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Vessel Number: HV000721
Date: 1939
Vessel Dimensions: 3.66 m × 3.66 m × 1.46 m, 11.15 m² (12 ft × 12 ft × 4.8 ft, 120 ft²)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
THUNDER is a 12-Foot Restricted Class sailing skiff built in 1939. It was sailed by HB (Bryce) Mortlock and designed and built by him at his home in suburban Five Dock, Sydney while he was a teenager at school. The class for youth sailors raced with a handful of Sydney skiff and dinghy clubs from the 1930s until the 1950s. THUNDER is one of two known examples of the class that remain extant. It represents typical seam batten construction for the period. It is a snub nose design, which is easy to plank up and was a popular shape during the period.
DescriptionTHUNDER is planked in 5/16th inch strakes that might be Queensland red cedar, with seven strakes per side. The keel is over 4 inches wide, and the transom and stem board are 7/8th inch thick. The wide seam battens are nailed and riveted to the planking, and the shell is supported by frames at 6-inch centres, two stringers and a strong sheer formed by a gunwale, carlin and a narrow side deck panel. Three thwarts cross-connect the hull and the forward two support the centre case and form a mast gate. There are two mast positions and the indications are a second was added at an unknown period later in its life, and probably was the aft of the two positions. The shroud plates for this rig are supported by a roughly fitted aluminium bracket.

The hull is well built and shows attention to detail such as a slight hollowing out of the inboard surfaces of the keel and bilge stringers, and the curved shapes to the thwarts. There is some uneven spacing to the frames, and some other minor details that would fit with its amateur construction.

It is gaff rigged with a high peaked gunter arrangement, and carried a reaching jib and spinnaker. The class rules were 12 feet long, 4 ft 6 in width, 1 ft 8 in midships depth, and a modest 120sq sail area for the main and jib,

Bryce Mortlock attended Sydney Grammar School and was in the same year as Alan Payne, later to become one of Australia’s senior naval architects and yacht designers. Their shared interest in sailing included Alan’s younger brother Bill Payne, and a small circle of friends from other schools and backgrounds. They all remained firm friends for life.

Alan Payne said they were influenced by the plans from the UK designer Uffa Fox, who pioneered early planing dinghy designs in the UK. His drawings were published at the time and the boys had access to these through the Sydney Library. They based their drafting style and standards on Fox’s quality work, but adapted the planing concept to the proportions of the local class.

The restricted 12s were an ideal boat for them, capturing all the qualities and construction of the bigger 16 and 18-foot skiffs, with out the larger and more expensive rigs of the unrestricted 12-foot skiffs that were very popular in NSW and Queensland. It was a young lad’s class and suited a crew of two or three. The class sailed with The River Club, North Shore Dinghy Club, Lane Cove 12 Foot Skiff Club, Greenwich Flying Squadron and the Drummoyne Skiff Club.

At Drummoyne they created a B class with the skippers of the 12s having to be under 21 year’s age. An extract from the document “Drummoyne S.C. the first 75 years”, compiled by the late Frank Bonnitcha, includes the following:

For many years, the only class or type of boat sailing with the Club was the 16ft skiff. In the mid 1930's moves were made to include a junior class in the sailing activities. The Drummoyne 12ft Flying Squadron had almost ceased racing and boats were available for young people looking for inexpensive sailing. A class was sailing in other clubs such as the River Club, North Shore Dinghies and Greenwich using 12ft open boats with restricted sail area. Drummoyne decided to start a "B" class using restricted 12's and a maximum age of 21 years for the skipper.

Racing commenced in 1938 with six boats in the first season. The class proved popular and had increased to 20 by 1944. During the war years when 16ft skiff racing was conducted on a reduced scale, there were more 12 footers racing in the club than 16ft skiffs. As the "B" class sailors reached the 21 year age limit, many became skippers and crews in the 16ft class and by 1948 there were only five boats racing with the "B" class, which then ceased to function.

Products of this junior group who sailed for many years in 16ft skiffs with the club are Max Boyle, Frank Bonnitcha, Alan Rodrick, Arthur Woods, Vince Davidson, Bill Cripps, Trevor Millard and Archie Watts. Jim Connon (Club Captain), Ed Downton and Doug Radford (Umpires) are "B" class sailors who are also still active club members.”

As schoolboys it was a realistic craft that they could build themselves along with some adult help. Bryce made his first design VAL which was probably built in 1938. According to his son Richard, Bryce had said “this boat was a dog” and he designed a new one THUNDER, a name used by Fox for his International 14 foot skiff. Records show VAL being raced in early 1939 and THUNDER late in 1939, so it is assumed it was built by Bryce and friends over the winter of 1939 and launched later that year.

Alan and Bill Payne also had restricted 12s. Records from late 1939 and January 1940 show Alan Payne skippering a 12 called WAVELENGTH with the North Shore Dinghy club, while Mortlock sailed VAL and THUNDER with the River Club. Both clubs had their courses on the Parramatta River during the war years. In January 1941 the results reveal Alan Payne sailing a new boat, FLYING FISH, and Bill Payne who was the crew, recalled as best he could that is may have been built by him and his brother off the same moulds as THUNDER. Bill also recalls that the sailmaker’s surname was Dunbar, and that the little skiffs were fast planning boats under spinnaker.

THUNDER remains in original condition- the hull is intact and includes the steel plate fin, wooden rudder, many original fittings, sails and bumpkin, the three items missing are the mast, boom and yard.

Vessel Details
Current status:inside building
Current status:non-operational
Deck layout:open
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:tiller
Hull material and construction:batten seam
Hull material and construction:timber
Hull shape:monohull
Hull shape:plumb stemvertical stem
Hull shape:plumb transomvertical transom
Hull shape:round bottom
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:dagger boarddrop board
Rig type:gunter
Rig type:sloop
Sail cloth:cotton
Spar material:timber

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