Hobsons Bay Yacht Club (1888-2013) celebrates its 125th year Anniversary. HBYC considers itself to be the oldest yacht club continuously occupying its original site in Victoria and possibly in Australia.
The club had its beginnings at the Williamstown Mechanics Institute Hall on Thursday 28th April 1888, at a public meeting chaired by Sea Pilot Captain H. Press.
It was established to form the yacht club and rules and formalities were quickly established with one of the initial rules struck being the membership was open only to amateurs and excluded fishermen and watermen of the day. The initial member’s role was established at 60 members with additional persons registering for consideration.
The first official event was quickly organised as the club’s Opening Day Thursday 24th May 1888, this being Queen Victoria’s birthday, and was also celebrated with a yacht race to mark the day. The best and fastest yachts in HBYC and in Port Phillip were invited to participate, including St Kilda Yacht Club, Brighton Yacht Club and Footscray Yacht Club. The trophy donated by Mr Heriot of Nelson Place was a marble Ormolu clock. On the designated day, nine yachts met at the start line with St Kilda failing to send a representative. The course was described as 'Start line, Stevedore Street Pier, round Cerberus and the lightship passing the starting point twice'.
The race attracted 600 'persons' at vantage points at the Stevedore Pier and the Breakwater Pier.The race changed leaders a number of times with the eventual winner HBYC 'Athlete' showing a clean stern to BYC 'Galatea' with BYC 'Fairy' coming in third. The race was accompanied by Mr E.T. Cook’s steam yacht 'Firefly' and accommodated the umpire, Mr Thrussell, the timekeeper, Mr W. Anderson and captain of the club, Mr Findlay.
'Athlete' 23 feet in length was built by R.Wray of Nelsons Place, Williamstown, on lines lay down by her owner and 'has proved herself as a regular flyer'.
The club was granted a lease of land in September 1888, Nelsons Place, Hobsons Bay at £5 per annum. A Members’ Special meeting was held in December 1888 to consider plans to build a clubhouse for the club members. The building opted for by the members was a house located at the water edge 33 feet by 50 feet; a platform 33 feet wide facing the water, a meeting room 20 feet by 16 feet, a dressing room seven feet by 14 feet with bathroom and accessories. Provisions were also to be made for a trolley slip at the platform at an estimated cost of £200. The building works were to be guaranteed by club members.
The new club house was opened on 19th October 1889 with celebration and a Promonard Concert held in the evening at 1s.6d. per ticket.
Even to this day Port Phillip is considered to be a dangerous body of water, to the well prepared and treacherous to the unwary.
On Easter Sunday 2nd April 1899, the HBYC yacht 'Queenie', a 25 feet yacht was lost with all seven hands on board. The yacht was captained by Mr Clark (ex commodore of the club) and his crew of his four sons, John (20), Ernest (18), Charles (16), Norman (14), along with Reg Johnson (18) and Arthur Allan (26), all residents of Williamstown.
'Queenie' had been competing in the Sorrento Easter Regatta and had won one of the races on Saturday and then sailed to Queenscliffe on Sunday morning, with intentions to go on to Geelong for a race on Monday, before returning to Hobsons Bay , Williamstown. It was after leaving Queenscliffe on route for Geelong tragedy struck.
Other yachts in the area later reported severe local squalls hitting the area and those boats not under the lee of Port Arlington could be at risk.
'Queenie' was found off the Werribee sandbanks with 4 feet of mast showing out of the water. Reports indicated that she must have been unexpectedly overwhelmed by the squalls as she was still fully sheeted.
The Williamstown community was in a state of shock as news spread of the drownings and loss of 'Queenie'. Later newspaper articles began questioning the safety of 'Queenie' as she had low lines and narrow beam.
The Hobsons Bay Yacht Club continued to prosper in membership and was developing a reputation of being a well resourced club with extensive yachts and race programs. It was leading other clubs to begin to build clubhouses and facilities instead of being located at hotels and club rooms in Melbourne City.
World war one broke out in 1914 and of the club role register of 97 members, 33 members immediately enlisted. The depression that followed the war slowed development of yachting in general, especially in big sized yachts, but Hobsons Bay Yacht club continued to progress.
1934 saw the decision to extend the club house taken , this time an additional building costing £600, again paid for by the members by £5 debentures raising £300 and the remainder by bank loan of £300.
Disaster strikes again.
Early in the morning of 18th August 1951 fire broke out in the clubhouse and when the fire was out the clubhouse was totally destroyed including 45 yachts and 14 dinghies and all the club records. It took only a short while for the club to regroup and begin planning to rebuild the clubhouse and other facilities. This was achieved with volunteer labour over a number of years and the official opening of the new clubhouse was carried in October 1957.
The development of the club has been a continuous process with improvements to the maintenance yards, slipway, buildings and marinas and boat storage facilities. The club is proud of their culture on being a family oriented club that achieves great milestones with volunteer labour input by its many members.
HBYC has always been a progressive club as shown with Shirley Freeman being the first female boat owner to become a senior club member of the club in 1975. Shirley went on the be a well respected member of the club and won many HBYC trophies including the 1991 Port Phillip Sea Pilots race and completed in five Melbourne to Devonport races.
The club has proven over the years to contain master sailors, who have participated and excelled in both Port Phillip and ocean racing events such as Sydney-Hobart’s, Melbourne to Tasmania series races, eastern coast races and international racing. HBYC has two boats in this year’s Melbourne to Osaka, a two handed yacht race beginning in May 2013.
A HBYC boat, a 14.6m yawl 'Thistle ' won the first Rudder Cup held in 1907 in a race from Port Phillip to the Low Heads at the mouth of the Tamar River, Launceston, Tasmania at a distance of 198 miles. 'Thistle' was skippered by Edgar Newland and crew of his wife and daughter. The Rudder Cup is Australia’s oldest ocean race, predating the Sydney to Hobart race by nearly four decades and the English Fastnet race by nearly 20 years.
The HBYC has a strong club cruising group whose members have been known to go out the Port Phillip Heads, turn to port and keep going around the world or just locally in the southern hemisphere.
The club is also the home of many long serving members, in 2012, a 25 year service celebration day was held with 25 members qualifying, along with 12 members who had racked up over 40 years service. The total club membership is currently 549 covering all membership categories.
The year of 2013 is the HBYC’s celebration of 125 years and currently has 539 members over various membership categories of full, family, crew, juniors, cadets and social members. We are celebrating this year with various social events including another self-funded clubhouse extension.
Hobsons Bay Yacht Club
by Kevin LeNepveu
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8:40 AM Fri 29 Mar 2013GMT
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