Firstly, some background.
Three different skippers, each with some idea of how important the Australian Sailfish was to them, three different paths to the 2017 ICWDR. Ian Milton began looking around for a Sailfish a few years ago, inspired in part by his preparation of a history of the Narrabeen Lakes Sailing Club. He contacted Jack Carroll and ordered a set of plans but then ended up buying a boat in need of rather a lot of TLC off ebay – Apsu. Chris Cleary had Janus, no surprise there, and I (Greg Barwick) was looking for a Sailfish to do up and have as a plaything in my old age. Chris found a Sailfish for me from his old Nepean Sailfish Sailing Club contacts and that is where things rested for a while.
In 2016 Ian, aware of the Inverloch Classic Wooden Dinghy Regatta, and the relaunching of Sailfish number 2, Debonair at the 2016 event, had made up his mind to bring his still being-restored boat to the 2017 Regatta. The report on the 2016 ICWDR can be found on the Victorian Yachting website.
In June 2016 I had lunch with Chris Drury and he mentioned that it was a pity that there wasn’t a website dedicated to the Australian Sailfish. A short time later Chris Cleary stumbled upon an article by Andrew Chapman on the earwigoagin blog which also described Debonair and her restoration for the 2016 Inverloch Regatta. Chris replied to Rod Mincher at earwigoagin with some pictures and a bit of background. Rod asked for a full article and Chris contacted me to verify some details before replying to Rod. That post can be read here:
That got my mind going and I set out to track down Ian, to see what he was up to these days. This is where our three paths intersected. In early August when we were first back in touch, Ian and I discussed coming to Inverloch 2017. Around the same time Chris Cleary and I thought it would be good to get in touch with Jack to collect some of the class history. So in September we met at Jack’s home in Bendigo and spent the day collecting information. Chris and I both thought it would be good to put what we knew about the Australian Sailfish on a website for any interested parties to look at and so, with input, suggestions and support from Ian, we kicked this site off in October. Ian spent a fun filled few days scanning in his collection of Sailfish Newsreels from the seventies and eighties and we had something for people to read on the website! Chris then felt that having met with Jack, and with the website up and running he really should make the effort to be at Inverloch 2017. Chris rang me to confirm, we agreed and he booked the accommodation. Ian was contacted, and he was right onto it, confirming his earlier intention to come along and then booking his accommodation as well. We were on course for the 2017 ICWDR.
While this was going on I had tracked down Don Watts, last president of the NSW Sailfish Association. From that, Ian was then able to contact Don, from whom he was able to acquire and record the NSWSA Minutes and Plan Sales books. From Don he also received the astoundingly kind gift of Gooney Bird (2188) and the known mortal remains of Ockerfish, which are now back in my hands, although I still hope the hull is out there waiting for me to track her down!
During all this Chris, Ian and myself were in regular contact. Ian then got in touch with Peter Chapman, a member of the original NSW Sailfish Association committee, first NSW State Champ and first NSW Australian Champ and as far as we know the first person to build and race a Sailfish in NSW. Peter was offered the use of Gooney Bird and he committed to come along as well.
In the meantime Jack had lent me his collection of the early Newsletters and the Plan Sales books and much scanning then took place! While I slaved away over a hot scanner, those boys from the north decided they had better have some training sails rather than just turn up and see what, or who, fell off.
Then late in November, Chris on a visit to Bega, made contact with Tony Hastings, a former Sailfish skipper now actively involved with the Paper Tiger catamaran, at Wallagoot Lake. Tony went looking and found a derelict Sailfish hull on the shores of the lake and decided to do it up and bring it to Inverloch – that boat was Flotsam.
So this long tale ended with all of us deciding to go to the 2017 Inverloch Classic Wooden Dinghy Regatta and as they already had Jack’s original boat and one other local Sailfish attending we “encouraged” Jack to come along as well. Our original thought was that if we had five, or even six boats it would be a fantastic result.
Initially, Jack sounded not so keen on coming down, but thanks to the good work of Brian Carroll, he was eventually convinced to turn up. This news went up onto the website and from there things just snowballed, it seemed like another attendee was turning up every few weeks. Eventually we had eleven fellow tragics who had committed to come; some borrowed boats, some restored boats, some had boats already, from the very finest to the roughest of the rough. Oh well, we thought, if eleven said they would come, and we get seven or eight that make it, that would be a strong turnout. We were wrong, eleven said they would turn up and eleven did, plus, unexpectedly a crew of old Sailfish sailors who didn’t have boats but wanted to come along and have a good look at what was going on.
Day 1 – We arrived to a very warm welcome from the members of the South Gippsland Yacht Club, finalised paperwork where necessary, were given our polo shirts and there was Jack, already in full voice looking over boats from all the different classes. The renewal of old acquaintances as we all arrived was one of the great highlights of the whole event. Amidst much chatter we unloaded our boats onto the beach, once the tide was low enough! Jack then showed me the right way to tie off my forestay, something I noticed he had waited until now to divulge ;-).
The afternoon social sail was a blast – from the sailing club you head straight out to what looked to be a narrow channel between two sand bars but when we got out there and turned to port a quite large expanse of water opened out to the south south east and away we all went. Just to avoid any embarrassment for others I did the right thing and conducted a capsize on the gybe exhibition so others could see how it was done. After a thrash down the inlet we came back to the surf beach side of the inlet and had a drink and prize giving before we all headed back to the clubhouse to pack away for the day.
Day 2 – The morning was a beach display of all the boats in the Regatta, so we arrived early and made sure that the Sailfish were all lined up together. There was then an interview with Jack in front of the boats and much taking of pictures and it was surprising how many passers by on the beach stopped and asked about the Sailfish throughout the morning.
At the 1 PM briefing we were informed that the fleet would be starting in three divisions. The Sailfish fleet, by far the largest of any of the classes, was to start alone in division two.
As race time grew closer it was interesting to watch the old champions start to get their heads into racing mode, while those of us who had to hold them up all those years ago wandered about the beach looking at the clouds and wondering what to have for lunch. The race itself went well, although initially the thought of having to do 4 laps was a bit of a shock to the system. I missed the start by about two minutes due to my innate timing skills and eventually headed off up the course. The usual suspects, Floyd, Cleary, Carroll and Milton led the fleet away, although there was some conjecture that Brian was sailing as fast as he was to ensure he got his boat to the finish before it sank. They were joined by Peter Chapman and Tony Hastings and for the first half of the race there were less than a dozen boat lengths between these six boats. The rest of us followed along behind supporting the frontrunners as usual. We had a couple of withdrawals and two unsuspecting lake sailors were badly caught out by the rising sandbars as the tide ebbed, but we all survived and had a great day.
The Sailfish race was won by Steven Floyd sailing his great looking boat Gargle Blaster. It was an appropriate win as Steven was the last Australian Sailfish Champion (1987/88).
The evening saw a dinner and prize presentation and the Sailfish contingent, or at least one part of it, provided more entertainment for the masses as the night drew on and the tins were emptied – it was just like old times really!
Day 3 – A boat display in the Glade, the park near the sailing club. This was for the benefit of the public who were invited to come along and check the boats out. There was a lot of interest all morning and some fabulous looking boats. My favourite was probably the red cedar and silver ash Moth with the built in wings that Jim French’s son sailed, a thing of beauty and very reminiscent of Ockerfish in it’s materials and finish
The weather was fantastic for the whole regatta, temperatures in the low twenties with light cloud clearing to sunny afternoons. A strong ebb tide created a new challenge for many of us and the wind was about 10 to 12 knots from the southwest, so ideal for getting your bum over the side without busting a gut. And on that subject, when did Sailfish gunwales get so hard?
There were many great boats there, Jim French brought a couple of scow Moths, as well as other Moths including Jonathan Parise’s local boat. There was a Fireball and an International Canoe that looked like a wicked beast of a boat to sail and had a couple of nasty capsizes to prove it. There was a 12 sq m Sharpie, a VJ, Herons, Mirrors, Sabres, a beautifully restored Gwen 12 (another Andrew Chapman effort) and an Impulse. There were also some really stunning new traditionally built boats and some classics that had been restored, so something for everyone really.
Just a couple of honourable mentions, Brett and Hayden Ramsdale turned up, thanks for the lift in Brett, and Hayden has taken some fantastic photographs some of which are included here and more that will be added to our gallery, and Ray Cross, came along on Saturday to suss us out, probably getting ready for a comeback!
It was a wonderful weekend and I would recommend you start planning now for 2018, either to come down with a boat or if you are in Melbourne you could do a day trip just to check out the action, it is worth the drive.
A special thanks must go out to all at the South Gippsland Yacht Club for all their hard work both before and during the regatta, especially the ICWDR Committee, Andrew Chapman, if he hadn’t rescued Debonair we probably wouldn’t have been there, and Trilby and John Parise, who somehow wrangled Facebook updates, sailing and children all weekend and still managed to come up smiling!
I, as they say in the classics, will be back.
Mad old sailors on mad old boats were:
2, Debonair, didn’t race but still fit for a sail
0, Flotsam, Tony Hastings
1870, ‘Off, Andrew Morris
1918, Janus, Chris Cleary
2028, Bruce!, Greg Barwick
2164, The Licorice Stick, Craig Ginnivan
2188, Gooney Bird, Peter Chapman
2192, Apsu, Ian Milton
3342, Supertoy Fish, Brian Carroll
3400, Gargle Blaster, Steven Floyd
3456, Blowed if I Know, Chris Drury.