Club History 


Club yachts rafted in ideal conditions during a sailaway held on the waters of Sydney’s Kuring-gai National Park

Our Club came into being in 1969 as a response to proposals by the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales for a total prohibition on persons living on board any vessell within the State.

These proposals were a typical political response to complaints, some from waterfront home owners, to the effect that persons living on board vessels (particularly at Sydney’s Cammeray Marina, then a haven for cruisers) were the major contributors to waterways pollution in Sydney Harbour.

Under the threat of the implementation of these measures a group of persons living on board yachts around Sydney led by Peter Kenny[i] met to consider combined action to thwart the introduction of the new regulations. They soon realized that as a small group of individuals they would have little political clout and, being owners with boats geared for the live aboard life, they adopted the strategy of creating a club for cruising yachts, which they named the Coastal Cruising Club (the C.Y.C.A. already existed). They contacted the major sailing and motor yacht clubs on Sydney Harbour and Pittwater and affiliated with the Yachting Association of NSW. An initial lack of interest by the established clubs was stimulated once they realised the ramifications of the proposals were so extreme that sleeping a single night on board any boat would be illegal. The entire boating fraternity swung into action in support of the C.C.C. cause.

The end result was that new regulations were introduced but in the modified form now current in New South Wales which allows us relative freedom in the way we spend time aboard our yachts.

In the process of achieving the primary objective of forming a Club, the members developed into a very convivial group with common interests and strong bonds welded by their campaign against bureaucratic intrusion into their realm. The original fighting committee merged very smoothly into a management committee and the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club, whose premises were used for meetings during the campaign after earlier venues became inadequate, was confirmed as the location for monthly meetings and has continued since. (A former practice of past Commodores perching on the Amateurs’ bar counter and ‘steering’ the meetings with gratuitous advice gradually died out).

The Club burgee, the distinctive black yacht sailing against a yellow background, is the result of a design competition won by Brian Baigent, a noted marine and professional artist and the Club’s second Commodore. [ii]

A monthly news sheet was launched immediately and was named, very appropriately, the ‘Mainsheet’. It can rightly be described as the mainstay of the Club.[iii] Apart from reports of past and impending sailing events the content is devoted to articles contributed by members on practical aspects of boating or their coastal or other cruises. Early issues were typed then photocopied for circulation but with computer technology it is quite a professional production. The quality and style of the Mainsheet has been emulated by at least one major Sydney Club and is a lasting tribute to the commitment and skill of each Editor throughout the years.[iv]

Regular sailaways and Christmas cruises were organised conjointly with the campaign for sensible regulations. The Xmas cruise alternated between northern and southern ports, although the south coast was a more common destination than in recent years. One sailing event of the very early days was held at sea off Sydney Heads with the Club yachts sailing in formation and trailing long red pennants from the masthead. And founding members would doubtless have recalled their rather avant-garde outings to the Blue Mountains Jenolan Caves Resort with a wistful smile. The early 90’s saw the idea of a weekend in the mountains revived with more conventional but very successful ‘Xmas in July’ events held at Blackheath and Bundanoon guesthouses.[v] Another development in the late 90’s was the trend for informal small groups of Sydney members to travel to Hobart in February for the biennial Wooden Boat Festival which always included member yacht exhibitors. The waterfront Customs House Hotel became the customary venue for a members’ dinner on the Saturday night but in 2005 the growing popularity of the event was demonstrated by the size of the member contingent at the dinner which reached a totally unexpected 40 and stretched the limits of the pub’s capacity to accommodate the group.

One governing principle adopted by the Club from the outset was the decision to retain as much informality as possible. The Rules were limited to absolute essentials and the members decided against establishing a waterfront clubhouse which would necessitate more organisation, responsibility, maintenance, high fees and the inevitable formality which could destroy the spirit of relaxed camaraderie. The question of owning club premises has been raised over the years but as it was succinctly put by a member during one such debate, “Our clubhouse is wherever members’ boats meet on the water.” [vi] This formula has been consistently applied by successive Committees and contributes to the great characteristic of the Club - the atmosphere of welcome, friendship and support.

The yachts of yesteryear and today make interesting comparisons. Most of the early members owned large long keel design yachts of with the emphasis on living aboard. Timber, steel and ferrocement were popular materials and many were owner built on the waterfront site of the former North Shore Gas Company at Waverton. Ribands, was built in ferrocement by Commodore Merv. Browne[vii], with an opulent great aft cabin (after Merv’s death the boat remained on the Club register with a new owner member). In contrast, Brian Baigent’s Penella was a very traditional and elegant lady of timber construction with a schooner type rig.

As the Club began to attract a new group of members small production yachts began to proliferate on the Club yacht register. Fibreglass was the common boat building material, and although the Top Hat and Clansman were popular, the Compass 28 was so much in vogue that the numbers on the Yacht register prompted members to nominate it as the “Club yacht”.

Over time the average size of members’ yachts has been going back to the higher end of the scale. This change began with the demise of the English RORC design rule and the introduction of racing yachts built to the International Offshore Rule (now also defunct). Early IOR designs, chiefly the half and three quarter ton boats, with a second life in the hands of cruising sailors, provided better accommodation and excellent seagoing qualities. More affluent times have since brought larger boats more attuned to the cruising/charter markets - hardly surprising as modern racing boats with lightweight hulls and spidery rigs have few prospects of a cruising after life. The number of yachts on the Club’s Register has also increased significantly. In December 1984 there were 83 yachts on the Register and by 2006 that number had more than doubled.

Many early members had cruising ambitions but little offshore experience so the Committee introduced an award system to encourage extended cruising. The Cruising Plaques which are the major presentation feature of the Commodore’s Dinner were awarded for a return cruise interstate or to Lord Howe Island. For many years the number presented was modest but increased each year as members in their 28 footers went offshore and earned one.[viii] However, when Safari [ix] returned from a trip to Alaska, Cera [x] completed a cruise to Europe via Panama and Tenancier [xi] a passage from England, the Cruising Plaque rules seemed inadequate recognition of the outstanding encouragement which these cruises represented to other members and in those cases Life Memberships were awarded. But Life Membership could not serve that purpose for the future so the Blue Water Award was created for return cruises which include two or more ocean crossings and the first was granted in 1994 for the world circumnavigation of Innisfree II.[xii] In May 2005 a new award, the Ocean Passage Plaque, was introduced for one way ocean crossings to fill the vacuum between the Cruising and Blue Water Awards. Presentation of the story of the cruise in the Mainsheet or at a meeting is a condition of cruising awards.

The Frank Nicholas Award is partly funded by an endowment from his wife as a memorial to a popular Club member and granted in stipulated circumstances related to rendering assistance to yachts in distress situations.[xiii]

The 1997 introduction of Port Officers[xiv] created a network of Country & Interstate member contacts for members visiting ports from Bundaberg in the north, various other ports down the east coast to Hobart (Kettering), and in Melbourne (Geelong), Adelaide and Albany. Their contact details are listed in the Mainsheet and they enjoy meeting cruising members. Do them the courtesy of making contact.

The Club calendar provides monthly sailaways on different weekends in Sydney Harbour and Pittwater, joint sailaways to one of those ports on long weekends and joint cruises at Easter and Christmas to more distant ports. Midweek sailaways (the ‘Old Salts’) commenced in 2001. Dual Cruising Officers and monthly events date from the early 80s. Originally there was only one Cruising Officer and the monthly sailaway alternated between the two ports. Members moored in either location routinely sailed to the event in the other port, running the gauntlet of the regular summer southerly busters in the process. For inexperienced members it was a first exposure to offshore sailing and proved to be a great confidence builder.

With three Yachtmasters as members, the Club was approved in 1981 for training and accreditation in the AYF Yachtmaster program.[xv] Although initiated for our own members, it spawned an influx of new members. Most then left as soon as they gained a desired qualification. It was soon apparent that we were providing a cheaper alternative to commercial sailing schools and the program was abandoned.

In 2001 the Club considered a major initiative, national sponsorship of the bicentennial re-enactment of Mathew Flinders’ circumnavigation of Australia by a flotilla including some Club yachts. Early enthusiasm was dampened by the likely cost of public liability premiums to cover the event and doubts that the Club’s voluntary infrastructure could support such a project. Proposed legal actions against the CYCA after the disastrous 1998 Sydney/Hobart yacht race were also of concern and after animated debate the members rejected the idea of hosting the re-enactment. The event then proceeded on the basis of individual acceptance of responsibility for participation.

There is always a small turnover of members. Some join to develop their nautical skills and leave to follow the cruising lifestyle. The Club takes credit for having launched many self sufficient people into cruising. Years ago our success in retaining members was noted by the C.Y.C.A. and the S.A.S.C., which had experienced problems catering for their cruising members. Informal overtures were received from both clubs for an affiliation to provide a cruising division within their clubs. Discussions on the proposals ended as the formal structure of those clubs was seen as an anathema to the genial informality of our Club. The Committee negotiated assimilating the Pittwater based Blue Water Cruising Club around 1991 but the prospect lapsed when the BWCC was dissolved instead. [xvi]

On the other hand, our affiliation with the racing oriented Yachting Association of NSW was severed in 1986 due to their apparent lack of interest in taking action on cruising issues raised by the Club, and after the YA secretary failed to persuade members attending the monthly meeting of the benefits of continuing association.

This severance did not inhibit the Club’s campaigns to protect the interests of members. In 1989 submissions regarding unpredictable behaviour by the Swansea Bridge operator led the Road Traffic Authority to transfer control, at that time, to Swansea Coast Guard. And in 1993 we persuaded the Waterways Authority to modify their total ban on anchoring in the upper reaches of McCarr’s Creek to permit over night stays.

The Club provides moorings in Sydney Harbour and Pittwater. The Club’s first moorings were in America Bay and at Palm Beach. The Palm Beach mooring was intended for use by harbour members caught out by bad weather on a weekend sail to Pittwater. They could leave the boat and use public transport to get to Sydney for work and collect the boat the following week. But frequent use of our mooring by the nearby Gonsalves’ boatyard as a convenient extra resulted in its relocation to Coasters Retreat where it now serves a dual purpose as the Coasters ferry can be used to reach Palm Beach.[xvii] Additional Pittwater moorings were eventually negotiated in Towlers Bay around 1993 and a new mooring laid in 2005 on “TV” point between Refuge and America Bays was relocated in 2006 to a position in close proximity to the original America Bay mooring to create a pair..

Obtaining extra Club moorings has been particularly difficult in the harbour. The first mooring installed at Milk Beach was later relocated to Vaucluse Bay.[xviii] Besides availability to Harbour members, this site gives members on coastal passages a convenient location to sit out bad weather – the prime reason that approval was granted. Eventually the second mooring was laid at Sugarloaf Bay. Both moorings were negotiated with great tenacity by Don Dunn to whom our enduring appreciation is due.[xix] A third harbour mooring has been sought.

The Yacht & Member registers were computerised in the mid 80s by Dave Davey.[xx] In the early 90s Emile Jansen introduced our radio call sign “Triple Cee” and the oversize Cruising Officer burgee. Shelagh Atkinson designed the embroidered badges and adhesive burgees.[xxi] The Club website, a major initiative of Doug Inall,[xxii] was implemented in 2000 to publicise Club events and aspects of cruising. It was revamped by Webmaster Andrew Jones in 2004 and he also included a password protected member’s segment for confidential items. Editor Tim Fletcher introduced email delivery of the Mainsheet in 2003 and began the transfer of the Mainsheet library to disc.[xxiii] In 2004 the Services Directory created by Seán MacCormaic consisting of emergency, port and weather services plus reliable repair and spares sources in Australian ports was added to the website. An increasingly litigious society prompted the Committee to arrange for lawyers to draft a formal disclaimer to protect the interests of the Club, its Committees, Officers and volunteers in the exercise of their duties and this was promulgated in every issue of the Mainsheet and Membership Lists from February 2006.

A unique 2003 event stemmed from David Kerr’s South Pacific and PNG cruise. He instigated the Club’s gift of a large inscribed bell to the islanders of Toumoa to toll times of their day. The bell casting was organised by Mike de Burca and delivery via the R.A.A.F. and the R.A.N. was arranged by John Pennefather.[xxiv]

November 2005 also saw a practical demonstration of the ethos that underpins the camaraderie of the CCCA when the Club yacht Spring Fever was stranded at Roslyn Bay marina during a Whitsundays cruise after the skipper was critically injured during a quick trip back to Sydney to attend to necessary matters. Three members of the Club responded to the situation, flew north and sailed the boat home to her mooring in Lovett Bay, Pittwater in a 7 days through passage. [xxv]

On a sad note, during a mid 90s Smith’s Creek sailaway John Heslop (Avanti) died suddenly on his boat. John hosted our Australia Day sailaway at his Dangar Island home for many years. Dispersal of his ashes at sea was arranged with the family aboard Binnaburra (Wendy Murray) escorted by Club yachts. Drifting in rain off Barrenjoey a past Commodore spoke briefly, a memorial book inscribed by Club members was handed to the family and our old friend sailed out on the ebbing tide.

The first history of the Club was written in the 1980s . The second writing marked the 25th anniversary year of the Club in 1994 and the third version appeared in 2002. Each of these histories was a print circulation to members. In 2004 a thorough rewrite was undertaken with the result that the present version is the most comprehensive to date and was published via the website where regular amendments are made as events of significance occur. [xxvi]

Very few changes were made to the Club’s early Rules, until major amendments introduced in 1989 to meet statutory requirements for incorporation in that year.[xxvii] Amendments in 1999 brought administrative changes and the inclusion of the Awards criteria. In 2000 the Club adopted a national identity when the name was extended to the Coastal Cruising Club of Australia (Inc) and then in 2001 membership categories were expanded to cater for interstate and overseas members. [xxviii] Election procedures were amended in 2004 and a total revamp of the Rules including further refinement of election procedures was initiated by the Committee in consultation with a group of Past Commodores and adopted in May, 2005. The long standing convention is that the Returning Officer appointed by the Executive Officers to conduct the Committee elections is a Past Commodore of the Club.
Despite significant changes to our Rules and the increasing number of members the guiding principle of informality in managing the Club remains the keynote and contributes markedly to the convivial ambience our members enjoy.

Our name has a history of its own. Conceived in 1969 as the Coastal Cruising Club, in April 1970 a proposal to rename it as the ‘Australian Cruising Club’ was defeated. As a compromise the meeting chairman suggested adding ‘of Australia’ to the Club letterhead to identify the Club’s origins and without a formal change those words appeared on the letterhead and Mainsheet cover from 1970 until deleted in 1982.[xxix] The circumstances were clouded but can now be clarified.[xxx] At a 1980 monthly meeting Commodore Stan Cotterill[xxxi] conceded the point that use of the words “of Australia” in the Club name was contrary to the Rules, the issue lapsed, but was pursued by later Commodore Col Haste who gave the 1982 direction for deletion of the words to conform with the Rules.[xxxii] Therefore, the year 2000 extension of the name of the Club to include ‘of Australia’ was an appropriate restoration of the former long standing custom and practice.

The members of the Committee act in an honorary capacity, mostly behind the scenes, and the full extent of their work, although not readily apparent, is vital to the success and durability of the Club. Membership fees remain low considering that public liability insurance premiums, the provision and servicing of moorings, and printing and distribution of the Mainsheet consume most of the Club’s income. A single subscription also grants dual rights to the nominal yacht owner and a designated member. This egalitarian approach undoubtedly contributed to the 1992 election of a female member, Anne Mills, as Commodore and the subsequent 2005 elevation of Vice Commodore Val de Burca to the same Executive position. [xxxiii]

Every member should seriously consider serving on the Committee. Despite the increase in the size of the membership, the dearth of volunteers for Committee and ancillary positions and short terms of service are continuing problems. We need greater commitment from members and sufficient continuity in elected positions to retain corporate knowledge and promote healthy growth consistent with the historical ethos of the Club. You will get much more out of this Club than you can ever put into it. Guaranteed!

[i] Commodore 1969-71, Peter was an Irish national who, despite his war service, was denied residency and later left Australia
[ii] Brian Baigent, Penella then Seascape, Commodore, 1971-73, Died June 2000
[iii] Current cover design by past Editor/member Ian Jackson, Liquid Amber
[iv] Bruce Walker, now Top Knot, Commodore 1990-92 was the longest serving Mainsheet Editor and awarded Life Membership for that achievement in 2002
[v] Held in consecutive years and arranged by Kay Emery, Rosenkavalier
[vi] Argued by Graeme Brown around 1979 and enthusiastically supported
[vii] Merv. Browne, Commodore 1973-76. Died October 2002
[viii] Among them past Vice Commodore Derek Bates sailed his 25ft Top Hat Gadabout and John Liston his 30ft Clansman Gamelyn to Lord Howe Island
[ix] Safari, Jean Taylor & John Hamilton. Jean was Secretary 1983-86
[x] Cera, Michael/Norma Henderson. Michael, Commodore 1976-77 & past Mainsheet Editor
[xi] Tenancier, David Moore & Margaret Leiden
[xii] Awarded to John & Dee Deegan, Innisfree II, (now of Sotalia)
[xiii] Norma Nicholas, Always (see Mainsheet 3/2003)
[xiv] Concept devised by Anne Mills, Reina Cristina, Commodore 1992-94
[xv] Yachtmasters - Chris Ennor, Wings and Leon Warren, Vendée both past Vice Commodores and Terry Ayscough, White Rose
[xvi] Affiliation discussions – with CYCA in 1970s and SASC early 1980s
[xvii] John Deegan (now Sotalia) persuaded local MSB officer to ignore red tape
[xviii] Milk Beach near Neilson Park - it was constantly damaged by charter boats
[xix] Don Dunn, Nicely Done II, utilised his personal rapport with MSB officers
[xx] Dave Davey, Windclimber, first Registrar and also a past Mainsheet Editor
[xxi] Emile, a past Cruising Officer & Shelagh a past Mainsheet Editor, Helena
[xxii] Doug Inall, Javelin, the first Vice Commodore, 1969-70 also a Life Member
[xxiii] Tim Fletcher, Wainui, Editor 2001-
[xxiv] Dave, Pastime; Mike, Emma; John, Saltair & Commodore 2001-3
[xxv] Roger Smith, ex Eagle One (Yachtmaster), Seán MacCormaic, Azzura & David Strachan, Eagle One. It was a great fillip to Larry Turnure’s recovery.
[xxvi] First history by Wendy Murray, Binnaburra, subsequent versions by Seán MacCormaic, Azzura, Commodore 1985-6 & Life Member. In July 2006 the role passed to John Pennefather, Saltair, Commodore, 2001-03.
[xxvii] Drafted for the Committee by lawyer David Moore (now Asgard II)
[xxviii] Both proposed by Bill Grattan, Billy Boy II, Commodore 1998-2001
[xxix] From the research by Nathalie Koch, Xebec, Secretary 1997-2000
[xxx] Source, past Commodore Seán MacCormaic, Azzura
[xxxi] Stan Cotterill, Banjo, then Paua, Commodore 1977-80, died approx 1987
[xxxii] Col Haste, Palomita II, Commodore 1981-83
[xxxiii] Anne Mills, Reina Cristina, Commodore 1992-94. Val de Burca, Emma, Commodore 2005 - 2008