At around noon on Sunday the trusty crew of the museum’s much admired “couta boat” Thistle rowed off from the Balmain Sailing Club’s wharf. Although there was much to keep a sailor ashore, with the club house abuzz and an oasis of shaded park land offering a spectrum of activities, with a distinct lack of coffee and continuous offers of ale, it wiser to be out of temptations’ way. Thistle, built circa 1900 requires the full command of one’s brawn to rig and sail safely. Lacking much of the mechanical advantage of a modern pleasure yacht, “ winches are for cheats” could be heard called forth to passing vessels as our apprentice shipwright hauled in on the fore sail sheet.
Thistle, built for the dual purposes of a sturdy platform to fish from in the rugged water in Bass Strait out from Port Fairy and fast delivery of the catch home, she’s a fleet-of-foot work horse. In her days of labour her crew numbered only two so Sunday’s hard yakka- clad six, although dressed in spirit had a far easier time. We travelled around the inner harbour course quite well but as our lugg-rig was unable to point as high into the north easterly as Bermudan-rigged yachts around us, we were never going to challenge for the win. But on the final leg of the race with the wind on our stern, fore sail poled out on a sweep oar, the full 472 square feet of cotton hard pressed, we flew down upon unsuspecting yachts to gain a few places.
Apart from us starting ten minutes later than we should have, our tactician of course hold the start boat at fault, the day was a wonderful experience. The Balmain Regatta was first run in 1849 and in its present incarnation it has becomea much loved community-based event, bringing together local businesses and residents from the Balmain peninsula and surrounds. My only regret is that the finishing line gun signalled our return Darling Harbour and not the opportunity to commune with our fellow competitors, a number of which may be a little worse for wear on Monday.