Manufacturing, Restoration & Repair woodencraft boats
Australia(Sydney), Woodcraft Boats
Australian Company "Woodcraft Boats"
Woodcraft Boats Company
Small boatyard since 1993 also covering more than 20 years, in Australia, Sydney specialising in design, manufacturing, Restoration & Repair wooden boats,both epoxy laminated and traditional plank-on-frame boats.
What we offer:
custom boat bulding - all sizes & types of wooden/classic boats, repairing damaged masts and spars and restoration and repair service.
PO Box 515
Back to HISTORY:
Maybe they can be interesting to someone who wants to Learn about
"the world sailors of vintage and classic boats", Ian Smith and replica Britannia
Spectacular, crowd-pleasing racing in extreme boats - that's
still the aim of the
Sydney Flying Squadron after 116 years.
John Cadd paid them a visit
Article published in "Classic Boat" | August 2007
Click on the article's images to see it at large size view Text Version below
Sydncy Flying Squadron's website contains an open invitation to visit their club to see the famous replica 18ft (5.5m) skiffs kitting out for racing. The Flying Squadron is based at Careening Cove below the approach road to Sydney's 'coat hanger' bridge on the north side of the harbour. The fleet sets up on the grass of an open park by the Squadron on sum mer Saturday mornings. A visitor can also buy a ticket on the steamer Radarxo watch the Saturday racing with an harmonious bunch of Aussie supporters. In the days before and alter World War II about a dozen such crowded steamers would follow the race with thousands more spectators on the banks of the harbour. Kctting (illegal) on the race results added spice and passion to the spectacle. I took up the offer as a visiting Pommic sailor to sec first-hand these famous boats. I received a warm welcome from the sailors as would anyone who took a serious interest in their boats. If I'd had my sailing gear I might even have had a race. Crew required depends on the wind strength and they can cram up to 14 in a boat, so often need extra willing movable ballast. Guest crew get the job of setting the canvas 'leecloth' along each gunwale. The cloth on the leeward side is raised to help keep the water out of the low-freeboard skiffs. Even so, frantic- bailing is essential during breezy racing.
In the glory days of 18ft racing there was much competition to race in these boats, especially as there was a possibility of prize money. Most of the 'prime' boats had their own 'clique' of family and close friends to call on. When boats 'modern iscd' in the 1930s one of the main arguments against them was that fewer crew would be required. The other argu- ment was that the boats would become more costly, but that is another nutter. The skippers have more than just the number of crew to think about before a race.
It is courteous not to disturb the busy skippers too much. Their boats may have Up to five different rigs that can be set according to wind strength. The rigs each consist of a complete suit of sails and matching mast and spars. The trick is to cram as much sail as possible onto the boat - there is no limit by rule. This is the most famous aspect of veteran skiffs. Too small a rig and the boat will underperform. Too large and boat and crew will lose control. Thus races can he won or lost on the beach before the start. Being a Pom, I was immediately drawn to one particular boat, Britannia. It was like being attracted to the most beautiful girl at a party and finding she was also the most interesting to talk to. Britannia was the most faithful replica among those mak- ing ready to sail. She is an accurate copy of the original 1919 open boat. How do I know she is 'accurate'? The original boat hangs fully-rigged on the wall of the waterfront section of the nearby Australian National Maritime Museum. Ian Smith measured up every part of the original Kriiawiin and rebuilt his replica as exactly as possible. He used the same method that the original builder 'Wee Gcorgic' Robinson would have done; this included building the boat the right way up - unusual for a small open boat, at least since the Sccond World war. All the replicas have a distinguishing sign on their sails. Britannia's is a red ensign. "I am a republican myself," Ian was quick to point out, "but the original boat had a red ensign, so mine has." These symbols are so much more individual than plain sail numbers used by most yachts today. This form of identification harks back to the foundation of the Sydney flying Squadron. A businessman, Mark Foy, approached the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron to enter boats in the Anniversary Day Racing. He was turned down by the 'posh' club. Foy was so incensed that he set up his own hugely successful open boat races, which he promoted enthusiastically. He encouraged skippers to colour their sails different colours for identification of favourites. This proved not so popular. In due course the boats adopted the form of symbols they still use. It is a curious irony that the modern 18ft hi-tech racers, which grew by a direct line of evolution from the vintage skirts, are now covered in advertising logos.
The simple racing philosophy was designed to attract and entertain the crowds. The racing was for all sizes of boat from 6ft to 22ft (1.8-6.8m). There was to be a phased handicap start so that the boats would finish excitingly close together. A triangular course enabled the shore-based crowds to watch from vantage points around the harbour. Mark Foy, 'at his own expense', was encouraged to promote the races in the city with advertising hoardings on horse-drawn carriages. Kerry Packer could well have learnt his methods for promoting cricket from Mark Foy.
With the success of this first racing for open boats, Foy and others formed the Sydney Flying Squadron in 1891. This name was an ironic reference to Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (established 1862) which was run for the Sydney torts. The club is now the oldest open- boat sailing club in Australia. That is not to say that the club did not have a rocky time in its first years and many similar clubs have failed in Sydney. On a number of occasions the club had to be rescued financially by its most enthusiastic member, Mark Foy, who ran the most successful department store in Sydney, on which his personal fortune was based. He also put up bounteous prize money. For example £136 for the winning crew in the mid 1890s at a time when £1 would buy a worker three pairs of 'holeproof trousers'.
Including the word 'Squadron' in the club's title was indeed ironic. The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron was modelled on Britain's Royal Yacht Squadron and was for the elite of society. Open-boat sailing from the Sydney Hiving Squadron was formed from mostly the marine, boatbuilding and artisan section of the population. Mark Foy supported and nurtured his Sydney Flying Squadron until his death in 1950.
In 1907 the first interstate championships were held for 18-footers between Western Australia and New South Wales. Years earlier, Mark Foy had made up his mind that 18-footcrs were 'the most sporting craft' of all the sizes of boats that raced. It may be said that the class 'took off from this time, if one specific date should be identified. The style of boat that made them famous remained in use from this time until the 1930s.
The boat had just one rule, that it should be 18ft (5.5m) on the watcrlinc. This meant that the sailors could cram on all the sail they could - and they did. To their main sails they added ring tails which were adapted from the studding sails of square riggers. I could not work out where thev stowed the spinnaker pole, which could measure up to 39ft (11.9m). The answer was to split it into three wooden interleaved sections.
In her book A Century of Sydney's Flying Sailors, Margaret Malloy quotes Sam Hort, skipper of the skiffle Cutty Sark. "Imagine the boat 18ft long with a third of it forward of the mast and the other two-thirds avast of the mast. The foot of the mainsail was 27ft long so all but 12ft of gear is hanging over the stern. Put a 14ft ringtail on, 7ft of which is outside the (main) sail, then the spinnaker. The sail itself was 45ft along the foot and then we had wo 9ft spars running out on the side, so there would be 18ft out one side with the spinnaker poles and 27ft on the other. (With 11 tails of the ring peeled over) you were running about with an 18ft boat, fifty feet across." No wonder a fleet of 30 of these boats racing drew crowds of thousands. No wonder the races were so competitive that punch-ups and fights between crews were commonplace. Ian Smith says that if he had a No 1'big rig' with a main of 750sqft (69.1mJ) he would only use it in 12 knots of wind or less. I le could only have used it twice this season in Sydney. In the pictures with this story there was up to 25 knots of wind. Britannia is using the No2 main (407sqft/ 37.5mJ) twice reefed and No3 jib. "In effect our fourth rig," Ian said. Sam Hort, quoted above, was talking about the 1930s when things began to change. New design and building techniques came in as skiffs began the evolution ofthe boat Sam described. Boats were built like Abadare with no keel, only needing a crcw of five or six as opposed to twelve.
The new boats were much faster and 'rules' had to catch up with technological advances. Such boats caused a rift at the Squadron and were initially banned. Boat owners who adopted the new-fangled designs broke away from the Squadron and formed the Australian 18 l-'ootcr League, which still runs the modern skiff racing from its club in Double Bay. The Squadron and the lxaguc are on collaborative terms now and racing has taken place between 18s from both clubs. Much water and history has flowed under Sydney Harbour bridge betweentimes. In addition to hull changes, which included significant changes to the width of the boat, the rig began to alter significantly. Gaff gave way to gunter and guntcr to bcrmudan. The natural progression of these designs led to the three-man carbonfibre racers of today. The Australian 18 Footer League has had its problems. Boats in the 1980s became so expensive that fleets were dying in Australia and New Zealand and in Sydney only the boats with the most costly corporate sponsorship could survive. Things were brought on an even keel by imposing rules designed to keep maximum costs within reason.
In 1991 a group of sailors from within the Sydney Flying Squadron formed the Australian Historical Skiff Association and started by building replica 10 footers.
After this practice they went on to build 18-footers. There is now a fleet of eight boats ranging fom 1919 to 1947, illustrat- ing the evolution of the class during the period. If there is a problem it is that most of them arc replicas of boats built after the split with the Australian 18 Footer League in the 1930s. In fact Abndare is based on
one of the very boats that caused the split. Life is made difficult for the handicapper because the boats vary so much but at crunch time it does not matter.
The replicas look great on the water together. The handicapper does seem to have it pretty nearly right. The boats finished close together which was his objective. There is another problem: authenticity of the replicas. As has been explained Britannia, the most authentic, replicates a boat of 1919. Even her metal fittings were cast tiom the original moulds that Wee George Robinson used. The most significant concession to modernity is the sail cloth, 'Throughout the world sailors of vintage and classic boats do not use the impractical cotton sailcloth, which is unobtainable anyway. 'The authenticity of the eight skiffs does include not using self bailers and not having buoyancy in their boats. If they capsize that is it, they are out of the race and have to be rescued. As a concession modern life jackets may be used. The main authenticity problem is that a number of the boats used modern building methods which were not available to their forebears - cold-moulded plywood hulls and aluminium masts disguised as wood.
The Squadron has an 'authenticity rating system' which encourages the boars to use more authentic gear. In the racing I saw Britannia had the best handicap and started about 15 minutes ahead of the scratch boat. As well as her 1919 hull shape she is a heavier boat than her competitors, which partly accounts for this handicap. She won her first race this season on 27 January in 25-35 knots with her No4 'storm' rig. Ian Pretty, SFS Club Captain, who usually races modern 18s, was pressed into service on Britannia that day. He said that on the run three of the crew were sailing the boat and all the other six were bailing like hell. In the old days the boats often had a youngster onboard, often as young as six, for the sole purpose of getting in the bilges and bailing. There was a motto for the bailer boy: "If one scoop of water was not hitting the water, while a second was in the air and a third was being scooped then the bailer boy was not working fast enough."
The replica Britannia originates from a fine pedigree. 'Wee Georgie' Robinson (4ft 11 in/1.5m tall) sailed the original for 25 years and won no fewer than 30 championships in her. Then he pressed her into service as committee boat adding a small cabin and motor. 'Wee Georgie' ran Sydney Flying Squadron races for 28 years, many of them from Britannia. It is a testament to the quality of his boatbuilding that there was still a boat left for the Australian National Maritime Museum to restore and display to the public in pristine, if not seaworthy, condition. Next year, European enthusiasts will be able to see the 18s in action without travelling round the world. Two of the boats, including Britannia, have been invited to the Brest Festival.