“Talking Sailing” from My Archives. The Spearhead Dinghy

by Richard Crockett

Last week I covered the Sprog and Winger dinghies, and promised to follow it with the Spearhead.

In his book “Sailing in Southern Africa”“, Anthony Hocking said that the design freedom allowed among Goodricke dinghies, had many enthusiasts feeling that the Vivace hulls should be made a one-design class, to eliminate possible continual expensive changes which had proved the bane of other good designs. The Vivace Class would still be within the current Goodricke rule, but would have to have a name of its own.

As a result SA Yachting magazine offered to give a year’s subscription to the reader who suggested the most appropriate name – and so was born the Spearhead, which apart from being instituted as a class on its own, of course sounded the final death-knell of the old Goodricke dinghies. However it was some time before the Spearhead-Goodricke established itself.

First mooted by Frank Spears in 1956, the Spearhead was developed into a one-design class six years later, became recognized by SAYRA as a national class and, at one time, seemed set for international adoption.

Frank Spears’s aim in designing the Spearhead was to combine high performance, light weight, a fair size and low cost, and at the same time make sure the boat was suitable for home construction. The resulting boat follows the lines of traditional planing hull sections, using on the one hand a vertical bow to achieve maximum”waterline length, and on the other minimal practical beam for speed through the water”.

Spearhead class – 16-footers designed and built in South Africa. Sometimes faster than FD’s.

The Spearhead was designed for a crew of two in any weight category – though the most efficient weight both for helmsman and crew was in the 150-160 lb (68-72 kg)
class. The sail area was not excessive – but rather than spoil the boat’s fine lines and give it a heavier hull, Frank Spears added a trapeze to give the crew a mechanical advantage.

Though originally conceived as a young man’s boat, the Spearhead retained the loyalty of many senior sailors.

According to Hocking, “what ended the Spearhead’s career in South Africa was nothing less than a verkrampte-verligte fall-out between club fleets in deciding whether or not to adopt Five-o-Five style splashboards for commercial glass-fibre production. Ever since the victory of the verkramptes in deciding not to admit the splashboards, the class has been in decline – though its potential is as great as ever”.

The first of the ‘new’ Spearheads, named Vivace, was built with the aid of a wooden mould using diagonal glued veneers, plus she also fell within the Goodricke Class rules – hence the Spearhead-Goodricke connection. Ultimately the Spearhead became a one-design class. In 1958, Frank Spears suggested a new sail plan with a smaller mainsail and bigger jib to avoid the necessity for special ‘storm’ masts and sails.

It was at about this time that the sail logo changed from an ‘R’ to the spearhead as most people knew it.

The Spearhead was such a successful boat that even the legendary Paul Elvstrom said: “The Spearhead dinghy has great legitimacy, as it gives speed and excitement for nearly half the price of a FD. There can be no doubt that the Spearhead type of Goodricke is fulfilling a long-felt need in South African yachting.” And to add legitimacy to those comments, he took plans back to Denmark.

Boats did appear around the world, and not in great numbers, although it did to some degree legitimise the “Spearhead Worlds” held in the ‘60s from what I can gather, although I have yet to find a report on this regatta.

This fine boat certainly turned heads and provided exceptionally exciting sailing in general and top-class close cut-‘n-thrust racing. And those who raced them were amongst the finest in the country at the time!

LOA – 4 880 mm (16 ft)
Beam – 1 370 mm (4 ft 6 in)
Hull Weight – 80 kg (176 lb)
Sail Area – 13 sq m (130 sq ft)


What is “From My Archives” About?
After many years, in fact decades, of collecting material on our sport and wanting to sort and organise the information into an archive that was more user-friendly, I started with many boxes of newspaper cuttings I had. This entailed digitising and scanning every single one, and saving them in a chronological date order – a daunting task as there are in excess of 20 000 cuttings.

While doing this I decided to share my material in the form of “On this Day. A Newspaper History of Sailing”. That was at the very end of September 2019, and it ran daily with several newspaper cuttings per day for an entire year.

In between archiving the newspaper cuttings I was also delving deeper into my photo and magazine archives which span a period of some 60 years from about 1957 to 2017. These too are being digitised.

So much that is interesting has caught my eye, I have decided that now is the time to start sharing this information too.

I have only just begun scratching the surface of my archives, but the joy I get from them every time I do some digging makes me determined to preserve the history of our sport and share it as far and wide as possible. It’s become a personal crusade – maybe even an obsession.

My Plea – Please Share Your Sailing History
If you are interested in preserving the rich history of sailing in RSA, my plea to you is to please assist me by sharing your personal archives, photos, press cuttings and whatever with me, committee records and more so that I can scan them and share them widely. My promise is that I will treat them with the utmost care, and get them back to you safely. So far Don Pfotenhauer; Richard Bertie; Dudley Dix; Dave Elcock; Frans Loots, Len Davies and others have shared their scrap books and files with me.

There are big gaps in my archives, so should you have material that you are willing to share please make contact (editor@sailing.co.za) and let’s chat.

What is Possible
As each newspaper cutting and article is text-searchable, I am able to create presentation packs personally tailored to a person’s exact requirements – ie. Rothman’s Week, the NCS Regatta, the Rio Race, Mauritius Race, Vasco da Gama Race and more – or simply by the name of an individual (like Ant Steward and his open boat exploits) – for those who want a record of his/her sailing career for the family archives.

I have already created a stand-alone 4000+ page PDF document of Voortrekker – from idle chatter, to concept, to the formation of what ultimately became the South African Ocean Racing Trust (SAORT), to the fruition of the 1968 OSTAR Race in which Bruce Dalling and ‘Voortrekker’ excelled – and even beyond that.

The possibilities are endless – and exciting.

Sharing From These Archives
Should you wish to copy, forward or share material from here, PLEASE acknowledge the source as: Sourced From the SAILING Mag Archives & Historical Records (www.sailing.co.za)