Canvas and wood were the predominant features when Kevin Green visited the Balmain Sailing Club's annual regatta.
The Balmain Sailing Club nestles into the peninsula at the mouth of Iron Cove, a pleasant walk down the appropriately named Water Street. Along the Crowds gathered along the shore and the Clubhouse was a sea of faces, sBut it wasn't all plain sail, darting among the yachts were a few put-puts and rowing boats – the later making ready for the Waterman event – open to any rowing boat capable of carrying a sack of potatoes. The obligatory wooden ducks drifted behind a few sterns and butch blokes in stripped jumpers squashed themselves into the bilges of 10 foot skiffs.
With 150 boats taking part in this year's event the waterway between Cockatoo Island and Balmain was a sea of canvas – lugsails, gaff cutters, classic Bermudan sloops and dashing skiffs with barely a foot of freeboard. Motoring through the myriad of craft, appropriately in a clinker built runabout with the knowledgeable Gary Ferres from Noakes yard at the helm, was a great way to spend a Sunday. “Numbers are a bit down this year with the stricter Cat 7 regs but it's still a great day out,” he told me.
Among his duties for the day, that included rescue boat skipper, was also to keep an eye on his own lovely boat, Sjo Ro, an International 6 metre, restored by himself and a group of friends. Like many classic boats Sjo Ro, built in Tasmania in the 1930s by Percy Coverdale, had led a long and happy life but was needing some love and attention, and that's where the able Gary stepped in.
The day progressed well, powered by a variable southerly breeze that ranged from 5-15 knots and there weren't too many dull moments. Especially for some of the 18 foot skiffs like Britannia – I recalled crewman Graeme Ferguson telling me some time ago how the crew couldn't reef them, “you can shake a reef out but can't put one in because the booms are too long and they overhang the back of the boat.”
The Ranger class was well represented with Cliff Gale's original boat Ranger and the latest incarnation, the beautiful black Vanity skippered by John Crawford, also out on the water. I was also good to see a Couta boat. I confess to having a particular soft spot for old working boats so it was good to see Thistle on the bay with skipper Matthew Dunn. These Melbourne built fishing boats have an interesting history being named after the barracouta fish that their crew caught with trolling lines, reputedly baited with a strip of leather attached to a barbless hook. The barracouta was the mainstay of the 'fish and chips' trade supplying Melbourne with an abundance of cheap fish. Competition was tough so the first back to port got the best price and so began the development to build quicker boats. This well-supported class now has over a hundred boats in three states of Australia.
Also present were a gaggle of Folkboats including Jazzfolk (John Stevenson) and Nocturne (Greg Dwyer). These were another of my favourite classes, having watched them as a child sail over the North Sea from neighbouring Scandinavia. The 1941 Swedish/Danish design has spawned many variants, probably most famously Blondie Hasler's Jester which took part in the first official single-handed transatlantic race in 1960.
Elsewhere, hovering among the throng like a magnificent dragonfly, was the fully dressed Boomerang, now owned by the Sydney Heritage Fleet, showing all her flags. Built of hardwood frames in 1903, with kauri decks the 73 foot schooner was described as Australia’s largest yacht in the 1920s. However, she has not carried sail since the early 1930s and is now driven under engine power only. From her shaded decks the clink of glass and the pop of champagne corks could be heard as we putted past.
With around 12 Divisions the fleet was wide and varied; with kids in Lasers sliding down the Clubhouse ramps to take part, sturdy wooden cruising sloops heeled over and agile modern racers such as Mumm 30's carving up the flat waters.
As the sunny day progressed the well patronised Balmain pubs made their presence felt with the arrival of the Eastsail charter fleet. There are twenty four pubs in Balmain and each year up to twelve of them test one another in the St-Arnou Pub Challenge.
Each pub is supplied with a Sydney 36 from East Sail, and one skipper. The rest is up to the publican. The crews are supplied by each drinking house and competition for experienced crews is a hot with claims of poaching and ‘ring-ins’ from professional sources making the pre-race banter even more entertaining.
But on the water things get serious, with match racing techniques utilised to gain any sort of advantage over the competition. They and other keelboats headed up the Harbour to round Goat Island, taking in Balls Head Bay and marks off Hunters Hill. The flotilla took an interesting course that not only involved rounding marker buoys but also marker girls! One bikini clad lady-buoy caught my attention, and even garnered sympathy because of her broken arm. After a two hour race The Welcome Hotel won again this year followed less than a minute later by the Royal Oak, with the Sackville Hotel third. The London Hotel came in fourth, so due to a long standing bet, drinks on the London's veranda were required by the Royal Oak crew.
Putting together an event of this size and with this level of relaxation is no mean feat, so all credit to the volunteers and organisers, such as regatta chairman Stephen Prince.
‘It was a perfect day’s sailing, and an ideal start to the 2006-07 summer sailing season,’ he said.
Naturally a fan of classic boats, Stephen and joint owner David Blackwell have been busy restoring their own boat Sparkle, a Perry 24. The 54 year old timber boat has been out of competition for many years but has slowly been restored and ready to race. With new sails made by Ian McDiarmid and a lot of painstaking work, she is getting ready to race and campaign in the SASC vintage fleet, where she won the Kelly cup in 1967 with Bill Gale skippering.
“Competition is where you hone your craft and racing 54yr old boat is totally different to today’s modern, fast and responsive vessels but just as much fun,” explained Stephen.
He said the concept of involving the area in the event was very much in mind when the regatta was revived. ‘The Balmain Regatta, which is continuing to grow in popularity, is an opportunity for yachties to get back on the water for the summer season, as well as showing what sailing is all about to the wider non-sailing community,’
The Balmain Sailing Club
The original Balmain Sailing Club was formed in October 1885. This was era of the wonderfully over canvassed open boats that varied in length from the 22 footers down to the impossibly proportioned six footers – the hull was six foot wide and six foot long, but they were 22 foot from the tip of their bow-sprit to the end off the boom!
The eighteen foot open boats were the forerunners of thrilling eighteen foot skiffs that skim the surface of the Harbour today, and have ultimately led to the Olym
The Balmain Sailing Club was re-established in 1995 after a period of little activity- BSC is a friendly community based sailing club with active training, racing, cruising and social programs. The emphasis is on fun; providing friendly competition in a social atmosphere.
Membership is around 500 and is currently open for new members. The club currently races two fleets, a keelboat fleet and a dinghy fleet. The keelboat fleet races as a single division (A) on Sundays, and as three divisions (A, B & C) in the Friday Twilight Series. The dinghy fleet races in one division (1).
Balmain Sailing Club : Water Street, Balmain, NSW, 2041
PO Box 653, Rozelle, NSW 2039
TEL: (02) 9810 2086 FAX: (02) 9818 8850
Email: email@example.com www.balmainsailingclub.com