Written and spoken by Chris Cleary on the day
29 April 2017.
Thank you all so much for coming along today.
Welcome to you all.
For those who don’t know me or don’t recognise me, my name is Chris Cleary and I sailed my little boat in the 1970’s.
On this very day 247 years ago (29 April 1770), James Cook in his boat “Endeavour” anchored off Kurnell in Botany Bay, and he set foot on the Australian landmass for the first time. Now, the “Endeavour” was a pretty good boat, but she could barely go to windward, she never planed in her whole existence, and she hit something a bit harder than a marker buoy off far north Queensland on her way home. Furthermore, she was never measured in by Neil Bowles.
So forget the “Endeavour”, I am more interested in the fact that this week is the 50thanniversary of a meeting up here on the edge of Collaroy Plateau at which the NSW Division of the Australian Sailfish Association was formed.
That meeting was held on the 24Thof April 1967 at the home of Ben Castle, who is here with us today.
Ben Castle was the powerhouse behind the new Division. He became its first president and publicity officer. He was also a key figure behind the re-activation of this club, the NLSC, which occurred at the same time as the formation of the Sailfish Division. The Australian Sailfish was the class of boat around which the club was re-formed.
Ben subsequently organised and competed in the first National Championships to be conducted on Narrabeen Lakes. That was in 1969/70, and he competed in “Gus”, sail number 1414. He also organised the following two National Titles sailed here, and was an advisor to the Race Committee for the titles after that, the 1975/76 titles.
Ben was a Health and Building Inspector with the Warringah Shire Council. With his friend, Noel Hall, he formed the Warringah Shire Council Sailing School in 1978. It was run right here in Jamieson Park up until 1996. Ben was Principal Instructor. He employed several of us as instructors – Greg Barwick, John Dowzard, Ian Milton and myself had the most wonderful summer holiday job for several years.
For his involvement in establishing the Sailfish class in NSW, Ben deserves our gratitude and appreciation.
Thank you very very much Ben.
Another person who was also at that very first meeting 50 years ago was Peter Chapman.
Peter was the first person in NSW to both build and race a Sailfish. He was the first NSW State Champion, and the first Australian Champion from NSW. He was also a personal hero of mine when I was a junior starting out. So it was a great thrill for me last January to meet him again, get to know him and sail with him.
Peter is a current committee member of NLSC and still a terrific sailor. It is through him that we have the use of the clubhouse and its facilities today.
Thank you Peter, and please pass on our thanks to the club.
The Australian Sailfish was designed and first built in 1956 by Bruce Scott and Jack Carroll, two friends from the Melbourne bayside suburb of Mordialloc. Bruce died several years ago, but Jack is still well and active. He considered coming to this reunion, but at 87 years of age, the trip from Bendigo was a bit much. But he is represented here today by his son Brian and Brian’s wife, Lyn.
Thank you Brian and Lyn for coming today, and please pass on the best wishes and appreciation of all of us here to Jack.
Many good people were involved in the administration of the NSW Division over the 20 years of its existence – too many to mention all of them individually. I would however like to make mention of Don Watts. Don was the very last president of the NSW Division. It was Don who wrote an utterly sad letter winding up the division in 1987. Last year he passed on the Minute Book and Plan Sales Book of the NSW Division to Ian Milton. He also gave his boat “Gooney Bird” to Ian as a gift, in the hope that Ian’s daughters would learn to sail her. I thank him for his retention and care of the records of the NSW Division, and his incredibly generous gift of “Gooney Bird”.
This club, NLSC, was at the centre of NSW Sailfish while the division was active. The Sailfish was also sailed in small numbers at Blue Mountains Sailing Club and Botany Bay Catamaran Club. In the early 1970’s, a group of us, led by Murray Bailey, set up what was a very competitive rival club on the Nepean River at Penrith. Murray, Murray’s sons, Graeme and Scott, and Scott’s partner Suzanne Wines, made up a large part of the fleet. Graeme, Scott and Suzanne couldn’t make it today but they send their best wishes.
Later in the 1970’s , the Sailfish became established at another club, this one being the Toronto Amateur Sailing Club on Lake Macquarie. The person who drove that was Tony Bytheway. As a result of his efforts, two National Championship Regattas were subsequently sailed from that club, in 1980/81 and 1982/83. The club also produced a two-time, back-to-back Open National Champion in Graeme Remington. Both Tony and Graeme are here today. I greatly appreciate them making the trip down from Lake Macquarie.
It should be remembered however, that well before Sailfish at Narrabeen, well before the Nepean club and well before Toronto, the class had spread in the early 1960’s to Queensland. It was established up there by Colin Guy, who was the long-term president of the Queensland Division. He is also one of the six life members of the Sailfish Association. We have not been able to find out to much about the Queensland connection. That might soon change, because incredibly, two weeks ago Jenny and I discovered that the son-in-law of our next-door-neighbour up in the Blue Mountains is Chris Guy, son of Colin and skipper as a young fella of “Basileus”, sail number 340. Lives just down the escarpment from us.
Chris and his wife Teryl are here today, and are very welcome.
Before I finish I want to give special thanks to Greg Barwick and Ian Milton.
I’ve known Greg for a very very long time and we’ve always shared a ridiculous nostalgia for our little boat. I discovered around the middle of last year that Ian is similarly afflicted, possibly even more seriously. Both of them are great communicators and networkers. The two of them have done a huge amount of work in recording the history of the class, establishing and contributing to our website and in resurrecting old boats.
It all started early last year when each of us independently saw some stuff online about the Sailfish. We started talking to each other in July-August – the three of us had a desire to make sure that what was written about the boat was at least accurate. Since then we’ve all been riding a wave of affection and interest in the old boat which has surprised us all.
The past 9 months messing about in boats with the two of them have been a lot of fun and I thank them both very much.
Part of that fun was seeing Ian’s daughters Suzy and Emma sailing a Sailfish back in January. It gives me great pleasure to let you all know that Emma became the first young person in several decades to compete on a Sailfish when she raced in the CHS Championships last week.
This class of boat, the Sailfish, which Emma is learning to race, is a wonderful little craft. It is a very special boat which I think is unique. I know that is a subjective and endlessly debatable opinion but consider these features :
-the simplicity of its design
-it is relatively inexpensive
-it is easy to build
-it is light but durable
-it is easy to transport
-it is easy to store
-it is challenging to sail well
-when sailed well it gives really good performance
– and, back in the day, it provided close, hard racing every summer weekend.
Not too many other boats tick all those boxes.
So the Sailfish is a boat to celebrate. But also worthy of celebration, maybe more so, are the people who have gathered around the boat over the years.
And those people include all of you.
To all of you, thank you again for coming. Enjoy the day.