Sailing Into My Late Teens

I started to get the sailing bug soon after I started with Jock and probably while sailing to Sydney on ‘Mavis’. The Sydney Vaucluse Junior or VJ fascinated me especially because there were none in Hobart so I decided to build myself one. We were living at Number 3 Colville Street by then and that had the tiniest woodshed. I extended that by a couple of feet and managed to squeeze in my new challenge. Launched at Battery Point on the waterfront of Tom Pilkington’s property, I sailed it with the fledgling Sandy Bay Dinghy Club, which eventually grew into the Sandy Bay Sailing Club. Over a Christmas and New Year while I was building the VJ, Mum and Dad were away and on New Year’s Eve some of the boys came in for a few drinks and we had a real mixture of booze when the beer ran out. Next morning the polished table in the lounge room was covered with white rings burnt from booze around the glasses. The only thing I could think of to clear the table was to polish it with shoe polish. I spent a lot of time that day polishing that table and I think it was passable. I carried all the bottles out to the shed and put them under the VJ where they couldn’t be seen. This was great until I asked Dad to help me turn the boat over when the outside was finished and I’d forgotten about the bottles. He said, ‘That must have been a decent party you had.’

After sailing the VJ for a couple of years, including the time on Sydney trips, the VJ became a bit slow and at that time an old school mate Rex Nichols was building a heavyweight 12 square metre ‘Sharpie’, a beautifully shaped German design sailing worldwide and introduced to Australia in the 1930s. Rex was building this with a friend of his, Vic O’Brien, and wanted to sell his share. I bought him out and for the next few years found the excitement of sailing one of the fastest yachts of that time.

We started with Dennis Beare as main sheet hand and the next year Dave Wardrop took Dennis’ place and stayed with us for the remainder of the time we owned it. I have great memories of sailing between Sandy Bay point and the starting line off Castray Esplanade in a hard south-westerly breeze with the smaller shy spinnaker set and not believing the speed we were sailing at. We weren’t the fastest sharpie on the river, nor the slowest, but we had the most remarkable time. The Royal Yacht Club at that time had two premises. The main headquarters were on the corner of Harrington and Davey Streets and I have talked about the waterfront property at Battery Point previously. Here, Sharpies and Cadet dinghies were stored and launched every Saturday. Cadets were light enough to be carried into the water but Sharpies had a minimum weight in their building specification of 506 lbs or some 250 kgs. Each had their own wheeled cradle and were launched and recovered on these. It was a busy place on race days but we had just as much fun sailing on Sundays and other holidays. Our favourite day trip was down to Maryanne Bay just north of Opossum Bay on the South Arm peninsula (only accessible by water), spend the day on the beach and sail home in the constant hard sea breeze.

A regular visitor to the slipyard was John Donnelan who with a Mr McGuire operated a chandlery in Montpelier retreat. John owned a 30ft yacht named ‘Mavourneen’ and one day he offered it to me to use as I wished as long as I looked after it. What a wonderful offer. We not only sailed it locally but several times we packed the yacht with two Sharpie crews and a couple of others, towed the ‘Tern’ and Graham Griggs ‘Dovekey’ down to Barnes Bay on Bruny Island and spent the weekend having a wonderful sail around the bay. Neither of us were all that keen on racing and this was an amazing way to spend a weekend. I hope I left it in good condition for him.

I look back now and wonder again how Mum coped with this every Saturday because the boys would always call in and often have lunch with us. Must have been so hard financially for both her and Dad but I wasn’t aware of these things at the time. The boat owners and their crew became a tight knit group and after racing we would try and have a few beers at Shippies even though we were often still below the 21 year drinking age.

We usually had three alternatives on Saturday night. First was The Belvedere formal dance hall in Argyle Street. We had to be well dressed and well behaved to be part of that. Mrs Donnelly ran a pretty tight ship there. Our second, and more popular dance, was the ‘Jazz House’ with Ian Pearce and Tom Pickering and their group playing at the 7HT radio station theatrette upstairs on the corner of Elizabeth and Melville Streets. The music was incredibly good and that was where I gained my first love of Dixieland jazz. The venue was always so packed that when each dance finished and the crowd moved to the back of the hall there were still only a few yards between the crowd and the stage. Tom died quite a few years ago and Ian more recently. Ian had a delightful concert at the Stanley Burbury Theatre at the University to celebrate his 90th birthday. Our third alternative for Saturday night when all else failed was to go to the TCA ground and watch and have a bet on the greyhounds.

Vic O’Brien was a keen footballer and decided to play on the North West Coast with the Penguin football club. He had a lovely 350cc ‘Matchless’ motorbike and was on a trip up the East coast of the mainland. I had bought his share of the Sharpie and recently sold it. I was also getting to the stage where I needed a car myself so I was working more and more in my spare time with Purdon and Featherstone in their waterfront dunnaging business at the Hobart wharves. This job paid all overtime rates for me because I was still with Jock during the day. I eventually saved enough to buy a little canvas roofed Ford ‘Anglia’ and that gave me the mobility that I was starting to need.

Vic arrived back from his interstate trip with his bike all dirty and needing a service. He left it with me to have the work done, cleaned, and ride it up to him in Penguin. The Easter break that year was an ideal time. It must have been about Easter 1953 and the ride was wonderful. Good weather, little traffic in those days and I met and lived with Vick’s hosts for the few days. I liked Penguin. First time in the North of the State and living on the edge of Bass Strait was a new experience. Back to Hobart (can’t recall how I travelled back) and into the daytime work with Jock and overtime on the ships.