Racing On Sydney Harbour

Dingy Race at Sydney Front
This week, with Summer just around the corner and plenty of wind around, it seemed the perfect time to share the image above. Getting out and about on the water has long been one of the favourite pastimes of Sydneysiders and visitors alike and this postcard from circa 1910 shows just one of the ways Sydneysiders have long used to enjoy the beautiful harbour – sailing. What’s more, it shows the competitive side of the sport, with people gathered to partake in or watch a race.
Recreational sailing in Sydney is very strongly linked to the nature of the harbour itself. Even from its earliest days as a British colony, Sydney was a seaport with the early colonists settling close to the coast. Yet despite being a British colony, the way that the sport of sailing developed in Australia was very different to that of England. In England, sailing was a pursuit enjoyed just by the upper classes, but in Sydney it was an extension of many peoples normal working lives. In fact, in the very earliest history of racing on Sydney harbour, the captains of visiting ships would organise the races. The races used the crews of the visiting ships and smaller boats which were carried on the decks of the ships. Some even carried a special, modified racing boat! Soon enough these races were becoming a public event and the popular regattas were even seen a great way for the harbour city to celebrate holidays (complete with the added diversions like drinking and gambling). As early as 1828 an annual ‘Anniversary Regatta’ was organised to celebrate the foundation day of the colony.
In the later 19th century and into the 20th century, many of the races featured the ‘great Sydney type’ boat as it was known – an open boat with as much sail as could possibly be crammed into the space allowed. These boats developed from the working boats of Sydney Harbour – skiffs, fishing boats, ships boats and the like. They had no keel to stop them capsizing so they also required large crews who acted as a live ballast. The boats were relatively inexpensive, making them popular with the working classes in suburbs such as Balmain and Pyrmont. The racing of these open boats was also very popular as a spectator sport as these races offered an element of spectacle missing from yacht races. Mishaps such as capsizing were not uncommon. By the 1930s open boat racing, like that shown in the image above, had become an incredibly popular Sydney pastime with thousands of spectators following the weekly race, some from aboard special steamers which were hired by the various open boat clubs. The crews of these boats were often professional crews and many played rugby in the winter months when sailing was less popular.

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