Irene Pritchard, Sydney’s first female race skipper

Irene and her brothers Fred and Harry sailing <em>Zephyr</em>. Despite her highly impractical attire, Irene survived two capsizes in one season. Image William James Hall, ANMM Collection 00002619 Gift from Bruce Stannard.

Irene and her brothers Fred and Harry sailing Zephyr. Despite her highly impractical attire, Irene survived two capsizes in one season. Image William James Hall, ANMM Collection 00002619 Gift from Bruce Stannard.

‘This venturesome young lady’

On Christmas Eve 1898, Irene Pritchard became the first woman to race a sailing boat on Sydney Harbour. Skippering the tiny 8-footer (2.4 metre) Zephyr, she took to the front early and won her first race with two minutes to spare.

The Sunday Times reported the day of the race was ‘scarcely an ideal one for a trip on the water, the wind blowing strong and cold from the southward, while it rained pretty continuously throughout the afternoon.’ It said the 8-footers race ‘formed an exciting part of yesterday’s programme owing to the fact that one of the small racers was in charge of a lady, Miss Irene Pritchard. That victory fell to this venturesome young lady, is perhaps not so much to be wondered at as that she would risk a wetting and the possibility of a capsize on such a day as yesterday proved.’ 1

The next month Irene became the first woman to sail a winner in a Sydney regatta – the Anniversary (now Australia Day) Regatta. She only sailed for one season, but in that time her fame spread as far as Britain.

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HMAS WYATT EARP: Australia’s earliest national Antarctic research vessel

Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship - with a very unlikely name - pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445[076].

Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship – with a very unlikely name – pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445[076].

Remembering the ‘Twerp

On 26 December 1947, a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel set off from Hobart, bound for Antarctica. Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment – including a single-engine Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher floatplane. At the helm was Commander Karl E Oom, an officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). He was supported by five naval officers, 22 ratings, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot and air fitter mechanic, and an Australian Department of Information photographer. The complement was rounded out by four civilian scientists who were responsible for conducting a series of experiments, and observing meteorological and other natural phenomena in the Antarctic. Their voyage would be the first to operate under the banner of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), a series of post-war initiatives to establish Australian scientific research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic territories of Heard Island and Macquarie Island. ANARE laid the foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Division, and in later years Australia’s polar research ships could trace their lineage back to the little timber craft then making its way towards the world’s southernmost continent: HMAS Wyatt Earp.

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SY Ena comes home to Sydney

SY <em>Ena</em> is now part of the museum's floating maritime heritage fleet. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

SY Ena is now part of the museum’s floating maritime heritage fleet. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

“Shortly after 9.0’clock on Saturday morning, a handsome steam yacht, built for Mr TA Dibbs was launched from Mr Fords yard, Berrys Bay. As she left the ways she was christened ‘Ena’ by Miss Dorothy Dibbs.”

This brief report in the Sydney Morning Herald Monday 10 December 1900 and headlined “LAUNCH OF MR T.A. DIBBS’ NEW STEAM YACHT”  was reflected in other newspapers with comments describing Ena as  “one of the finest specimens of a modern steam yacht in the Australian colonies”.

117 years onwards and SY Ena still is one of the finest of its type, both here and internationally, despite many adventures since it was launched. Now it has come home again to Sydney, within sight of where it was built. SY Ena is now part of the National Maritime Collection at the museum. The extremely generous donation of the steam yacht by its owner Mr John Mullen.

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1967: When Australia First Won The Admiral’s Cup (Part 2 of 2)

Caprice of Huon Beken, 1967. Image: ANMM.

When Australian yachting made history fifty years ago early in August 1967 by winning the Admiral’s Cup event sailed in UK waters, then recognized as the unofficial world championship for ocean racing, it was one of those dominant sporting wins that stands out as a blueprint of how to achieve success.

Australia had a plan – and one of the first steps was building on the past. It was only the second time an Australian team had entered the event, which, up to then, had been dominated by yachts from the UK and USA. However, as described in the first part of this story, Australia had shocked everyone in 1965 by coming second, and their yacht Caprice of Huon had won two of the four races. The post-race write-ups noted how well Australia had sailed as a team, and how well led the crews were.

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1967: When Australia First Won The Admiral’s Cup (Part 1 of 2)

Fifty years ago, in August 1967, Australian yachting made history on the world stage, winning the Admiral’s Cup event sailed in UK waters, then recognized as the unofficial world championship for ocean racing.

It was only the second time an Australian team had entered the event, which, up to then, had been dominated by yachts from the UK and USA. The result was astonishing at the time – similar to Australia beating Brazil in a final of the World Cup.

This is part one of a two part story of that remarkable victory.

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Terrific times in Tasmania at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2017

Monday morning at the festival. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

Monday morning at the festival. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

Over 500 boats, numerous displays, demonstrations and talks, four seasons of weather plus a rainbow, and not to mention the fine Tasmanian food, it’s always a challenge at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival  (AWBF) to cover everything with not much more than three days to see it all. The museum managed to do it by sending a diverse contingent of staff for the festival, which ran from Friday 10th through to Monday 13th February, 2017.

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Ready for Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2017

At the 2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

At the 2015 Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

The 2017 Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart starts this Friday 10th February, and the Australian National Maritime Museum will be very well represented at the festival over the weekend. A contingent of staff is travelling south to attend and help with various activities.

The museum has a booth in the principal display hall on Princes Wharf and is hosting a cocktail evening on Saturday. It is the sponsor for the AWBF Symposium of speakers which runs over three days, and is a key organiser with Maritime Museum of Tasmania for the Australian Maritime Museums Council’s Conference that proceeds the festival. The Voyage Game will also be a feature at the festival.

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Waves of history: Inspecting a historic surf craft in Tathra

The historic surf craft is housed on a heritage wharf at Tathra. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

Inspecting a historic surf craft housed on a heritage wharf at Tathra. Image: David Payne / ANMM.

Another MMAPSS vessel inspection has just been completed by the museum’s Historic Vessels curator David Payne. Down at Tathra on the NSW south coast of NSW is an early example of a surf craft, and perhaps the first surfboat used by the Tathra Surf Club. David flew down and spent a day going over the craft and delving into its history at the Pig & Whistle Line Museum.

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‘Good housekeeping, you know. Economy, common-sense.’

View of McMahons Point, from 1937, showing the boat building yards including Holmes yard on the far left. Image: ANMM Collection 00037893.

View of McMahons Point, from 1937, showing the boat building yards including Holmes yard on the far left. Image: ANMM Collection 00037893.

On 2 June 1949 a small advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was for the sale of Hegarty’s Ferries, a family-owned service which at that time operated between Circular Quay, McMahons Point and Kirribilli. The whole enterprise was now up for sale, including the ‘diesel-engined boats, its wharves, offices, and equipment’. The owners, the well-known Hegarty family from Drummoyne, were heading south to Victoria.

A surprising purchaser stepped forward to take on the business – three women, headed up by Maud Barber. Maud, although no stranger to the Sydney harbour scene, bought the business along with her daughter and Miss Jean Porter. Maud was married to the boatbuilder and naval architect Arthur Barber, best known for his design of Rani, the first ever winner of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, in 1945.

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Magnus Halvorsen (1918–2015)

Magnus & Trygve Halvorsen with one of their winning Sydney Hobart trophies.

Magnus and Trygve Halvorsen with one of their winning Sydney-Hobart trophies. Photograph courtesy CYCA Archives.

A generation of a family known for their classic wooden boat building in Australia has now come to an end with the passing of Magnus Halvorsen late in July, a month short of his 97th birthday. He was born in Norway, but migrated to Australia (via South Africa) as a child in 1925 with his mother, four brothers and two sisters. His father, Lars Halvorsen had arrived here in 1924, and established a boat building business in Sydney.

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Warwick Hood AO 1932–2015

Dame Pattie full sail - photo by Douglas Baglin

Dame Pattie under full sail – Photographer Douglas Baglin 00029529 ANMM Collection

Naval architect Warwick Hood AO passed away at Erina on the NSW Central Coast early in July, shortly before his 83rd birthday. To the general public and the yachting scene in particular he was well recognised and highly respected as the designer of Australia’s second America’s Cup challenger, the International 12-Metre class yacht Dame Pattie. This design was very significant in its own right, but was a part of Hood’s long career in naval architecture that was also filled with remarkably varied work that reflects wide interests along with an ability to manage diverse marine projects.

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Oysters and their punts

The Clyde River oyster punt

The Clyde River oyster punt, 1970. Australian Register of Historic Vessels, HV000558

Oysters – a first choice on the menu for many people, and while enthusiasts have their favourite coastal spot that they swear has the best specimens, remember that someone has to do the hard work of farming them in shallow water. And for this they need a boat.

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MMAPSS travel to regional NSW

PS Ruby in dock at Wentworth

PS Ruby in dock at Wentworth. Photo: D Payne.

Every year the museum awards various grants through its Maritime Museums of Australia Support Scheme (MMAPSS). These can take the form of financial assistance or in kind support, for which museum staff travel to the institution involved. This is an excellent outreach opportunity for the museum, and being onsite greatly improves the quality of the work its staff can do. As Curator for Historic Vessels I travelled well out into regional New South Wales to work with two of the successful recipients in the most recent round of grants. I was visiting two very different craft: the 107-year-old paddle steamer PS Ruby and an oyster punt built by Gus Cole, possibly as early as 1918.

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Making connections in Goolwa

Goolwa, South Australia – 30 odd degrees and rising. Six of us from the museum were heading toward this wonderful town, having flown in from Sydney. After a detour to Port Adelaide to see the hull of the composite construction clipper ship City of Adelaide, we drove south.

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Sydney to Hobart: a past and a present winner

Magnus Halvorsen, Trygve Halvorsen, Elnor Bruem and Carl Halvorsen at the opening of the 2007 exhibition Dreamboats & Workboats – The Halvorsen story at the ANMM.

Magnus Halvorsen, Trygve Halvorsen, Elnor Bruem and Carl Halvorsen at the opening of the 2007 exhibition Dreamboats & Workboats – The Halvorsen story at the museum.

It’s another afternoon of chaotic, stormy weather as I put these words together. It reminds me of a simple thing the late Trygve Halvorsen said to me not long ago about the Sydney to Hobart race: ‘You have to finish to win it’. He was stressing what seems an obvious point, but his message was that you have to carry with you in the good weather the weight of that extra material and strength that are needed to survive the bad stuff. There is no point in being a fair-weather boat only, or to sail south in one that could not cope when things turned for the worse. Continue reading