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Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club

Short NameMHSC
Physical Address237 Spit Road Mosman, New South Wales, Australia 2088
Telephone Number(02) 9932 4600
Facebook PageMiddle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club
Date Formed

Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club


Middle Harbour 16
Middle Harbour 16' Skiff Club

From the Middle Harbour 16' Skiff Club Website

The roots of the skiff date from the 19th century. Hardworking "skiffies" rowed cargos to and from the ships and passengers across the Harbour each day, then put up as much sail area as they could handle on their open boats, to race each other around Sydney Harbour, much to the entertainment of the public as to the profit of the local bookmakers.

The first 16 foot skiff was based on the "Watermans" skiff, chosen for its streamline shape, the dimensions of which have not changed much to this date although the lugsails and gaff rigs, with their solid timber spars and vertical cloths, are thankfully a thing of the past. The old boats were manned by four people, as much to carry the boat which weighed 114kg, versus 72kg of today's skiffs, as man-handling the 20sqm sail area. A fifth crew was added after spinnakers allowed in the class.

Hearsay has it that the nucleus of the club was born in idle discussions beside Adams's Boatshed, next to the Spit wharf. With sufficient boats between ten and twenty-two feet sailing in the area, to make up a club, a meeting was convened in September 1902 and "Middle Harbour Sailing Club" formed; the first race sailed on the 11th October 1902 and won by George Snow's 16 foot skiff, "Fransie".

The first Middle Harbour Regatta was held on 1st January 1903, more races and fund-raising aquatic carnivals followed, up until the First World War. In 1920 the club was re-kindled, the name changed, in 1927, to "Middle Harbour 16 foot Skiff Club", reflecting the majority of the fleet sailing there. Competition was hot, Queensland had introduced a hull design which sailed flat and much faster downwind, New South Wales was not about to be left behind. It was not however, until 1936 that the first clubhouse was built, exclusively from funds raised by the members and voluntary labour.

In 1941 cheers resounded to the name of "J. Lyons" and "U-Dear" as the club won its first Australian Championship title. Despite being taken over by the Army in defense of the Spit, in 1942, the club grew and grew until, in 1946, the necessary permits were obtained to extend the club-house. A deck was built out six years later to make more space for rigging the skiffs, which were evolving by the minute, with the addition of buoyancy boxes to keep the lighter, faster craft, topped with Bermudan Masts and battened sails, afloat in a capsize.

In 1952 Jim "Salty" O'Rourke (nicknamed for fierce defense of his salt ration in Changi Prison) returned from the war to win the club's second Australian Championship, in "Return". Despite the reputation of many skiffies, the club did not hold a liquor license until 1955, the Middle Harbour skiffies who hung off the beams of their club in wild parties then swung off the trapezes of their skiffs, which were introduced to the class in 1958.

Membership continued to grow and the current club house was completed in 1961 again significantly supported by voluntary labour from club members. The sixties brought alloy masts to the skiffs, which gave greater flexibility and performance in a variety of wind strengths, as well as another Australian Champion - Ken Beashel, sailing "Seaforth".

The 1970's saw the hey-day of the Australian club and Middle Harbour 16 foot Skiff Club was no exception, reveling in a whirl of social and sailing activities. The hull shape of the skiff changed dramatically and materials development was at a peak. Trevor Beardsmore became two-time Australian Champion in his skiff "Minx". In 1979 the skiff measurement went metric with only the name remaining imperial.

However the change of decade bought a change in fortunes. As the Government overturned club advantages within licensing and gaming laws, Middle Harbour Skiff Club struggled. Costs were cut concurrently with the reduction in skiff crew numbers down to three. With characteristic guts, flexibility and labour from the members, all nature of enterprise were run to keep the club afloat, before hitting on the idea to restructure and sub-lease the function area; a relationship lasting twenty years with the famous "Fresh Ketch Restaurant" was forged.

During the nineties the skiff became friendlier to sail. Boats were decked-in, the number of rigs was reduced, Highfield levers to bend the rig became a thing of the past as "ballooners" or asymmetric spinnakers and fixed poles, proven in speed and efficiency took their place.

Skiff sailing at Middle Harbour goes from strength to strength, four years ago the 13 foot skiff was introduced to bridge the gap from junior sailing, lost when the fourth hand "bailer boy" position on a skiff was cut. The club has had two Australian 13 foot skiff Champions; Dan Watterson ( and Scott Cotton (Northside Sailing School) as well as another 16 foot champion, Lee Knapton (Bob Jane T-Marts Edgecliff). However, social evolution marches on curtailing "Boat races" with "Booze buses" and introducing a whole new alphabet from "X"-box to "E". Once again the forecast changes but the skiffies tack again into the new breeze - a lift! A $4 M renovation and new catering agreement with Zest Waterfront Venues, is in place to take the club sailing through to 2034.

With the famous names of past champions; Beardsmore, Beashel and O'Rourke still ringing in the ears, a third generation of skiffing "Hendry's" and a strong, growing junior fleet in the wings, another chapter in the exciting life of Middle Harbour Skiff Club opens and we hope that the brave -spirited, community-focused, egalitarian mate-ship of Middle Harbour's 16 foot skiffies prevails long into the future.

(Thanks to "A Century of Skiffs and Schooners" especially Frank Bonnitcha and Don Audsley for the references.)


Middle Harbour Sailing Club - Fixture Card 1905-1906


Middle Harbour Regatta 1959

Middle Harbour Regatta 1959 - the Middle Harbour 16ft Sailing Club
Middle Harbour Regatta 1959 - the Middle Harbour 16

The following is an excerpt from the Middle Harbour Regatta Program 1959


1902 to 1959

THE Club apparently came into being during the year 1902 after discussion by enthusiasts outside Adams' Store, The Spit, while a few boats of odd shapes and designs were in the vicinity. The gentlemen concerned were J. Adams Snr., J. Alderton Snr., and George Snow.

They convened a meeting of interested boat owners and meetings were held in Stansell's Hotel (where the present Mosman Hotel now stands) and a fleet of 11 boats competed in early events.

In these early days, the local business people began to take an interest in the Club and in conjunction with other organizations held Aquatic Carnivals from 1904 till 1909. These carnivals were in aid of the North Shore Hospital. A large number of events apart from sailing were contested keenly, such as dressing of boats, slippery pole, pillow fights and numerous other athletic events.

Old photographs and programmes of these carnivals are proudly displayed in the recreation room of this Club and convey to viewers the hilarious atmosphere of these early days at The Spit. These same organizations then formed the Mosman Park Improvements Committee and voluntarily built and fenced the Mosman Oval at no expense to Council.

The Club Committee at the 4th March, 1905, consisted of Messrs. S.Humphries, R. Oatley, G. Morris, G. Ellis, E. Croft, W. Devlin, C. Wilson, J. Alderton Snt, J. Adams Snr., Chas. Stewart, C. Lyons, Sid Ward, H. Croft and W. Searle. During this season the fleet had grown to 24 boats of all classes and races were conducted over the all-weather course around the Bombora buoy.

The Club continued to grow and prosper until the 1914-18 war. Upon cessation of hostilities, boats were again racing over the familiar course.

During these early years boats were stored in various boatsheds along the foreshores of Middle Harbour and club meetings were held in the Ventura Tea Rooms. In 1920-21 meetings were held in the Mosman Town Hall and the Cremorne School of Arts. It is interesting to note that up till this time boats were unrestricted in as much as they varied from 10ft. to 22ft. in length. Some were decked, some canvas, but all in all, they were boats with a sail.

The year 1923 was the year when the name Middle Harbour 16ft. Skiff Sailing Club came into being and it is understood that it is the oldest 16ft. Skiff Sailing Club in the Commonwealth. Previous to this club, the Port Jackson Club was formed but unfortunately has now gone out of existence.

Progress was the order of the day but unfortunately the Club had no clubhouse, and in 1935 Mr. Sid Thatcher called a special meeting at the Mosman Town Hall, the decision of this meeting being to go ahead with the building of a clubhouse. In this direction Messrs. Harold D. & W. E. Arnott assisted materially and financially. Mention must also be made of Mr. Frank Walters, who assisted the club with materials and ready assistance with finance. In 1936 building operations on a voluntary basis began and by the end of the year several skiffs were occupying the shed and within twelve months of the commencement, the clubhouse, measuring 60ft. x 40ft., was complete with stagings and ramps. Two years later the clubhouse was free of debt.

By 1946 the fleet of skiffs had grown too big to house them all in the shed and the Club decided to raise funds and enlarge the structure.

This was done and under the direction of Mr. Jack Ray, with a voluntary effort, the building was enlarged to 60ft. x 90ft. of two stories and large landing ramps and boat storage area for some 40 boats.

The modern 16ft. skiff of today is constructed on the moulded plywood design, and is built to rules and regulations agreed upon by all affiliated clubs in Australia. Sail areas are restricted to 220 square feet in Mainsail and Jib which are used for tacking to windward. Extra sails used for running with the wind are permitted but are not to exceed 140 square feet in area.

On this day, the reintroduction of the Middle Harbour Regatta, this Club would welcome visits by any of the past members. Quite a number of your old sailing friends will be present and we feel sure you would like to yarn about old times.

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