The Sharpies were designed in Germany in 1931 and the class quickly developed fleets throughout Europe. In particular in the UK, Germany and Holland. The first Australian boat was built in Adelaide 1934 and soon spread to other states. The boats in Europe continued to adhere strictly to the international rules whilst the Australian 12 Square Metre Sharpies gradually departed from the International rules. Although the hull shape and dimensions remained constant (even the modern Australian LW Sharpies still share identical hull offsets as the 12 sqm. Sharpie design from 1931), amongst some minor structural differences, the Australian boats added;- spinnakers, a third crew member, full length sail battens and much later (about 1958), buoyancy tank bulkheads and trapeze.
By the time the Sharpie was selected as the two man dinghy for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics the Australian 12 Square Metre Sharpie would have been one of the biggest dinghy classes in the country. However, by that time none of the Australian 12 Square Metre Sharpies would have complied with the International rules so a number of new boats were built in Australia to International 12 Square Metre Sharpie rules. At least three International 12 Square Metre Sharpies were built in Australia in anticipation of the Olympics. At least one in Sydney for RSYS, Sir James Hardy built “Tintara” (Now in the Adelaide Maritime Museum) and Rolly Tasker built “Falcon IV” (Still in existence somewhere on the mainland). Rolly Tasker’s Falcon IV” went on to win the Silver Medal behind the Kiwi boat “Jest” helmed by Mader. Jest is currently undergoing a full restoration in New Zealand.
After the 56 Olympics the class was quickly outdated by more modern classes like the Flying Dutchman. A small number of Australian Sharpie sailors changed classes but eventually, as the old planked boats aged, a group of Western Australian Sharpie sailors came up with the idea of building a lighter version to the exact shape and measurements but from plywood. The new lighter ply hulls proved significantly faster than the older planked hulls. Initially owners simply transferred their gunter rigs straight over the the lighter ply hulls but within a season or two they all had new Marconi rigs. This is how the Lightweight Sharpie (now called the “Australian Sharpie”) class was born. It was only after the ply boats were built that the old planked timber Australian Sharpies went from being called “12 Square Metre Sharpies” to the now commonly used term “Heavyweight Sharpie”. The term “Heavyweight Sharpie” was officially introduced in 1962. The class had it’s last official National Championship in that same year.
In Europe they still sail the International 12 Square Metre Sharpies with reasonably large fleets in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Portugal. There are also a small number sailing in Brazil. European Championships are held every year with fleets of 50+ boats competing.