The Batt Family and Yachting

Yachts on the Derwent in the 1930s (AOT, PH30/1/797)

In the 1920s and 1930s for the first time Tasmania competed regularly in interstate yacht races, with considerable success. Much this can be attributed to William Percy ('Skipper') Batt and his younger brother Harry.

A boost to interstate yacht racing was given in 1921, when the Governor-General, Lord Forster, presented a perpetual cup for an interstate 21-foot yacht race. In 1924 a crew from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania competed and was unplaced, and some Club members were keen to race a locally built boat in 1925. The Club commissioned 'Skipper' Batt to design a yacht, Tassie. He also took the helm, with his brother Harry as for'ard hand, and four other crew members. An accomplished helmsman himself, 40 year-old Harry enjoyed a string of victories in local races from early in the twentieth century. When Tassie won, it was an immense boost to local pride.

In 1926 the Forster Cup was sailed in Perth. Tassie took part in eight races. She won seven of them, and came away with the Forster Cup. The next year, the Forster Cup was raced in Adelaide. By now Tassie had become an institution. As the final heat was sailed, a crowd waited outside the Mercury office, and when the result was read out a great cheer went up. News of the victory was also flashed on the screens of Hobart's cinemas, where it was greeted with rapturous applause. Not one to rest on his laurels, 'Skipper' Batt designed a new, somewhat heavier boat in the same class as Tassie, named Tassie Too.

Both boats and crews competed in Sydney for the 1928 race. Harry Batt at the helm of Tassie Too won the Forster Cup, beating the second boat, none other than Tassie, by 48 seconds. At the same regatta, Harry's son, 15-year-old Neall, won the Stonehaven Cup for 12-foot dinghies on Gumnut. When the boats returned to Tasmania, all three were displayed fully-rigged in front of the stage at a special concert at City Hall. Neall Batt successfully defended his title in 1930, again sailing Gumnut. In doing so, he became one of only three skippers to win the cup twice.

The successes did not stop there. Tassie won the 1929 race at Brisbane. When in 1930 Tasmania briefly lost the cup in squally conditions in Victoria, Batt designed a third boat Tassie III for the 1931 race, to be sailed on the Derwent. Before a local crowd, the new boat won back the Forster Cup. Tassie Too kept winning. Skipper Batt sailed her to victory in 1934 and in 1936. Harry took the helm to win in 1937, and in 1939 AK Ward gave the 21-footer her final victory before the Second World War halted the race until 1947, when Tassie Too' s string of wins continued.

If the successes of the Tassies did much for the prowess of Tasmanian sailing, the victories also helped put the Derwent on the map as a racing venue. This improved the quality of the racing conducted by regatta committees as well as those conducted by yacht clubs.

Further reading: D Young, Sporting Island, Hobart 2005.

Kenn Batt