Holler 'Beasho' at a regatta and any one of three may put the hand up. Bob Ross profiles a famous Australian sailing family.
FEW sailing families on earth could be as passionate about the sport as the Beashels; or as successful.
• Ken Beashel, a third generation skiff sailor, twice won the “world” J.J.Giltinan championship in 18ft skiffs and an Australian 16ft skiff championship.
A skilled shipwright, he designed and built many more successful 16s, crossed into racing international Soling and 5.5 metre keelboats, worked and sailed on Sir Frank Packer’s 1967 America’s Cup challenger Gretel and headed the maintenance team in Australia II’s 1983 America’s Cup win.
• Colin, Ken’s eldest son who is also a shipwright, was mainsheet trimmer on Australia II, represented Australia six times in the Star class at the Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 1996; has won the Etchells world championship twice and 5.5 world championship once.
• Adam, Ken’s youngest son, joined Emirates Team New Zealand’s afterguard for the 2003 America’s Cup defence and 2007 challenge and is currently a member of its TP52 team on the Medcup circuit.
The Beashels, although separated by distance at times, are a close knit bunch. Ken and his wife Barbara travelled to Europe to watch the 2007 America’s Cup and go touring afterwards.
Ken and Barbara, after handing their boatbuilding, repair and maintenance business on Elvina Bay, Pittwater, on to Colin, retired to a cottage on the waterfront at Wagstaff on Brisbane Water.
Ken keeps busy there, maintaining his 46ft cruising cutter Mother Goose, which is moored right opposite, working on various small boats and crafting beautiful wooden furniture.
He and Barbara can commute to Pittwater by water; sometimes with Mother Goose, to visit Colin, his wife Kay and children.
Adam, his wife Lanee and two young sons when not overseas on Emirates Team New Zealand campaigns, have a waterfront house base on Lake Macquarie.
First of the sailing Beashels was Ken’s grandfather Dick Beashel, who owned both 18ft and 16ft skiffs when they began class racing in Sydney in the early 1900s.
“Those old timers knew a lot more about sailing than they are given credit for,” says Ken. “Back in 1915 they were up with bendy spars. They used to bend their gaffs up to 13 inches to set their sails.
“And they knew about wind and weather. My grandfather could predict perfectly to the quarter hour, the prevailing wind for the day. Without aids like the trapeze, they had to know more precisely what the wind would do so they could select the appropriate-sized sails for the day.
“On the 18-footers they used to have up to 16 men in the crew and that number took some recruiting. My grandfather used to put on a five-gallon keg every Friday night. Those who turned up would be shanghaied to sail in the Squadron race next day.”
Ken’s father Alf, also a keen 18ft skiff sailor, made his greatest contribution to the sport as secretary of the NSW 18-footer Sailing League, from 1935 until 1977 and sailing secretary from 1961. Alf retired prematurely from his draftsman’s job at the Sydney County Council, so he could put superannuation money into buying the site for the NSW 18-Footers Sailing Club
(now the League). He died in 1978.
In his memory, the fixed Yachting Association of NSW buoy near the Sow and Pigs reef in Sydney Harbour, windward rounding mark for the League 18s nor’-easter course, was named the Beashel Buoy.
Alf began his sailing as an eight-year-old as bailer boy in his father’s 16ft skiff and later sailed periodically with his father on the 18ft skiff Goldie, from 1914 to 1925 when he had a 16ft skiff built for himself. He built four 18s called Alruth (named for Alf and Ruth, his wife) which he raced until 1962.
As a child Ken, with four brothers and sisters, lived with Alf and Ruth in a semi-detached house at Clovelly with a very long hall and backyard where Alf built his boats.
“I remember as a very young kid going down to Ned Press’s boatshed, which was a house on a barge in Woolloomooloo Bay. It was wartime and Joe Pearce the sailmaker used the Sea Scouts hall next door as loft and I remember him making sails for dad and it was a great area,” says Ken.
Alf built an 18-footer there in a time where the sheds were the shore-side focus of skiff sailing. “It was a great era for Sydney Harbour,” he recalls. “The boatshed would house 16-footers and 12-footers as well as the 18s and there were so many beautiful people around in open boat sailing at the time.
“It was all out of boatsheds at that time. No-one owned a car, let alone a trailer and it was really neat because you were always looking at the shape of a boat – 12, 16 or 18 – and you would get to know how the people sailed them. It was just fantastic really.”
As a child, Ken also used to go to the League in Double Bay with his father and ride the rescue launch. When he was 10, he sailed with his father on the 18 before gaining a berth on a 12-footer.
He began crewing on the 16s as well and for about three years was sailing in the 16s on Saturday, 12-footers on Sunday morning and in an 18 on Sunday afternoon.
When Ken’s mother died, Alf bought the 12-year-old Ken a New Zealand P-class hard-chine single-hander, the most popular training class for Kiwi youngsters, with the idea of getting an interdominion P-class contest going in tandem with the
“Dad made me a little spinnaker and it was good fun going down Sydney Harbour with it. Dad was a draftsman with the Sydney County Council before it became the Electricity Commission in the Queen Victoria building. I used to go there and he would give me drawing paper to draw skiffs.”
Ken then began building his own boats, starting with a Cadet Dinghy to race with
the Double Bay 12-footer club.
As soon as he was able to leave school, he began a boatbuilding apprenticeship with Pritchards’ yard at Careening Cove. Halfway through the apprenticeship he joined George Riddell, then regarded as one of the best shipwrights in Australia, who cared for such well-known yachts as F.J.Palmer’s 10 metre Even, the 1955 Sydney-Hobart
race line honours winner.
Ken began his own shipwright and boatbuilding business and in 1962 he and Barbara purchased a boatshed in Elvina Bay from Herbert (“Bluey”) Ludgater to establish Beashel’s Yacht Basin. The Beashels moved into a house on the hillside behind the boatshed that commanded views right down Pittwater; accessible only by water.
Although he won two Giltinan international championships in the 18s, the 16s were always Ken’s favoured skiff class: “The 16-footers were real skiffs, completely open boats like the 12-footers of the time, where the 18-footers had lee cloths and bow cloths to keep the water out.
“There wasn’t a lot of finesse in it; it was more brute force and sail carrying. Whoever carried the biggest spinnaker won the race whereas the 16-footers were built to a box rule and there was very little possibility that you could design something that would be much faster than the other boat. And you knew you didn’t have to spend a lot of money on buying bigger sails because they were a restricted class.”
With a good crew in Hugh Cook, Ron Powell and Bob Hagley, Beashel won the Australian 16ft skiff title in the 1961-62 season with Seaforth, a boat he designed and built himself, with unusually reverse clinker construction on the bottom and a cold-moulded top strake. “It was an interesting boat with a lot of ideas including a different gybing system and a furling headsail.”
Beashel’s next 16, Defender, built while he was recovering from hepatitis, was a disappointment. “I had the idea we could go faster with a really little boat. It weighed only 129lb (39.3kg). I went with the idea of getting air under the boat, which I still think is a way of getting boats to go faster. The Volvo boats are using that idea now.
“This boat could have been sensational but it was before its time and we capsized a lot. We missed out on selection for the Australian championship.”
Into the 18s
Because he preferred sailing the 16s, Ken had declined several offers to sail 18s made through his father. During the disappointing season with Defender he accepted an offer from bookmaker Benny Walsh to sail Schemer, an 18 that Len Heffernan had designed and built, in the latter part of the 1962-63 season.
Heffernan had designed two similar 18s. He sailed one of them Aberdare, a three-hander, with the Sydney Flying Squadron on Saturdays and Schemer, the boat Walsh owned, with the League on Sundays. The League had banned three-handers at that time.
Heffernan, who had won the Australian championship with Aberdare in 1962-63, believed she was the faster boat and was happy for Beashel to take over Schemer.
Beashel, with his 16ft skiff crew of Cook, Powell and Hagley, sailed the 18 like a 16, as upright as possible. “We sailed that boat dead flat, to keep the water out,” says Beashel.
The rig design Heffernan gave Schemer was more suited to the three-handed crew, sailing with the number two headsail a lot and using the number one cautiously, only in light air.
Beashel and his crew found they could carry the number one headsail through to 15-18 knots of true breeze and in a big chop. It was difficult to tack in these circumstances. Beashel would often have to reverse the tiller and have the boat go backwards to complete the tack.
Schemer won three of the five races in taking the 1963 Giltinan trophy championship at Auckland easily from another Australian 18, The Fox, skippered
by 17-year-old Hugh Treharne.
A collision with a Royal New Zealand Air Force launch carrying a television camera crew smashed Schemer out of race three when she had an almost unbeatable lead. Beashel swarmed aboard the launch to remonstrate with the helmsman.
“I went through our sails and up the stem of the launch and had a few words with the bloke at the helm,” said Beashel. “I jobbed him, actually.
“In the heat of the moment there was every possibility that one of my crew be caught under the boat. I had some idea of handling operations from their boat rather than ours.”
Beashel then decided to concentrate on his favourite skiff, the 16. He made three or four models before settling on the design of Elvina Bay, which he sailed in the 1965-66 season.
Elvina Bay easily won the NSW 16ft skiff championship and although she was beaten into second place by Ken Minter’s Joan in the Australian championship, boats off the Elvina Bay mould continued to excel. Beashel eventually built 74 of them. One of them, Trevor Beardsmore’s Minx, won the Australian championship in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons.
Beashel designed Elvina Bay to be efficient in the waters of Sydney Harbour, increasingly chopped up by powerboat wakes. “The waves were getting bigger and it was hard to get through a wave without stopping,” Beashel said.
“The general trend at that time was to planing hulls, like the Cherub. Everybody was thinking it was pull away and sail fast.
“But we were still sailing 16-footers that were open boats. So I designed this boat to knife through the water, sail fast and it did.
It was cold-moulded round-bilge where most of the 16s at that time were hard chine.”
Beashel, ever keen to embrace new sailing experiences, sailed on Sir Frank Packer’s Gretel in the trial races off the Sydney coastline against the 1967 America’s Cup challenger Dame Pattie and worked alongside shipwright Trevor Gowland on the continual alterations to Gretel’s hull shape in the search for competitive speed.
Gretel beat Dame Pattie in only one race, but the connection to Sir Frank opened the door for Beashel to secure a sponsorship for a new 18, called Daily Telegraph after the newspaper in Sir Frank’s Consolidated Press stable, at a time when the Sydney fleet included boats sponsored by rival newspapers, The Sun and Daily Mirror.
He used the Elvina Bay 16-footer concept in designing Daily Telegraph, with special attention to the conditions expected for the 1968 J.J.Giltinan championship in Auckland. Mindful all the time of the bumpy water he had experienced in Auckland with Schemer, he gave her a fine bow and the unusual feature of a small, fixed fin forward to stop the bow blowing off to leeward in the tidal chop.
“We had learned from the Schemer that if you carried the big headsail you’d get through the seas and sail fast. I put a fin between the bow and the centrecase. As we climbed out of a sea we wouldn’t get washed sideways.”
Beashel, crewed by Ray Budnick, Ian Perdriau and Jim Gannon, scored three wins and two seconds in the five-race series to win from Travelodge (Bob Holmes) with Denis Lehaney’s three-hander Kaiser Bill third.
Ken Beashel was one of the first to cross the line of social demarcation that existed in the 1960s between the skiffies, regarded as “professionals” because they received modest prize money and the international class sailors.
In 1970 he began steering Solings and 5.5 metres. It began when the world 5.5 metre championship was held on his home waters off Broken Bay near Sydney and he was commissioned to prepare the Bahamian entry John B, owned by Bobby Symonette.
Symonette was unable to reach Australia in time to compete in a preliminary series for the Australian Gold Cup on Sydney Harbour, so Beashel skippered the boat with Symonette’s crew to finish a very close second to experienced Sydney 5.5 metre sailor Norman Booth.
The following year he began steering his friend Lindsay Allsop’s Soling and in 1971, with Allsop and his former skiff crewman Jim Gannon sailed in the world Soling championship on Long Island Sound, New York.
That trip led to the job offer from famed American yacht builder Bob Derecktor to help him in his yard at Mamaroneck. So Ken and Barbara leased out their business at Elvina Bay and took their three children – Colin, Joanne and Adam – to the States with them.
After a two and a-half year stint with Derecktor, they decided to sail home in the 46ft cutter Mother Goose, which they had bought from Derecktor, with their young family and Sydney boatbuilder friend Ian Tringham adding some muscle and experience. Colin was 16, Joanne 13 and Adam seven.
Mother Goose was Derecktor’s last offshore racer, a centreboarder designed to the CCA rule just before the International Offshore Rule made CCA and Mother Goose obsolete.
Ken, helped by Colin, worked 3500 hours converting the cold-moulded wooden hull into a comfortable long-distance cruiser. The beamy design was ideal for the purpose. It drew 9ft 6in with the centreplate down and only 4ft 4in when it is up, ideal for anchorages like Lord Howe Island’s lagoon and Mother Goose’s present home mooring off Wagstaff.
When the Beashels set sail for home, Ken knew nothing of navigation but picked up the books and gear to learn along the way. He stayed two weeks at one port in the Bahamas working on his sights and sums until they told him exactly where he was.
He was then able to sail on with some sort of confidence in his navigation to reach Australia just before Christmas 1975 with 15,000 nm on the log.
Ken raced Mother Goose to win the arbitrary handicap division of the 1976 Gosford-Lord Howe race and went offshore racing for a time, skippering the Farr Two Tonner Dynamite in the 1971 Admiral’s Cup trials. He designed and skippered Industries to sixth place in the Half Ton world championship, sailed from Sydney in 1978.
He then moved into the Etchells class before becoming chief of maintenance for Australia II in the 1983 winning America’s Cup campaign.
Colin Beashel won the Australian Laser championship in the 1979-80 and 1981-82 seasons and crewed for Royal Prince Alfred YC sailor Roy Tutty on Rhapsody to win the 5.5 metre world championship at Nassau in 1981.
He then went into the Australia II’s winning America’s Cup campaign in 1983 as mainsheet trimmer, where his reserved but confident nature was an important steadying influence.
Australia II’s skipper John Bertrand in his biography Born to Win, wrote: “Beasho grew into one of the shining stars of the entire America’s Cup - at the end of which I believe he was the best mainsheet hand Australia ever had. He and I could work almost with telepathy.”
Bertrand in Born to Win also had praise for Ken Beashel: “Has no peer when it
comes to the professional functioning of big racing yachts.”
Colin Beashel returned to Alan Bond’s America’s Cup campaign as skipper aboard Australia IV in the defence trials for the 1987 America’s Cup off Fremantle.
Australia III, skippered by Beashel, won the Twelve Metre world championship on the same waters in February 1986. But her successor Australia IV went down to Kookaburra III 0-5 in the defender final.
Beashel was a cool and capable
helmsman and with the 1983 campaign veterans tactician Hugh Treharne and navigator Grant Simmer, formed a combination that often out-foxed the Kookaburras. In the end, however, they were devastated by a faster boat.
Colin, crewed by Richard Coxon, represented Australia in the Star Class at Los Angeles in 1984. They placed 11th after scoring promising third and fifth placings early in the regatta, suffering for lack of experience in the class.
They felt they were not fast enough to find the right settings, “changing gears” for varying wind strengths and could not find the speed downwind of the Europeans, particularly in light winds.
Colin went on to compete in every Olympic regatta in the Stars until Athens in 2004, where he carried the Australian flag at the opening ceremony.
With David Giles crewing, he won the bronze medal at Savannah in 1996. With three heat wins early in the regatta they went into the last race a point behind the Brazilians Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira.
In a vulnerable starting-line situation, the Australians decided to risk all on winning the gold rather than settling for silver medals and were disqualified for a premature start. They gained some consolation by winning the 1998 Star worlds at Portoroz, Slovenia by a point from Grael and Ferreira.
Campaigning became harder after Ken stepped down from the Elvina Bay business in 1994 and it became Colin Beashel Marine. Colin’s wife Kay is the office manager. Since retiring from the Star class after the 2004 Olympics, Colin has raced in Lang Walker’s Farr 40 crews and raced offshore.
Most recently, he sailed on Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin in the Audi Sydney-Gold Coast and with Rob Hanna’s Shogun in Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. “I am enjoying the sailing and the business is going okay.
“Elvina Bay is a nice place to go to work each day.”
Naturally, with his family background and the proximity of the family home to Pittwater, Adam went sailing at an early age in 420s and Lasers from Royal Prince Alfred YC. He crewed for Adrian Finglass to win the Australian Tasar class championship in 1988.
He missed selection as Australian representative in the Laser class at the 1996 Olympics by one point.
Crewed by Teague Czislowski, he campaigned a 49er towards the 2000 Sydney Olympics. They came second in the 1999 world championship in Melbourne to Chris Nicholson and Ed Smyth.
Although they topped the pointscore for the nominated selection regattas, the Australian Yachting Federation nominated Chris Nicholson and Daniel Phillips for the Olympics as having the best medal prospects. The decision stood, despite appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Beashel, looking for a new challenge looked to the America’s Cup. He joined Team New Zealand’s afterguard for the 2003 America’s Cup defence and sailed again in the Emirates Team New Zealand afterguard in the 2007 challenge, as strategist. He called the pressure in the pre-starts and in light air and also worked the mainsheet traveller.
He has since been campaigning with Emirates Team New Zealand on the Audi Med Cup TP52 circuit. Adam married American boardsailor Lanee Butler, who competed in the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics in 2003.
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