Curzona Allport's image, 'River Derwent from Taroona', shows the popularity of yachting in about 1900 (ALMFA, SLT)
The power of sail has been inextricably linked with the Tasmanian environment and Tasmanians, since Europeans began exploring the island in their wooden windjammers. These vessels, and later trading ketches, provided vital links between the colonies following white settlement in the early nineteenth century.
It was only a matter of time before the locals of Launceston and Hobart Town took advantage of many attractive waterways that beckoned the recreational sailor. The earliest known records of actual racing involved private match-racing between two sailors. Prize money was significant, with bets often over £10.
Regattas soon became a traditional pastime, with the first at Hobart in 1831. Eight craft competed in the Tamar Yacht Club's Regatta in 1837, and over sixty in Hobart Town's first annual regatta in 1838. Another popular venue was Long Point at Sandy Bay where spectators can certainly get close to the action. Its first regatta was in 1849, when Corsair, sailed by Reg Power, won the race with Marianne second. Later regattas were held only occasionally, until the Sandy Bay Regatta became established.
Regattas were not restricted to the major metropolitan areas. Steamers like SS Emu left Hobart at 7 am on 31 December bound for the Shipwrights Point regatta, arriving at 1 pm and leaving early to return for New Year's Eve celebrations. Sailing and the conviviality of pubs and clubs were inextricably linked. At the same time steamers and ferries headed to New Norfolk, and A Class yachts participated in sailing activities at Woodbridge. The first Cygnet Regatta was held in 1863, and Norfolk Bay in 1924. The Kingston Beach Regatta, often involving a race from Castray Esplanade, proved popular with around 7000 persons at their first regatta in 1924. For those who braved the treacherous winds that often sweep our waterways, dangers were always present. The first known disaster occurred during the 1849 Hobart Regatta when John Petchey and six of his crew drowned when their yacht sank. Around the same time the 16-footers commenced racing on the Leven and Mersey Rivers, but the first Mersey Regatta was not held until 1883, and the Mersey and Leven Yacht Clubs were not established until the 1930s. Yacht racing was also gaining prominence on the Inglis River.
The famous 21-footers provided intense competition on the Derwent and Tamar rivers, and 1884 heralded the first intra-colonial yacht match race in the 21-foot class with Youla from the Tamar Yacht Club up against Olga from the south. As yachts were transported by horse and buggy – journeys lasting more than three days – this event was intermittent.
By the early 1900s the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, the Derwent Sailing Squadron, and the Sandy Bay Sailing Club were taking shape as the hubs of yacht racing in the south. A little later, in 1926, the Bellerive Yacht Club was established. The Derwent became home to an increasing number of one-design yacht racing fleets which added colour to the Class rating yachts such as Weene and Landfall. The 21-footers were complemented by the introduction of 28-foot class yachts of which Volante was the 'pride of the Derwent'. Then followed the D (Derwent) Class yachts, with Imp II built in 1925, the first of nine.
Yacht racing was fast becoming serious business, with Tasmanian sailors competing on the national stage. Tassie Two performed with consummate skill, and Gum Nut was one of many victorious in the Stonehaven Cup for the 12-foot dinghy class. Since that time many new one-design classes have graced the Derwent, but only a few such as Dragons and Sharpies have withstood the test of time. However, many examples of these early yachts occasionally race as vintage yachts. While the Derwent, Tamar and Mersey rivers have become the home ports for Australia's ocean racing classics, arguably the first Australian offshore yachting event was the Ocean Yacht Race around Bruny Island hosted by the Royal Yacht Club in 1898, won by Sunbeam sailed by Fred Turner. This race continues.
Tasmania's magnificent estuarine and coastal waterways continue to seduce modern seafarers. Sails dot seascapes on most days. Yacht racing continues to attract our competitive natures – from the very young in Sabots, champions in Dragons, through to the likes of legendary John Bennetto in blue water racing. The extensive waterways also offer some of the best cruising grounds in the world, challenging adventurous seafarers of today as with early settlers.
Further reading: E Webster, A hundred years of yachting, Hobart, 1936; Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Sailing on, Hobart, 1980.