A tribute lunch for 18 Footers legend Billy Barnett

11.5.13-Glory and Billy Barnett (Gretel in background)
Di Pearson
The perfect setting for a tribute to skiff and yachting legend Billy Barnett was held at the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, also a fundraiser to help build a replica of his ‘18’, Myra on the weekend.

Personalities from the 18’s, America’s Cup and yachting attended what was also a heritage day at the Club, which is nestled away in Mosman Bay and prides itself on racing heritage boats such as the Ranger class and old gaff-rigged yachts.

Ninety-seven year old Barnett and his lively wife Glory (Gloria) arrived by boat to ‘The Amateurs’, where over 100 people were waiting to greet them.

Some of the many guests arriving - including Rob Brown, Ian Kiernan and Hugh Treharne - Di Pearson pic
Di Pearson

Barnett won the 1951 JJ Giltinan Championship (unofficial Worlds) with Myra Too, which he designed and built. He captured the Australian, NSW and international 18-footer titles the same year.

Born in Sydney, Barnett built his home and Barnett’s boat shed at McMahon’s Point, next door to where he grew up. He built many boats, including Dragons, at his shed. Probably his most famous build was the 1967 12 metre America’s Cup challenger, Dame Pattie, on which he formed part of the after guard for Jock Sturrock.

Billy Barnett greeted by guests - Di Pearson pic
Di Pearson

Barnett later claimed: 'Being asked to build the Dame was the most momentous thing, with regard to boat building, that had happened to me.'

Fellow Dame Pattie crew members, Tony Ellis and Bob Thornton were there to support Barnett, as were Hugh Treharne and Colin Beashel (winning crew from our 1983 America’s Cup winner) Col’s Dad Ken, who like his father before him (father Alf had the 18 footers Beashel Buoy named for him) sailed 18’s, and Rob Brown, both members of the 1983 AC team.

All, except Col Beashel were winning skippers of the JJ Giltinan Championship during their respective heydays. Other Giltinan winners included Dave Porter, Peter Sorensen, John Winning, Michael Coxon and Seve Jarvin, the reigning four-time winner.

Winning crews included Andrew Buckland, (Iain Murray’s Color 7 which won an unprecedented six Giltinans), two-time winner ‘Cub’ Barnett (a fourth generation 18’s sailing son of Don ‘Bear’ Barnett), Adam South, Ian ‘Bomber’ Treharne and Ian ‘Super’ Souter.

Others who came to pay homage to support the build of the Myra Too replica were Mr Clean-Up Australia, Ian Kiernan, Syd Fischer, Dragon maestro Norman Longworth, Carl Ryves and Mark Bethwaite.

Historical 18’s disciples, Bob Killick (who previously sailed a more modern 18), Steamer Stanley, Bob Chapman, and John Winning (who continues to sail the old and modern 18’s at 60 years age), along with the very welcoming members of the SASC, gave us a day to remember, with the added attraction of a seafood lunch and some great wines from Mojo.

Dragons moored off SASC - Di Pearson pic
Di Pearson

Winning, Kenny Beashel, Dave Porter and Dame Pattie’s designer, Warwick Hood, were among those who spoke about Barnett, our heritage 18’s fleet and the people who sailed them.

Winning reminded us, 'It was a lot more difficult to sail those old 18’s. We have it very easy today by those standards. The boats are lighter and the systems used to sail them don’t require the strength and tenacity the old boats used to take.'

My own father, now 82, tells stories of capsizes on Sydney Harbour in these heavy old, boats that were then towed to the nearest beach by launches, usually those owned by diehard spectators. There they were often left for the night till they could be relaunched in the following days.

Inside the SASC there was a two-wall memorabilia display of 18 foot skiff sailing and of America’s Cup 12 metre Challengers, Gretel and Dame Pattie, the latter being designed by Warwick Hood and named for the wife of twice Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies.

Adding to the colour of the day, a past Australian America’s Cup Challenger, Gretel, sporting a relatively new makeover, and three Dragons were moored up the Club’s wharf.

The historical skiffs, or ‘histericals’, as they are known by those who sail them,, race on Sydney Harbour each Saturday out of the Sydney Flying Squadron at Kirribilli in summer. Anyone can come and sail them with some of the legends of our sport. More information and to put your hand up, go to the SFS link below or email Bob Killick: wsyachting@gmail.com

As John Winning, the driving force behind the historical 18’s said, 'We’ve even lifted blokes out of wheelchairs to come and sail them.' People of all ages and various degrees of experience can sail on these boats.'

I gave it a go myself last summer and it was a lot of fun. Both my father (now 82) and uncle (78), former skiff sailors who enjoyed the odd day as baler boys’ in the original historical skiffs when they were children, got to race them a couple of seasons back and enjoyed every moment.