The Club traces its beginnings to the 1921/22 sailing season when a number of members of the Delwood Canoe Club decided to band together and conducted sailing races on Sunday afternoons. The Club was actually formed at a meeting held on Friday 23 February 1923 and was to be known as the Manly Sailing Club.
The Club carried on for a couple of years with a motley collection of different classes of boat, however, during this time it had been advocated that a definite class be formed. It was almost decided that the 14ft skiff would be the class, but the addition of several more 16ft skiffs during the 1925/26 season decided the issue. Any other type of boat racing with the Club then formed a “B” class.
The 16ft skiff class had its origins on Sydney Harbour at Balmain in 1901 and, by the time it was adopted by this Club, had already been established by other Clubs on the Harbour and Botany Bay and in Brisbane and Perth.
The greatest problem confronting boat owners and members of the Club at the time was that of suitable accommodation for their craft. Each individual owner had to find his own quarters. To this end the present site of the Club was leased from the Sydney Harbour Trust (now Waterways Authority) in January 1928 and a shed designed to accommodate ten boats was built at a cost of £298 ($596). This shed remained until 1992 when it was demolished as part of major renovations to the Club.
By 1931 the country was in the grip of the Depression and the fleet had fallen to three boats, however, a small group of members managed to keep the Club viable. By 1934 the future looked brighter and the clubhouse was extended to accommodate a further ten boats.
During the Easter weekend in 1935 at Toronto ( Lake Macquarie), the skiff “Lightning” sailed by Russell Slade became the first skiff from this Club to win a N.S.W. 16ft Skiff State Championship.
The commencement of the 1936/37 season saw a change to Saturday sailing for the first time. This change had been proposed for some time but did not receive sufficient support until just before the start of that season. Saturday sailing has been retained since that time, although there were some unsuccessful moves during the 1970’s to change back to Sundays because of congestion on the Harbour on Saturdays due to large yacht fleets.
With the onset of the 2nd World War in 1939, the fleet and membership again decreased, with over 50% of the Club’s members serving in the Armed Forces. For the duration of the War an average of six 16ft skiffs and four “B” class boats sailed each weekend.
After the end of hostilities in 1945, the Club supported the formation of North Harbour Sailing Club to provide a training ground for juniors who would hopefully move on to 16ft skiffs. To this end the “B” class which by this time mainly consisted of junior members began to race with the North Harbour Club.
In 1952, with the Club now only racing 16ft skiffs, the name was changed to Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club. By that time there was a fleet of about twelve 16ft skiffs racing with the Club and further extensions were carried out to the building to provide a social area.
The latter half of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was a period of rapid and dramatic change both for the Club and the 16ft skiff class. In early 1960, the Club applied for a Liquor License. This was ultimately granted on 1 July 1960. Up to this time revenue had principally been raised by social functions, competitions, membership fees and debentures, shed rent and donations. In addition, much of the administration, building and maintenance work had been carried out on a voluntary basis by members, some of whom devoted many hours of their time. The increased revenue which resulted from the operation of the Club as a Licensed premises, was, and still is, applied solely to maintaining Club facilities and promotion of sailing.
The changes to the 16ft Skiff class at that time included – adoption of the bermudan rig to replace gaff rigs, hulls became significantly lighter in weight when ply construction began to replace the heavier planking method, and the use of trapeze wires as a method of balancing the boats was introduced, synthetic sails replaced cotton sails, wooden masts were gradually replaced by aluminium masts and buoyancy tanks were introduced to enable boats to be righted in the event of a capsize.
In 1963 the present concrete deck was constructed as the first stage of a rebuilding programme. Unfortunately, lack of finance and subsequent problems with this deck forced the shelving of this programme with exception of the addition of the timber deck in 1966.
To cater for the growing numbers of members’ children interested in sailing and to provide a training ground for potential 16ft skiff sailors, the Club introduced the Flying Eleven division in 1971. This move proved very successful and by the mid 1970’s the Club not only had a good Flying Eleven fleet but also a fleet of up to thirty 16ft skiffs.
To comply with the State Government requirements, the Club was incorporated as a company (limited by guarantee) in November 1972. The purpose of this requirement was to protect the liability of members if a club became insolvent.
On 26th May 1974, the Club building was severely damaged by a very severe storm which, combined with an exceptionally high tide, saw waves actually breaking over both the concrete and timber decks. This same storm caused considerable damage around the Manly/North Harbour foreshore, including the total demolition of the North Harbour Sailing Club (and all boats stored therein).
Much of the repair work to our building was carried out on a voluntary basis during the off-season by club members. During the following season (1974/75), the Club hosted both the State and Australian 16ft Skiff Championships for the first time.
During 1976 in Perth, the skiff “Matana”, sailed by Bill McMahon, became the first boat from this Club to win an Australian 16ft Skiff Championship. Since that time, several skippers, both in the 16ft skiffs (Trevor Barnabas, Gavin Jones and Greg Hyde), Flying Elevens (Steve Norbis, Phillip Cooke, Michael Holmes, Malcolm Page, Lee Knapton, Ben Bianco, James Ward and William Moor) and Manly Juniors (William Moor, Craig Souter and Byron White) have won State and/or Australian Championships and this highlights the strength the Club has been able to achieve and maintain.
In 1979 the Club’s financial position had improved to the extent that a new boat storage area (the old Manly Diggers Swimming Club building) was purchased adjacent to the existing Club and significant refurbishment was carried out to the main building with the completion of a new bar, toilets, office and kitchen.
During the early 1980’s, the 16ft skiff class underwent further significant changes. Most hulls were now being constructed from fibre glass, the traditional maximum 13 square metre single luff spinnaker which required the jib to be dropped while gybing was replaced by a larger maximum 30 square metre double luff spinnaker in 1983 and the minimum number of crew members carried by a skiff was reduced from four to three in 1986. By the late 1980’s, lighter weight synthetic materials such as kevlar (in lieu of dacron) was becoming more common place in the production of working sails. The 1980’s also saw a progressive reduction in the number of skiffs racing with this State. By the 1989/90 season the average fleet in this Club was eighteen skiffs each Saturday.
In the mean time, the Flying Eleven division continued to grow and by the late 1980’s was averaging a fleet of twenty eight boats each Sunday.
In 1984 is was decided to adopt a further class into the Club – the Manly Graduate as an intermediate class between the Flying Eleven and the 16ft skiffs. Unfortunately, the class did not grow to our expectations with an average fleet of only four or five boats. By the 1990/91 season there were only two or three regular starters and the class was disbanded.
In 1988, the Liquor Administration Board approved an increase from 800 to 2,000 in the allowable maximum number of members. Since the Club obtained its Licence in 1960 membership had steadily grown from around 300 to just under 800.
With the onset of a quite severe Economic Recession, the early 1990’s also saw a reduction in the numbers of the remaining classes in the Club, with average fleets of fifteen for both 16ft skiffs and Flying Elevens.
Despite the Recession, the Club continued to be in a strong financial position. During the off-season in 1992 extensive rebuilding work was undertaken on the Club’s main premises to provide larger and improved facilities. This work brought to fruition the sort of facilities which was envisaged, but eluded for various reasons, the Club’s administrators during the 1960’s.
The 1994/95 season again saw an increase in fleet sizes of both the 16ft skiffs and Flying 11’s. Towards the end of that season the Australian 16ft Skiff Association adopted changes to the class restrictions to allow skiffs to be decked in with self draining cockpits. This was the biggest change to have occurred in the history of 16ft skiff hull restrictions since the class began in 1901 and was done with a view to modernising the image of the class. Since 16ft skiffs were first sailed they were traditionally an “open boat” design which allowed only minimal restriction to the ingress of water and this made them a truly challenging boat to sail.
Two further substantial changes affecting 16ft skiffs were adopted for the 1996/97 season. Hulls now had to comply with a standard design and asymmetrical spinnakers with a fixed spinnaker pole replaced the double luff spinnaker. The approximate area of these new spinnakers is approximately 40 sq metres. During this season it was also decided to introduce a new junior class – the Manly Junior.
The changes to the 16ft skiff class in the mid-1990s seemed to have the desired affect as we had a fleet of 29 skiffs for the 1997/98 season. That season was also the Club’s 75 th and the occasion was marked by a dinner at the Manly Pacific Parkroyal in February 1998. A sell out crowd of 384 celebrated the event which also marked the launch of a 256 page 75 th Anniversary publication written by Dave Hooley.
The 1998/99 season saw a small reduction in the 16ft skiff fleet but a strengthening in numbers in both junior classes. In February 1999, permission was sought to increase the allowable maximum number of members from 2,000 to 4,000. Since the Club was renovated in 1992 there had been a dramatic increase in membership to the point where the maximum had been reached and there was a waiting list of some 1,200 potential members by the end of 1998.
At the end of the 1998/99 season work commenced on redevelopment of the boat storage area located between our Club and Manly Yacht Club. After an initial delay of three months because of concerns about the retaining wall on East Esplanade, the project was finally completed in March 2000 at a cost of $660,000. After being forced to trail their boats for most of the season, both the junior fleets were able to occupy the new boat shed and ramp for the last few races.
During the 2000/01 season it was decided that the Club needed another class to bridge the gap between the Flying 11 and 16ft skiff. A new class, the 13ft skiff, was developed and a small fleet commenced racing with the Club in the 2002/03 season.
By the end of the 2003/04 season the Club had nearly 3,900 members. Also in May 2004, the Board decided that the Club should take over the catering operation after more than 40 years of contracting it out. In August 2004, a successful application was made to the Licensing Court to increase the maximum number of members from 4,000 to 6,000.
The Club has now been operating profitably for many years under different Boards of Directors and as a result has been able to provide the sailing activities with the necessary resources to allow its sailing fleet to become one of the most competitive in Australia. At the same time the licensed facilities have become very popular with the members and their guests in recent years as a boutique club venue over the water in Manly Cove.
The Club offers members and guests a safe, friendly and comfortable environment and facilities in one of Sydney’s best harbourside locations at good value for money, which has assured a large repeat business with a high loyalty level.