From someone who was there and “cut their teeth” on an Australian Sailfish:
I didn’t start sailing till I was 34, much too old, and it was on a Sailfish I built in about 1964 for my eldest son. He was still much too young so I decided to give it a go and sail it myself. I called the boat “SEA PEPPER” (forgotten the sail number) and the name was beautifully sign written by Bruce Scott. An aside – no other club had boats with names painted on their hulls like Elwood, thanks to Bruce’s skill. I still have the piece of my Sailfish foredeck, with name, hanging on the wall, and framed by the stringers.
I joined Elwood Sailing Club as it was the closest, and found there were some other Sailfish there. I was a member of Elwood for about 25 years from 1964 to 1987, where I sailed the Sailfish, then after about 6 seasons I went into Herons, then NS14’s, and finally crewed on a Compass 750 for 5 or 6 years, out of Royal Melbourne.
A few of the Sailfish names – Jack of course, Jim Fyvie, Lindsay Phillips, Jim Robinson, Chard Iverson, Karl Weiderman, David Wood & Les Twentyman. These skippers were roughly my age, but they could all sail! I thought there was no way the hull would stand the stresses imposed, so I had strengthened it up around the mast step and the chainplates. Jim Fyvie thought that it was a bit of furniture as it was so heavy. I was thrilled when it was referred to as “Hot Stuff”. They all encouraged me to attend opening days at other Clubs, and to attend the Regatta Circuit – Cairn Curran, Eppalock, Paynesville, Warranga Basin, Lake Boga, and Yarrawonga. It was the Sailfish Association and the camaraderie exhibited within it that planted the bug that still infects me to this day.
The Association Monthly meetings were not to be missed, as they often featured a speaker of prominence and experience. I am still in wonder as to how the Committee were able to get such speakers to come to a group who sailed, and I quote Brian Carroll “this silly little boat”. Just a couple of examples – the speaker who as a 9 or 10 year old was taken to a Dutch Port to be crew on a square rigger, a cabin boy. He related some 50 years experience before the mast. He recalled a major hull design that enabled the crew to sleep dry. Their quarters were moved from the stern to amidships. They were no longer pooped. The other was John Bertrand, they must have told him a Sailfish was going to win the America’s Cup. Two items he spoke about were Line Sag and how to take advantage of it and Fleet Sailing, how to use other boats in the fleet to determine if you are taking a lift or knock.
It was only after qualifying as a Level 1 Coach, that I came to understand the importance of balance and trim, and together with the words that Jack Carroll had said to me years earlier “it’s the hand on the tiller that wins the race” (still remember him working the waves when beating to windward), and not the lightest, slippery hull, or the new HOT sail, which many skippers blame for their performance, (or lack thereof). It took me years to understand this, but when I did, I realized I was learning how to sail.
At my local club Ian Wayth, an Arrow skipper, hails from around the Castlemaine area, and sailed a Sailfish at Cairn Curran. Not only that, but he was at the November Cairn Curran Regatta of the Big Blow in the mid ‘60’s and it was only recently that we discovered we had sailed the same class at the same memorable Regatta. A sudden, very strong change from a northerly to a gale force southerly caught all unawares and saw the likes of Quickcats cartwheeling from the starting line towards the Club. The Sailfish skippers that hadn’t left shore crouched behind their boats so as not to be peppered by pebbles, which were blowing with the grit and sand across the beach.
I still can’t believe how lucky and fortunate I was to come across the Australian Sailfish Association, and by another stroke of luck, join Elwood Sailing Club, the home base of the Class at the time, and the home of the top skippers.
It was the Australian Sailfish, the Association and it’s members, taking me into the fold and encouraging me to attend Regattas, that are still my fondest memories of sailing, recalling the Association, and the members who made it.