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An early VJ on Sydney Harbour

Charles Sparrow

Charles E. Sparrow was born in England in 1906. His father went from the Royal Navy to the Royal Australian Navy, and came out to Sydney while Charles was still at school age. When Sparrow finished school after World War I he became apprenticed as a shipwright at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard, but moved on to become a draughtsman. One of his first projectshe worked on was the seaplane carrier HMAS ALBATROSS. He finished at Cockatoo Island as the Great Depression took hold and later had jobs at the State Dockyard in Newcastle, Morts Dock in Sydney, the Australian Steam Navigation Co. and even Holden body builders.

In 1931 he was unemployed, but by this time had formed a friendship with Sydney gun dealer and sports store owner Sil Rohu. Rohu had a concept for a small training skiff for teenagers he wanted to promote, and Sparrow produced the plans, it was to become the famous VJ Class.

Over one week Sparrow prepared drawings for a single chine, vee shaped plywood skiff. A prototype was built called SPLINTER, and after trials the plans were altered to improve stability by adding more width at the chines. A second hull was built, CHUM, and from there the design was fixed. The new craft was called the Vaucluse Junior, or VJ. Sparrow donated the proceeds of his work to the Vaucluse Junior Sailing Club. The class was a big success, spreading interstate and even overseas.

Sparrow then became a technical instructor in Papua New Guinea but returned to Sydney late in the 1930s . Rohu asked Sparrow to design a larger VJ type, able to support 3 or 4 crew, and the VS or Vaucluse Senior was born. It too became a success locally and then nationally.

In 1939 he started work as a draughtsman at Garden Island, then moved to Brisbane to be the Naval Overseer at the Evans Deakin . Sparrow returned to Garden Island as Chief Draughtsman and Senior Naval Architect in charge of the drawing office after the war and retired in 1960. He settled on Lake Tuggerah in NSW and worked on designs and engineering drawings for houses, fishing boats and the ferry TAMBOI QUEEN.

In 2000 Sparrow was awarded an Order of Australia for sailing. For 70 years he had been a member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and was also a long-time member of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. He was a life member of the Vee Jay Association and donated a perpetual trophy in his name, awarded to the overall handicap winner each year at the Australian Championships. Charles Sparrow died at Wyoming on the Central Coast in 2004 aged 97.

Story adapted from "A Mainly Maritime Live Charles Sparrow OAM FRINA, the Designer of the VJ" in "The Australian Naval Architect", August 2002, pp.43-5, by Graeme Andrews