Torbay J class yachts

These photographs of the Torbay J Class 2 yachts Dolphin (ex Sonnet) and Suzette were sent in by owner Ingo Werner, who lives on the island of Usedom in the North-East of Germany, and has got in touch after meeting Fowey boatbuilder Marcus Lewis. Thanks Marcus!

Two years ago he bought Torbay J Suzette, which was built by Louis Gale of Paignton in 1920. I think they look like very pleasant and wholesome cruising and racing boats – and I must say I’m curious about how they sail.

Here’s what he says about them:

‘About 20 Torbay Js were built, the most of them by Louis Gale.

Suzette was converted to a yawl in the 1950s.

‘Last year I had the chance to acquire another Torbay J. Her name when I bought her was Dolphin, but her original name was Sonnet, and she was built in 1936.

When I saw her in January she was in a shed, and had not been in the water for two or more years.

In February I trailered her to my workshop in Germany. Unfortunately her condition was worse then expected, but happily the rot mainly in the deck, which is easier to repair. The planking and the bent frames are in good shape, and I plan to put her back in the water the next season.

‘Next week I will replace some frames on Suzette with the help of a professional boat builder, who might also help replacing the deck on Dolphin.

‘To cut a long story short: next year Suzette and Dolphin will race against each other.

‘I have already had two really nice sailing seasons with Suzette, taking part in the Classic Week 2014 at Flensburg, Sonderborgh, Kiel, Eckernförde, and Kappeln this year.

‘I feel a bit guilty about kidnapping two of these fine small boats from UK to Germany, but both were standing two or more years in a shed or in a container, so I also felt that I had take care of them because there seemed no one else!

‘But I have an idea. It might be unrealistic but why not give it a try…

‘I’d like to revive the Torbay J Class 2. There is another boat in UK that I know of called Nautilus that was restored by Joh Iley a few years ago. Maybe it would be possible to get in contact with John Iley with the help of your weblog?

‘I also was told that there is another Torbay J around that was converted to a launch.

‘How brilliant would it be to build up a small fleet of new Js in Germany and another one in Devon and Cornwall and race against each other! One year in Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, the next year in Germany and so on. Maybe it would be possible to organise a big revival regatta starting of Paignton in a few years.

Dolphin came with some historical material about the class, together with some old photos.

‘The silver model of Dolphin (photographed) was cast in 1960, and may be around somewhere – if it could be found it could be the challenge cup of the regatta!

‘It would be so great to get in contact with people who like the idea or maybe know something more about other boats.’


‘PS: I have read the book Catalan Castaway a few weeks ago. Brilliant book!’

Contact me at, and I will forward your messages and emails to Ingo.

PPS – Bill Serjeant has written to tell me about his time of owning a J4. His boat was Phillida, pictured below, and he has put up several posts about the boat and his adventures with her, including a trip to Alderney at his popular weblog, Bill’s Log. Oh – and he answer’s my question about the boat’s performance…

Bill Serjeant's Torbay j4 Phillida

18 thoughts on “Torbay J class yachts”

    1. Hi Win, yes indeed. When we sailed the Classic Week Regattas in Flensburg, Sonderborgh, Eckernförde, Kappeln and Kiel this year we have slept with three people on board under a boom tent. With all that gear and stuff for nearly ten days it was quite packed on board but with just two people there is enough space also for a longer journey. With all that weight ‘Suzette’ performed very well. We only left a bit of the loose lead ballast ashore. By the way: one day we sailed in a strong forth 6 with many gusts up to forth 7 and she still behaved very nice so we all felt safe sailing her in rougher conditions. All best, Ingo

  1. Hi Bill! Great to hear from you and your J ‘Phillida’! When did you sell her to Harold Kimber? I would love to find out where she is now and if she is sailing. Do you have some contact details of Harold!?
    I found some information about who built the Js. The majority was built by Louis Gale of Paignton, Suzette and Dolphin (ex Sonnet) were built by him. Two boats came from the Morgan Giles Yard and one from Portsmouth.
    At least 22 Js were built, the names are: Sonnet (now Dolphin), Camito, Nautilius (now owned by John Ilie), Hope, Blue Peter, Suzette, Jolie Brise, Gannet, Felicia, Paula, Quetzel, Phillida, Shadow, Asphodel, Thea, Puck, Cyra, Sirius, Elf, Watermouse, Ripple, Sweetheart (sank in heavy seas in Torbay, Crew were rescued)
    Ripple was sailed by Capt Lewis, skipper of a Brixham Sailing Trawler. Bill, do you have any further photos of Phillida, which you can send me!? It would be really great to get as many photos and information as possible. Maybe I will make a small brochure of the Torbay Js next year. I also want to take of the lines of Suzette and Dolphin. Many details look similiar to each other but there are also some differences. Especially the Wine glass transom of Dolphin looks quite different from Suzette’s stern.
    By the way: I also owned a small Hillyard ketch a few years. I have made a 3-month journey around the Baltic Sea in 2012 with her, great adventure. I sold her last year. Let’s keep in contact! And again, many thanks for you blog! Ingo

  2. Hello Ingo and Bill
    I currently own Phillida! – she is still in Devon and afloat – at Weir Quay on the River Tamar. Phillida had a cabin added and was converted for mini cruising around 40 years ago. We’ve had a happy few years pottering on the river but due to her age, fragility, and need for restoration have never taken her further.
    I’m now interested in passing her on to someone who may have the time and skills to restore her fully and will be writing to the Torbay and Paignton sailing clubs to gauge the interest. You can contact me if you wish.
    Regards Graham Coiley

  3. Hi Graham, That are really good news! I am quite excited. As written above I own ‘Suzette’ and ‘Dolphin’. I did a lot work on both boats within last months, but especially on Dolphin. I burned off all paint, replaced the top planks and the whole deck. I recaulked her partially. Suzette got a few new frames and installed bilge stringers. I also changed the seats, They were to narrow to sit on them for longer trips. She also got a brand new rudder, built in oak and kambala. That was done by boatbuilder friend of mine. My plan is to get both boats into water again at the end of May. Graham, I would be very happy to receive some images of Phillida, I might be interested to restore her! Best, Ingo

  4. Hi Graham, it would be great if you can contact me. I am interested in Phillida. If you have sold her is there any chance to get in contact with the new owners? I am intested in the history of the Torbay J Class. All best, Ingo

    1. Hi Ingo, nice to hear from you. Phillida is still with me. I’d be very happy to help you in any way that I can. Sadly I’ve not had the time (or skills) to maintain Phillida as she deserves, and so would be glad to pass her on to a new home if someone would like to take her on. This would be at no cost, but she would need to be collected from the River Tamar by the new keeper. I did have some interest from people in the Torbay area, of course where she was originally built. I can supply photos if this would help. Best regards Graham

  5. Hi Graham, great to hear from you! If you can send me some photos that would be very helpful. I have got a trailer so transportation would not be a problem. My email is Many thanks in advance. Ingo

  6. Hi All, I’ve just come across this thread whilst searching for info on the Torbay J class. My Dad has owned Nautilus for over 40 years but has now decided to put her up for sale. If you know anyone who might be interested then please comment below. Also, if you are still researching the Torbay J class he may be able to help.

    1. Dear Philippa, it is nice to hear from you and your father’s boat! I have an article from a local newspaper about your father’s restoration of Nautilus. I also have two old photographs on which Nautilus sailing a regatta in 1946. I own three Torbay-J Boats: Suzette, Dolphin (ex Sonnet) and Phillida. Suzette and Dolphin are in good condition. Graham (please seee comments above, thanks again for that, Graham!) gave Phillida to me for free and I just started to working on her but quickly had to realize that she is really completely rotten. We will see what I will do with her. My plan at the moment is to use some parts of her (like ballast keel etc.) to build a new boat. Unfortunately I will not have the money to buy also Nautilus although I would definetly be interested in her. I would love to get some history and more photos of her. Unfortunately last year I had no time to work on my boats but this year -after quitting my other business- I will concentrate on my boats. Maybe i will do some day sailing with clients on Suzette or make it possible to rent her to pay for some maintenance costs. We will see. Suzette (and Dolphin) are based in Flensburg, Germany. Maybe your father know if there are still some other Torbay J boats around and alive. I could not find out that. Would be great to hear from you again! All best, Ingo

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