Crewing on a Replica



What racing is available?

There are two main fleets of historic replicas. The 10-footers have three crew; the skipper, mainsheet hand and the forward hand. The 18-footers have six to ten crew depending on strength of breeze and style of boat. There is a skipper, mainsheet hand, jib hand, forward hand and two to six "swingers". The swingers aren't characters with loose morals from another era but rather live ballast that balance the boat and work the lee cloths, backstays and spinnaker poles. In general the 10-footer skippers organise their crew in advance and are very keen to find light experienced crew but the 18-footer skippers are often struggling to find the numbers to fill the boat and often press gang crew from the bar or park on race day.


Where is the racing?

The boats race at regattas at various clubs. Please check the calendar for the details. Crew are most needed for the 18-footers sailing each Saturday in spring summer and autumn from the Sydney Flying Squadron.


What is the cost?

As the old saying goes "only the best things of life are free". Sailing on replica skiff is free but when you crew in more than three races you need to become a sailing member of the Sydney Flying Squadron $115 and member of Yachting Australia $63 each year.


What experience do I need?

Obviously the more sailing experience you have the more desirable you will be as crew but some of the skippers are really desperate and will take on landlubbers. You do need to be able to swim because when these boats capsize they cannot be righted so the crew spend some quality time together in the water before they are rescued.


How fit do I need to be?

In the old days these boats were sailed by fit young men who played rugby in the winter and sailed 18-footers in the summer. These days most of the crews are past their prime but still batting on. Only a few of the tasks require great strength, but all need teamwork.


Do ladies sail?

Not only do ladies sail in most boats but also they are actively encouraged at the club. The crews have come to realise that if you are sailing with up to ten people in a boat that is only 18-foot long it is much more pleasant with ladies onboard.


What do I wear?

Sailing on a replica is guaranteed to be a wet and uncomfortable experience but what you wear might lessen the discomfort. On race day you walk down a slippery oyster covered ramp and stand up to your waist in water before you even board the vessel. So the full yachting regalia is out of the question. Non-slip footwear is essential. Most of the crews wear wetsuit boots but old sneakers are just as good. In the old days 18-footer sailors wore shorts and a woollen shirt or their footy jumper. The modern crews tend to be a bit softer and prefer to wear wetsuits under the traditional gear. How cold and wet you get is not only depended on the air temperature but the strength of the wind and the water temperature. Before Christmas the water temperature is still quite cool and it is often windy so a wetsuit is recommended. In the later part of the season some crews just wear shorts and rugby shirts.

A hat sunscreen and sunglasses are recommended sun protection. Historic skiffs have no luggage compartment you cannot bring a bag or spare clothing and everything will get wet. Bring a change of clothes for after.


How do I get a crew position?

Organising a ride on a historic skiff is not like making a reservation at a restaurant you don't just ring the sailing club and get them to make the arrangements. On race day you need to turn up early with your gear and ask around. The boats are rigged in the park adjacent to the club. The rigging starts at about 11.30am. It is recommended to turn up at this time and chat to the sailors asking if any boat is short crew. Ask the crew to show you how to help rig the boat even if you don't know what to do. During the rigging you can familiarise yourself with the boat and ask questions. It is a first in first served if you turn up late you probably won't get a ride. After rigging the sailors get changed and launch the boats at 1;30pm for a 2.30pm start.


The Race

The boats sail out of Careening Cove to a start line somewhere on the harbour depending on the direction of the breeze. The races usually have a handicapped start except in the championship when the fleet start together. The fleet race all over Sydney harbour and finish between 4.00 and 5.00pm depending on the breeze.


The Capsize

Like the original skiffs the replicas have no ballast and are over canvassed so capsizes are common. Like the originals the replicas have no positive buoyancy so when they go over they cannot be righted. This means they are towed on their side fully rigged to the nearest beach. The crew then haul the boat up the sand, get most of the sails down in the water and then heave her upright and bail her out with buckets. This process is usually takes about one to two hours depending on how many boats go over and how close they are to a beach. Crews don't need to be able to swim kilometres as most of the time they are hanging onto the boat but they do need to be confident in the water.



Injuries are a guaranteed part of the historic 18-footer experience. Expect a few bruises but serious injuries are uncommon.


Colourful Language

In this bland politically correct world the members of the AHSSA are doing there bit to revive the vernacular of the traditional Australian larrikin. Some of the skippers are great orators who perform with great passion and gusto. After the race new sailors often comment that they have learnt a range of new and colourful expressions.


After the race

When back onshore it is very bad manners to head directly for the change rooms even if you are very uncomfortable. All the crew help derig the boat and get all the gear packed away. It is essential that you help even if you don't know what to do. The sailors will give you direction. When all the work is done the crews shower, get changed and enjoy a beer on the deck. Each week they have a presentation at about 6.00pm when the fun of the race is relived and the sailors thank the volunteers for their efforts.


Tip for First Timers

If you are able bodied and can swim don't think about it too much just give crewing a go. If you have a nervous disposition, or a heart condition or you don't like getting wet join the crowd on the spectator ferry. Everybody is welcome and can be part of the fun.