From MHYC: The First 60 Years
Article by: Neville Watkins
As a young free-loader crewing for Graham Newland on Firefly, I knew the MHYC well before I joined in 1953. Sailing has got to be the cheapest sport for non-member free-loaders! However, the magic of Middle Harbour was unfolding so I joined for two guineas, which was about a week's wages, but worth it.
At the time there was talk of building a clubhouse next to the thriving Middle Harbour 16-foot Skiff Club. Then, races finished off Clontarf and usually turned into a raft-up of boats with plenty of drinks and hilarity. We shared our waterway with a large fleet of 16-foot skiffs which had a 'B Class' division of juniors. (The unwritten rule was that if you wanted to graduate to a 16-foot skiff you never got in the way of the 'big boys' on any point of sailing.)
At MHYC, sailing was fun and supplemented with social functions. Our Annual Ball, held at the Anzac Memorial Hall at Cammeray, was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Mosman, and representatives from all the other Sydney yacht clubs. It was a big time do, and we had to keep the Mayor on side because the club plans were being drawn up.
The clubhouse was finished in 1954. It was designed by club member and honorary architect, Eric Duggin; the building's construction organised by Charles Bullbrook and Alf Wildman and labour supplied by members organised by Bill Henderson. The wharf and decking were built with contract labour. With a place to moor our boats after racing, it was not only desirable to win your race but to be first home to secure a prime position at the whar
Soon we had a licensed club, and expenses which started to increase. Free labour was finished and progress brought government taxes, licensing fees and poker machine taxes. Club fees had to be raised! But, I must say, it was satisfying to have draught beer after all those years of bottles.
Dak Harrington headed the House Committee and, with his skill, the club was soon thundering with dances, smokos, cocktail parties and disco nights. The bar was managed by club members but was not licensed, and it only served bottled beer, limited spirits and soft drinks. It was truly a casual sailing club, with cold showers and lots of friends in wet weather gear and bare feet.
Dress rules, however, were gradually enforced once hot-water showers were installed. One night I remember putting empty Smiths Chips packets on my feet to comply with the new rule that 'foot covering must be worn after 7 pm! Later, when the vigilante committee changed the rule to something more specific, we tried to remember to bring our shoes. Ken Steel, a member who could afford shoes, used to lend his to any keen dancer:
1957 saw the introduction of basic safety rules, because boat owners were becoming more adventurous. New boats were being built to the designs of Alan Payne, Robert Clark, Laurent Giles, Arthur Robb, and Sparkman and Stephens. The designs were seaworthy and kept pace with the traditional designs on the harbour. Guard rails were becoming accepted and a centre lifeline was considered a good idea!
Safety equipment was minimal with the general attitude of 'one hand for yourself and one for the boat' and 'don't fall overboard: you know what that could mean'! A southerly gale of 60 knots during a night sail to Port Stephens and the Myall Lakes (before the bridge to Hawks Nest restricted access for tall-masted boats) found Frank Likely on the blackest of nights on the bow of Hoi Phoon clawing down the headsail with the only safety procedure available -- calling out every fifteen seconds or so that he was OK. Prompted by such experience, Frank readily volunteered to become Safety Officer and joined up with safety officers appointed by other clubs, starting a huge development in safety gear and life rafts, and an accepted standard of safety rules.
Inter-club racing was common, with clubs taking it in turns to host presentation nights. Regattas were held on Sydney Harbour, Pittwater and Middle Harbour. MHYC also started an ocean racing division in 1957. We would sail out to Eric Spring-Brown's motor cruiser about five miles offshore and back. At the beginning of the 1959/60 season the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron put on a grand display of brass bands and parading vessels. Every club combined their race fleet, put on a grand harbour spectacle and finished at Store Beach Where refreshments were provided the Whole weekend. To the best of my recollection I can never remember seeing a woman sailor at a race meeting like this: perhaps it was a male-only affair.
After the completion of the club, in 1955, Norman Way was honoured with life membership after nine years as Commodore. He was succeeded by Keith Adams, a gentleman of great sailing ability. In 1958 Walter Burke was elected as Commodore, and membership rose to 339. By the end of the 1950s the new clubhouse was bursting at the seams and wharfage facilities were congested - it was time to expand.