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100th Birthday approaches for Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club

by Adam Lucius 3 Feb 13:53 PST 25 February 2023

It's said the greatest of ideas are sometimes hatched by accident.

You could safety slot the Manly Sailing Club - later to morph into the Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club - into that category after an inception that came about by a happy combination of 'right time, right place' happenings 100 years ago.

As documented in David Hooley's excellent history of the club (Sailos - the first 75 years of MSSC), young members of the Delwood Canoe Club were happily minding their own business surfing the reef off Fairlight Point in 1921 when they were roped into crewing for boats competing in the Manly Regatta. The regatta was part of the annual Venetian Carnival, held in Manly and drawing huge crowds to its many attractions and entertainment.

Skippers were always on the lookout for crew, especially young blokes race-fit from paddling canoes, and the youngsters were keen to be part of something new and exciting. Through mutual needs and a desire for a formal arrangement, a meeting was held in September 1922 and the Manly Sailing Club formed. The club's first race was held February 25, 1923, with a flat entry fee set at 2/6.

A variety of classes were entered in a potpourri of eight races staged that season.

By 1928, the club had raised enough money to secure a clubhouse on the site of the current premises but times were tough and about to get tougher.

The Great Depression and then WWII cut deep into the sailing ranks, with 60 per cent of the club's members entering the services between 1939-44. Sadly, we lost several members to the cause.

By the end of the 40s the club was in recovery mode and numbers on the water began returning to pre-war days. Regular working bees were conducted on Sunday mornings to bring the clubhouse up to scratch to accommodate the growing popularity of skiff racing. But there was always one important ingredient missing - money.

The Sailos had no liquor licence nor a single "bandit" (poker machine) to supplement income, hampering efforts to raise prizemoney to sailors and improve club facilities. It all came to head in 1959 when a group of members opposed the committee's plans to open up the club to range of new classes in a bid to entice extra dollars.

A new committee was voted in and vowed to go it alone, using a local police sergeant and an astute solicitor to guide them through the complicated liquor licence requirements. "The layout of the club had to be altered to provide a library, games room, ladies' toilets and separate dining room and we had to recruit a large number of associate members (100-odd) to build numbers to the required level," former treasurer Dick Hanlon recalled. "This necessitated nominating and seconding and paying for our mothers, fathers, wives and girlfriends.

"After a lot of hard work and many anxious moments, we were finally licensed. "Looking back with hindsight, it was the correct course of action to take and we have all prospered - in sailing and social terms - as a result." The liquor licence would prove to be a massive game changer.

A new bar was built, a pay phone installed and poker and cigarette machines set up to secure additional revenue. They even added new beer taps after the club's long association with the Millers brewery came to an end. By the late 60s, Manly was the go-to destination for some of the country's top skiff sailors but that Australian 16ft Championship still eluded us, the drought growing and teasing us with each passing year.

That all changed in January 1976. Over a few Sunday beers at the club, Matana skipper Bill McMahon corralled Davey "Spider" Richards, Willie Morrison, Mark Schultz and Gary "Squirter" Paton into making the long trip to Western Australia for the nationals. They returned as the first Australian champions in Manly's history, having overcome some of the strongest breezes encountered at a nationals. Bill later wrote of the drought-breaking win: "There was a huge lift in spirit at the Manly club and a certainty that we were able to win." The breakthrough victory gave every sailor at the club the belief and confidence a Manly boat could compete - and win - at the highest level.

Success at the Australian Championships became the rule rather than the exception as the decades rolled on. The club itself is unrecognisable from the modest wooden structure that housed both boats and patrons in tight confines half a century ago. Now approaching its 100th year, the "Skiffies" is considered one of the northern beaches' leading venues, combining the best in food and drink and a harbour view that can't be matched.

"One hundred years is a remarkable achievement. The club is an amazing part of our local heritage and continues to be as relevant today as it was no doubt 100 years ago," Northern Beaches Mayor, Michael Regan, said. "I am a semi-regular there and love the location as much as anyone else. Congratulations to those that continue to run the club and good luck for the next 100 years."

Read more and purchase tickets to the Gala dinner here

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