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MISS NYLEX, Martins most famous design

Roy Martin

Roy Martin 1929 – 2016

Roy Martin is best known in the yachting world as the designer of the C Class Catamaran Miss Nylex, winner of the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy (the Little Americas Cup) in 1974, with his revolutionary solid wingsail design. In recognition of this achievement, Roy was honoured as Victorian Yachtsman of the Year 1973-74. Roy also designed a range of catamarans for Sailcraft Australia in the 1960s, including the Arrow and Arafura Cadet (co-designed with Neil Fowler), the Atlantis and the Adventurer.

Design background

After studying mechanical and electrical engineering at technical school, Roy spent much of his working life at General Motors Holdens (GMH) at Fishermen’s Bend, Melbourne, where he worked as a designer engineer for 26 years from 1949 until 1986. Starting out as a technical report writer in the Experimental Engineering section, he won a scholarship in 1951 under the GMH Overseas Operations Scholarship Plan and spent two years in the United States studying mechanical engineering, at the GM Institute in Flint Michigan and the Delco-Remy Service School, Anderson Indiana. He topped his class and won an award for a technical paper “The Sports Car in America” in a Society of Automotive Engineers student paper contest.

In his application for the overseas scholarship, he described his interests as sailing, photography, skiing, motor racing and trials, classical music and building and flying model aeroplanes, mostly power driven.

At GMH, he was part of the team that designed the first fully Australian car, the Holden, including contributing to all models of the F, E and H Series and some of the V series. This included the iconic models FB, FJ, EH, Kingswood, Commodore, Torana, Gemini and Camira. Working in the Electrical Section, he designed electrical systems and dashboards, including instruments, fascias and speedos. Described by management as a “highly skilled, inventive and innovative technical design engineer”, GMH took out a number of patents on his designs and inventions.

Roy was a skilled auto engineer, but his main sporting love was sailing. He started out sailing small craft in the 1950s as a member of Albert Park Yacht Club and quickly developed a passion for racing and designing catamarans. Much of his spare time in the 1960s and 70s was spent sailing on Port Philip Bay – off St Kilda and the Mornington Peninsula. Roy was an active member of the Australian Catamaran Association (founded by Frank Strange) and had membership or associations with the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron and Sorrento Sailing Club.

In the mid 1960s, he co-designed, with Neil Fowler, the Arrow and Arafura Cadet catamarans. In 1963, Neil Fowler brought his 11-foot Arafura Cadet down from Darwin to show at Catamaran Week at Sorrento Sailing Club. Frank Strange and his friend John Buzaglo were impressed with what they saw and arranged to sell the training catamaran in kit form through their business Sailcraft Australia. Roy was commissioned by Frank and John to create exact plans and drawings from Neil’s rough sketches. Roy also co-designed the Arrow, a 14-foot version of the Arafura. Both catamarans are still sailed competitively to this day by teenagers and young adults.

Roy also designed the 18-foot Adventurer and 16-foot Atlantis catamarans for Sailcraft. His design for the Adventurer was a development on the Charlie Cunningham-designed 20-foot Yvonne Class. The Adventurer, which was copyrighted in 1969, was an 18-foot day sailer-cruiser.

Around this time, Roy became interested in international C Class catamarans, which at the time were amongst the fastest racing yachts in the world. In 1966, he purchased the first C Class catamaran built in Australia from Bob Brown and Max Press – KA1 Southerly. Southerly was built in the Elwood Sailing Clubhouse in March 1963 with a hull shape based on Lindsay Cunningham’s Quickcat. After purchasing Southerly, Roy promptly set about redesigning it to improve its performance. Plans and drawings for Southerly II exist in his personal archive, but it is unknown if it was ever built.

In 1971, he designed the revolutionary C-Class catamaran Miss Nylex, the world's first successful solid wingsail racing yacht. Miss Nylex was developed to compete in the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy Race (the Little America’s Cup) in 1972.

The Miss Nylex syndicate was formed in 1971 by John Buzaglo and Frank Strange, with backing by the founder of the Nylex Corporation, Peter (later Sir Peter) Derham. Having known Roy since the early 1960s, John and Frank asked him to design a yacht to defend the trophy, which Australia had won from Denmark in 1970 with Quest III, a Charles and Lindsay Cunningham design.

Since 1965, the Little Americas Cup had been sailed over a set course of a certain shape and length and the syndicate decided that having a boat that would perform well when beating to windward was a primary requirement. Drawing on his aeronautical expertise, Roy developed a ‘rigid aerofoil rig’, which was a concept that had been tried before by the Danes and the Americans, but without much success. Roy’s solid wingsail design was close to optimum for windward performance and was specifically designed with the Little Americas Cup course in mind.

Syndicate members met at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron one evening in 1971 and Roy presented to them his radical idea for the solid wingsail design. Amazingly, he managed to persuade the consortium that they should try a solid wing mast instead of a sail, on the grounds that a sail is basically a vertical wing and a solid wing would be more efficient at converting the wind’s energy to boat speed. After testing a half scale model to see if the concept would work, the result was the radical Miss Nylex, which was the world’s first successful solid wingsail yacht. The half scale test wingsail is currently on display in the foyer of the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron (as at June 2017).

Miss Nylex broke the speed record for an Australian yacht at the time (24 knots) and outperformed Quest III in 1972, but the selectors were cautious about the reliability of the radical design and lack of a second backup wingsail and went for the more traditional Quest III option that year. In 1974, after a second rig was built, Miss Nylex won the right to defend the cup and went on to beat Miss Stars, four races to nil.

For this accomplishment Roy was made Victorian Yachtsman of the Year in 1974 – the first yacht designer to have won this award.

Miss Nylex defended the cup again in 1976, but lost to the United States in a 4-3 cliff-hanger due to light winds, which were more suited to the conventional soft rig Aquarius V. Today’s America’s Cup “extreme” catamarans can look back to Roy Martin, as their sailing rigs today echo his thoughts and design.

Personal background

Roy was born Herbert Roy Martin in Morwell, Victoria on 10/09/1929. He grew up in Moe and attended Moe State School and Yallourn Technical School, where he studied mechanical and electrical engineering. At ‘tech’ school, he demonstrated a remarkable talent for drawing and technical draftsmanship. In his teenage years, he shared a passion for cars and motorbikes with his two brothers – Bruce and Leigh, and was a keen skier and amateur photographer.

As a young man, one of Roy’s first jobs was engineering assistant at the Yallourn Power Station in 1947, which was run by the Victorian State Electricity Commission. After a short time there, he moved to Melbourne and enrolled in a 2 year Aero Engineering Course at Melbourne Technical School, where he studied aeronautical engineering and aircraft drawing. At this time, he worked at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Melbourne, in the assembly department and the aircraft drawing office, and as a junior laboratory assistant at the CSIRO Division of Aeronautics at Fishermen’s Bend. It was this early aeronautical training that was to prove crucial in the development of aerodynamically efficient Miss Nylex. As outlined above, his main career was automotive design at GMH from 1949 to 1986.

In 1973, Roy bought an RL24 trailer sailer (No. 126 – ‘Almitra’) from Rob Legg Yachts in Queensland. After fitting out the hull and cabin shell to his own specifications, he entered races on Port Phillip Bay and the Gippsland Lakes, often with his young family as his crew. This included several Marley Point Overnight Races (the ‘Marley-Metung’ race) out of Lake Wellington Yacht Club.

Roy was President of the RL24 Association from mid-1976 until January 1977. During this time he was also a member of the Trailer Sailer Sub-Committee of the Victorian Yachting Council, attending meetings at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron & Royal Brighton Yacht Club as representative of the RL24 Association.

In 1986, Roy retired from GMH and established his own engineering consultancy, Roy Martin & Associates, which provided engineering and management expertise to automotive and other light industries. He formed a close relationship with ‘Flexdrive Industries’ in Melbourne, where he developed expertise in designing drilling and tapping machines and machine tools. In 1996, he established Argenta Australia Pty Ltd and became the sole Australian agent for Euroma – an Italian company that manufactured modular machine building systems. Argenta assisted Australian manufacturers and machine tool builders by supplying production designs using Euroma components.

Apart from sailing, Roy had a lifelong interest in photography and, in the mid 1970s, he studied under the renowned fine art photographer John Cato. He married twice and had five children from his first marriage – Stephen, Jo, Gaynor, Jenny and Patsy. He passed away on 27/10/2016 at the age of 87.

Significant vessels

Designer of solid wingsail C Class catamaran Miss Nylex (including half scale test model)
Co-designer of Arrow and Arafura Cadet catamarans (with Neil Fowler)
Designer of Atlantis and Adventurer catamarans
Owner of first Australian-built C Class catamaran - Southerly I
Owner of RL24 trailer sailer, No. 126 – Almitra


Martin, HR (1976). The catamaran Miss Nylex. The SAE – Australasia, Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers Australasia.36 (5): 198-207.
Wilson, C and Press, M., Catamaran Sailing to Win, Kaye & Ward/Hick, Smith & Sons
Wilson, C and Press, M. (1974-76). Modern Boating. Various articles in Vols 7 (5), 9 (5), 9 (4) and 11 (6).
National Arrow and Arafura Catamaran Association website (Retrieved 24-06-2017)
Biography written by Patsy Martin (daughter) from Roy Martin’s private papers.