Please select your home edition
Edition
Cyclops Marine 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Mark Foy - Father of the 18 Footers

by Frank Quealey 1 Aug 22:08 PDT

The man responsible for the birth of 18-Footer racing some 128 years ago (January 1892) was a leading Sydney retailer named Mark Foy, who was a keen sailor as well as being a very successful businessman with an acute eye for promotion.

After moving to Sydney with his brother in 1885, the pair set up a business under the name of Mark Foy's, then later opened a large retail department store near Hyde Park in the Sydney CBD area.

In 1904, Foy also opened the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The hotel featured recreation facilities and amusements and was one of the most fashionable resorts in Australia.

The highly-motivated Foy was only in his mid-20s when he realised that the wonderful Sydney Harbour sailing area attracted little, or no, public interest.

Combining his professional business skills with his promotional awareness, he saw the potential of creating a popular public sporting event and set out to solve the problem.

The Problem:

Foy quickly realised that the biggest problem was the competitors, who didn't care about public interest. Races were sailed over 12-mile out-and-back courses, with the boats out of sight for up to two hours. There was no attempt to entertain spectators while the boats were out of sight and the handicap system used to determine the winner was too slow.

Foy turned to his entrepreneurial skills to rectify the problem and make yacht racing more popular.

Like most successful professionals, he simplified the problem and the best method to solve it.

Solving the problem:

He saw the boats as a problem. They had to be more colourful, and be more easily identified for spectators than by a small number. The racing had to be more exciting and faster, and the winner had to be the first boat which crossed the finish line.

The result was a boat with a huge spread of sail which gave it a sensational aquaplaning speed downwind.

Next was the best method of identifying each boat as the spectators cheered home their favourite. His original idea was striped sails, but this was replaced by colourful emblems on each side of the mainsail.

Final step was a new handicapping system. Foy's idea was to have a staggered start, with a break between the best and the limit boats in the fleet. As the better boats caught their lesser rivals, a dozen boats would race bow-to-bow past the grandstand full of spectators to the finish.

Implementing the Solution:

Foy was now ready to go racing

He whipped enthusiasm to a fever pitch, then hired bands to play at ferry terminals, on spectator ferries and on the specially chartered flagship. He also hired a band to play on Clark Island, which was Foy's 'grandstand' for the day's racing.

On the big day, the high-pressure publicity generated by Foy paid great dividends. Clark Island was packed to capacity while crowded, moored ferries added to the number of spectators. Every available vantage point, on both sides of Sydney Harbour, was also packed to capacity.

The crowd was unprecedented, yet most of the spectators knew little about the sport.

A three-mile triangular course was set in an area west of Clark Island. The extremities were at each side of the harbour, with a spinnaker run, past Foy's Clark Island 'grandstand' to the finish line. It was imperative, in Foy's plans that the finish would be a spectacular spinnaker run past Clark Island.

Three races were staged on the day and the success guaranteed the future of 18-Footer racing. Foy had demonstrated that it was the most exciting participant and spectator sport ever seen on Sydney Harbour.

A vast majority of the people were there to thrill to the excitement Foy had promised. By the end of the day, they were 'sold' on Foy-style sailing races on Sydney Harbour, and are the forefathers of the 18-Footer enthusiasts, participants and spectators of today.

Foy's incredible vision in 1892 remains just as relevant today.

What better example of this was the ISAF changes following a disastrous 2008 Olympics, when a largely damning report claimed sailing was shown to be one of the least popular sports at the 2008 Olympics, yet one of the most-costly sports for TV to cover.

The ISAF decision was that sailing had to improve its presentation to the target audience, produce more exciting races, make use of the national flags and colours, and make the racing more viewer-friendly. The announcement agreed with something Mark Foy had realised nearly 120 years earlier: 'Sailors are not the spectators, yet we present our sport as if they are'.

At the 2012 London Olympics, some of the most critical races were sailed on amphitheatre-type course areas, with highly-visible national flags incorporated into the sails, full-course viewing for the spectators, and more incident-packed racing.

Not surprising, the result was the same as Mark Foy achieved in 1892. There were thousands of spectators cheering wildly as their favourite team won the race. Modern-day entrepreneurs finally began to see the light. We now have some magnificent, colourful racing in a variety of boats and competitions around the world.

If Mark Foy was alive today, he would probably say something like "how come it took 120 years for these people to realise what was obvious in 1890?"

We can only wonder what other ideas Foy would have introduced if he had access to the space-age materials, computerised technology, use of colour, and the media resources we have today.

Related Articles

18ft Skiffs: Queensland's golden days
Queensland 18 Footer designers, boat builders and sailors won more Australian Championships than NSW With the Brisbane 18 Footers' SC celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2020, it's a good time to reflect on the 'golden days' of Queensland's 18 Footer racing when they made such a significant contribution to the development and achievements in the sport Posted on 26 Jul
Bill Barnett, an incredible designer & competitor
From 18ft Skiffs to international 12 metre class yachts The late Bill Barnett was a famous sailing identity who designed, built and raced world champion boats from 18ft Skiffs to international 12 metre class yachts to challenge for The America's Cup. Posted on 18 Jul
Hugh Treharne, a great Australian sailing talent
Renowned 16ft and 18ft Skiff sailor, tactician on Australia II in 1983 Hugh Treharne is one of Australia's greatest sailors. He was tactician on The America's Cup-winning Australia II in 1983, a renowned 16ft and 18ft Skiff sailor, a widely recognised sailmaker and a world champion blue water yachtsman. Posted on 12 Jul
18ft Skiffs: Dave Porter, the unluckiest champion
Fortune didn't always smile on the great sailor David Porter became the 1975 JJ Giltinan world 18ft Skiff champion when he skippered KB to a brilliant victory on the Brisbane River, but fortune didn't always smile on the great sailor. Posted on 4 Jul
In Conversation with Tristan Walker-Hutt
New projects during lockdown for the East Coast sailor Back in January 2019 we published the 'Budget Ultra-High Performance Sailing' article about the International 14 Fawkes, which Tristan Walker-Hutt and Tom Clayton had renovated on a very tight budget. Posted on 2 Jul
TraveLodge's 18ft Skiff sponsorship
A world championship-winning association with Bob Holmes A sponsor who came to the 18 Footers in 1964 was the TraveLodge company which decided to sponsor Bob Holmes, who was a new, young competitor to the class. Posted on 28 Jun
How Len Heffernan changed the Sydney 18ft Skiffs
Taking up the challenge to transition to three-handers in the 1960s Brisbane led the way in the transition from the four-handed 18ft Skiffs to the three-handers in the late 1950s, but it was the late Len Heffernan who took up the challenge to introduce the new style boats to Sydney. Posted on 25 Jun
Sailing is freedom
We can all mess about in or on any type of boat or board It seems 'The Great Grass Roots Revival?' and 'Messing about in boats' had quite an impact. With my own eyes I see what is happening on my doorstep with more activity on the water than I've seen in years, but this was just the microcosm that I live in. Posted on 22 Jun
New 18ft Skiff teams wanted for 2020 - Apply Now
An amazing opportunity to sail and learn from some of the best sailors around The Australian 18 Footers League has long had a policy of introducing new and young teams into its fleet to ensure the continued growth and quality of the club's 85-year-old tradition of 18ft Skiff Racing on Sydney Harbour. Posted on 21 Jun
New Zealand's 18ft Skiff Racing Record
Three consecutive victories just the latest chapter of an 82-year-old story Three consecutive victories by the Honda Marine team of David McDiarmid, Brad Collins and Matt Steven in the world's premier JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship over the past three seasons, gives New Zealanders every right to boast at the moment. Posted on 18 Jun
Vaikobi 2019AUG - Footer 1Cyclops Marine 2020 - FOOTERSOUTHERN-SPARS-OFFICIAL-SUPPLIER-52-SS728-X-90 Bottom