boat of sheet plywood that was exceptionally fast downwind. Scimitar carried a deep draft keel constructed in
    Spencer designed lightweight surfer Sierra

    sheet metal which thickened at the bottom for lead ballast to be low down, similar to what Fox had done on his Flying 15. This helped Scimitar’s stability when the yacht heeled but it was still not a very impressive windward performer, according to Young.
    If Spencer had been been influenced by Fox with his dinghy, his keelboats had similarities not only with the Dutchman Van de Stadt’s Black Soo but also to Englishman Jack Holt’s Yachting World Keelboat (Diamond) – the latter was a 30 foot flush deck, open cockpit dinghy yacht that was also likened to a double chined version of Fox’s Flying 30. The Diamond was narrow, extremely light, (one tonne) had a bulb keel and carried a small amount of sail area on a bendy three quarter rig with a radical (then) full battened main. In a decent breeze, the Diamond could easily plane downwind and reaching and made a great impression on the Solent when it first appeared winning some prestigious races.
    Sirocco’s hull was right up with the play but the rig was conventional masthead with the usual short battens and while the Diamond was a flush decked, open cockpit daysailer, Sirocco had the expected, but less ugly on this occasion, New Zealand style dog box cabin. The Diamond, although no great success in terms of numbers in the UK, was very strong in Australia and a fleet of about a dozen was built in Auckland. They were popular in the Southern Antipodes because of their speed and because they were affordable and yet quite a large yacht.


    top: Spencer’s very big dinghy Infidel – below: IOR compromised Buccaneer

    “I first saw one when we were running up Motuihe Passage on a gloomy overcast afternoon while returning from the Barrier. Rangitoto Island was visible as a misty outline when the fog and mist occasionally lifted. It was only interesting sailing because we were almost home and were meeting numbers of other yachts doing the same after the weekend. All yachts were running at a similar speed, appearing and disappearing in the cold haze as the visibility changed, then out of the mist astern a flush decked yacht appeared with three crew standing waist deep in the central cockpit. No cabin I thought, who would go sailing in a stripped out thing like that? I was pretty conservative then having mixed with tradition loving yachties. This phantom yacht quickly ran us down. “Yachting World Keelboat,” announced Colebrook – he had read about them because our boat Myth was a Van de Stadt design also encouraged by Yachting World magazine. Sailing at a higher angle than us the big day boat quickly disappeared into the murk, then soon after reappeared on the opposite gybe, slicing past, although not planing, just going through the water very fast, well ahead of us plodding along and I watched it
    effortlessly pass all the other boats in sight to disappear in the direction of an unseen Auckland. I went quickly from sneering distain to a believer, a spark of enlightenment in the cold fog - that’s the sort of boat I want, I thought, who cares if you have to sleep on the floor.
    With light displacement designs arriving, traditional Squadron members became grumpy and annoyed and some refused to race against the new boats. Bressin Thompson, an influential Squadron man, withdrew his famous yacht Prize for two seasons in protest. So a separate light displacement division was formed “which removed the unwanted from the ranks of normal yachts,” said Young, “but acrimony increased among Squadron members when the light boats excelled in big fleet passage races where long reaching legs



    Yachting World Diamond

    let them stretch out to win by embarrassing margins. Furthermore the Stewart 34 enjoyed performance both up and downwind that was equal to a 40 foot yacht, again disproving the accepted adage that length gave speed – which made it very unpopular.”
    Spencer scored a major coup when wealthy industrialist Tom Clark (who had successfully campaigned a black painted Scimitar class yacht named Saracen) commissioned him to design a radical 67 foot version. This was Infidel, a true ULDB (ultra light displacement boat) ahead of its time and which became recognized as Spencer’s best yacht. The boat was built light, people noticed that the deck flexed and the interior was completely Spartan and stripped out – something that many thought complete madness on a large yacht. But not only did Infidel have the expected high downwind speed and exceptional reaching power under a huge, flat,

    Spencer’s best, the first sled, Infidel/Ragtime

    masthead sail, it also could beat top yacht A Class Ranger upwind – and that was a bitter pill for the old guard to swallow.
    It was high profile owners like Clark and architect Neville Price (who bought Clark’s old boat Saracen then later commissioned Australian Ben Miller to design ULDB Volante) who understood light displacement advantages, were unprejudiced and had the wealth to campaign extensively; it was from their successes that LD yachts became acceptable in Auckland. But after Infidel Spencer changed course and compromised with the IOR; unfortunately this produced mediocre results in comparison to his earlier original and strong statements. Clark went further asking him to draw a maxi 73 foot yacht; this was Buccaneer which was big and impressive but not in the same purist LD class as Infidel – which was sold to California, had a name change to Ragtime (became recognized as one of the first, if not the first of the downwind sleds) and caused a sensation in winning, with much surfing panache. Transpac Races to Hawaii.
    The influence of the IOR and the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club) had a retarding effect in the development of the New Zealand yacht especially when the IOR became fashionable here. Then local yacht
    racers who sought to represent NZ were not courageous enough (or too intimidated by overseas fashion) to commission yachts from local designers. Instead they clamoured for US designs from Sparkman & Stephens, Carter and later Doug Peterson – so local designers like Davidson and Lidgard could only find acceptance by drawing similar boats to those from the US. But copying, always less that original, was, and is doomed - so they made little impression.
     
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  6. jda
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    jda Junior Member

    That makes great reading Gary. Where is it from? Is it part of a book you're writing? I've been trying to track down info on a number of NZ designers and it's pretty hard to come by (apart from 1 or 2 e.g. Farr). It would be great to have a book that sets out the history of designers such as Stewart, Birdsall, Young, Davidson, Wright, Lidgard (to name a few) and their designs (with plenty of photo's & drawings). Or is it already out there - perhaps in a few different places?
     
  7. Gary Baigent
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    Gary Baigent Senior Member

    Page 7 of old Quarter Tonners, Magic Bus, here on Boat Design.net, about halfway down, you can download a pdf file of Light Brigade. Got all those blokes you are interested in. Cheers.
     
  8. jda
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    jda Junior Member

    Thanks Gary - downloading now. BTW - do you have any knowledge of the Lidgard 36 ft boat Result? It's on the market at the moment in a bit of a dilapidated state - but sound and a great looking boat.
     
  9. Gary Baigent
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    Gary Baigent Senior Member

    Why don't you contact the Lidgards, John or Kevin - although without doubt they will be somewhat biased, fair enough though. Jim Young would be able to give you an honest outsider's viewpoint on Result - but there again, the Lidgards will probably have something to say about his point of view too. Result never scored very highly in racing against the other designs from Whiting, Farr and Young - was not as innovative or as original as the others, still meant to be a good boat though.
     
  10. jda
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    jda Junior Member

    Thanks again Gary. You mention Whiting. Did he produce some boats larger than around 30'? (I mean racing rather than cruising boats).
     
  11. Gary Baigent
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    Gary Baigent Senior Member

    Smackwater Jack was 37-38 feet - there was a 38 foot Gulf racing design, non Rule boat - Secret Affair - apparently it was even faster than the original daggerboard, lightweight, wooden Ross 930 downwind; this was when the two were brand new, and the Ross boat blitzed everyone in their first outing - but Secret Affair was not good to windward, main overpowered in the fresh conditions. Whitings Half Tonners were quite long at around 31 feet; Newspaper Taxi, Candu 11 was even longer.
     
  12. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

    Not much. Just a couple of pictures on the net.

    Gary, your book is very interesting! Thank you!
     
  13. AnalogKid
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    AnalogKid Junior Member

    Sorry I didn't see this sooner, I went to the last day of an exhibition of North Shore designers yesterday at the Devonport YC. All of the above were represented to a degree, with photos, plans, sketches and half-hull models.
     
  14. jda
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    jda Junior Member

    What a shame to have missed that! I might contact the club and see if there's an opportunity to view before they pack it up.
     

  15. craig69
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    craig69 New Member

    Milan, do you have a copy of the sea spray article on the Spencer 45? if possible can you email it through.
    Thanks,
    Craig
     
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