Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron - 150 years strong and celebrating

Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Photo provided by Peter Campbell
The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Australia’s senior yacht club, on Sunday July 8 2012 will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its foundation, marking a proud role in the social and sporting history of Sydney and leadership in Australian yachting.

The ‘Squadron’ must rank as one of the great yacht clubs of the world, a clubhouse with sweeping views of Sydney Harbour and magnificent facilities for its members and their guests.

As a yacht racing organisation, the Squadron has provided the highest standards of race management for club, national and international championships and Olympic sailing, hosting two world championships this past year.

The Sesquicentenary underlines the significance of the Squadron’s role in the sport of yacht racing in Australia and, indeed, internationally.

It was the first Australian club to challenge for the America’s Cup and one of its members, the late Bill Northam (later Sir William) Northam, was the first Australian to win a gold medal in Olympic sailing, at Tokyo in 1964.

Two of its members will represent Australia in the London 2012 Olympic Games, Nathan Outteridge helming the 49er class and Lucinda Whitty crewing in the Women’s Match Racing.

Many other members have won national and world championships in a variety of one-design classes, have sailed at the Olympics, have been winners of famous ocean yacht races and regattas, including the Sydney Hobart, the Fastnet Race and the Admiral’s Cup, and have been honoured for their roles in yachting administration.

Members having been closely involved in running America’s Cup regattas at Newport, Rhode Island, USA. On Sydney Harbour they were an integral part of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and more recently conducted world championships regattas for International Etchells, Yngling and Farr 40 classes.

Members and their guests will celebrate the Squadron’s Sesquicentenary with a garden party on the sweeping lawns below its clubhouse on the eastern shores of Kirribilli, on Sunday, repeating a tradition for opening days and notable celebrations since the club acquired the historic 'Carabella Cottage' as its harbourside headquarters in 1903.

The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron was formed on 8 July 1862 when the Honourable William Walker, a prominent colonial merchant in Sydney and a yacht owner, invited 18 other sailing enthusiasts to his office in Bridge Street to consider the formation of a yacht club.

They subscribed their names to a resolution: 'We, the undersigned yacht owners, hereby constitute ourselves into a club to be termed the ‘Royal Australian Yacht Squadron'.

The signatories and their yachts were: James Milson Jnr, Era; William Walker, Chance; J P Roxburgh, Eclipse; J S Rowntree, Annie Ogle; Sydney C Burt, Scud; Staunton Spain, Mischief; I F Josephson, Ida; James Freeman, Eclipse; Robert Garrett, Daisy; Charles Parbury, Why Not; J F Jackson, Gitana; T S Threlkeld, Irene; R H Hartnett, Australian; H Milford, Eclipse; R F Pockley, Mazeppa; Henry C Dangar, Peri; H Stuart Russell, Old Tom; J D McLean and J W Brookes, Mischief.

The Royal Sydney Yacht Club still has the original document, although it seems that at a later meeting the word 'Royal' was scored out. Presumably it dawned upon the members of the newly-formed club that something more than enthusiasm was needed before the word ‘Royal’ could form part of the name of their club. Protocol had to be observed.

Within a year, however, the club was accorded Royal patronage by the Prince of Wales under the name of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, with ‘Australian’ being changed to ‘Sydney’ to avoid possible antagonism between the then rival colonies of New South Wales and Victoria

The first formal meeting of the club saw William Walker elected the first Commodore, with James Milson as Vice Commodore. Walker was followed as Commodore by James Milson and H C Dangar from among the inaugural members who, incidentally, paid a membership fee of three guineas with an entrance fee of two guineas.

As set out in its original rules and by-laws, 'the primary objective of the Squadron is the promotion of and encouragement of yachting generally, and of racing among sailing yachts in particular.'

In 1862, the Squadron conducted the first ocean race in Australia, a dramatic race from Sydney Harbour to Newcastle and return between the imported British schooner Chance and a new locally designed and built boat named Xarifa, which won the challenge in a gale.

More than 80 years later Squadron members were strong supporters and winners of the early Sydney Hobart races. Squadron member Trygve Halvorsen skippered Freya to three consecutive overall wins in the Hobart race in the 1960s.

Over a few drinks in a waterfront pub following a Sydney Hobart Race between Halvorsen, fellow Squadron member Norman B Rydge Jr, and then Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Bill Psaltis led to the first of Australia’s many and successful challenges for the Admiral’s Cup, the 'world championship' of offshore yacht racing.

In 1937, Harold Nossiter and his sons, Dick and Harold, sailed the Sirius on the first circumnavigation of the world by an Australian yacht. Dick, who became a wartime naval hero, celebrated his 102nd birthday in June this year at his home in Newcastle, drinking French champagne with family and friends.

Arguably the most notable yachting event in the Squadron’s 150 year history was in its centenary year, 1962, when it challenge the New York Yacht Club for the America’s Cup on behalf of a syndicate headed by the newspaper magnate Sir Frank Packer.

While they did not win the America’s Cup, the performances of the 12-metre class yachts Gretel in 1962 and her successor Gretel II in 1970, undoubtedly paved the way for the victory by Australia II in 1983.

Spanning three centuries, the Squadron has and continues to achieve, it's primary objective.