18ft skiffs: ‘Queen of the Harbour’ race history

The Australian 18 Footers League’s 2021-22 season comes to a close on Sunday when the club will conduct the time-honoured Queen of the Harbour race on Sydney Harbour, when each of the 21-boat fleet will include a female crew member as part of the team. 

While the race still acknowledges the support of the supporters and families, it is vastly different to the original activities associated with the event during the 1930s-1940s. 

The League was formed in 1935 and first conducted the race (originally known as Queen of the Waves) in 1936 and early in 1937 incorporated a Queen of the Waves competition with the race to raise funds for the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown. 

Newspaper clipping of 1971 Queen of the Harbour award ceremony.
Queen of the Harbour 1971. Pic – 18ft skiffs archive

The aim was to use the proceeds from the competition “to build a school at the hospital to have crippled children transported from their homes to the hospital, receive treatment and education, and then taken back home each day.” 

With the co-operation of individuals and businesses, the scheme, to get off to a successful start when candidates for the honour of being named the ‘Queen’ raised more than $6,000, and plans were made to build the school on the Booth Street frontage of the hospital. 

World unrest at the time, curtailed the scheme and the $6,000 was handed to the hospital as a trust fund.  Hospital authorities decided to build the school with other funds they had and named it the Fred Birks Activity School, then suggested that a wing of the school be named after the club.  

The League weren’t happy about that arrangement as the donations by members were made specifically for the purpose of building the school.  An agreement was finally reached for the club to use its funds to take over a ward at the hospital, have it renovated, and use it for in-patients on nearly the same lines as the club had originally intended. 

Hands in the air celebrating while on the net of an 18ft skiff.
A happy Queen of the Harbour winner. Pic – 18ft skiffs

The incredible success of the competition in those early days of the League was published in the club’s 1972- 73 Annual Report: 

“The total amount donated to the hospital from 1937 to the present (1972) has reached $58,434.  Add to this, the amount to the sum of $6,560 raised from the Ladies’ Committee by competitions on the Official Ferry and other ferries, and donated to the hospital, making the grand total of $64,994.”

The teams which provided spectators with high-speed, action-packed racing only last week at the 2022 JJ Giltinan world Championship will give the ladies and supporters the final opportunity for the season to marvel at the skills of the crews as they tackle the elements.

Spectators can follow the Queen of the Harbour race on board the spectator ferry.  Booking online through the club’s website is essential: http://www.18footers.com.au/18-footers-sailing/spectator-ferry/  

For those unable to make it out onto the water, Sail Media’s live-as-it-happens broadcast team will be on Sydney Harbour to capture all the action.    

Live streaming is available at www.18footers.com by clicking on the ’18 Footers TV’ link.  

Follow all the club’s racing and up-to-date news:  

Club Website     www.18footers.com  

Twitter     @18skiff  

Instagram     @18skiff  

Facebook     International 18Ft Skiff

By Frank Quealey/Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.

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