In the 1890s yachting was a gentleman's pastime where wealthy people met at exclusive clubs to mix with their own and enjoy a spot of racing. At that time open boat racing at the Sydney Flying Squadron had a different focus.
The club president was entrepreneur Mark Foy who saw the lucrative advantages of actively promoting sailing as a spectator sport for the general public. Foy and his friend James J. Giltinan were also involved in horse racing and Rugby League. The pair realised that traditional sailing needed a little revamping to make it appealing to the public. Just like horse racing the open boats started carrying coloured sail emblems instead of identity numbers. The crews wore bright footy jumpers like jockey's silks, instead of traditional sailing whites. Foy introduced handicap race starts so the boat that finishes first was the winner. These innovations proved popular with the public.
Spectator ferries ran from the club and Circular Quay offering a day of entertainment on the harbour, just like a day at the horse races. The bookies inevitably followed and placing a wager on your favourite boat was all part of the fun. The gambling wasn't entirely legal but it seemed to be condoned by the police establishment. The bookies were always warned of the many police raids on the ferries so no evidence of gambling was ever found. It seems no coincident that the sailing club was involved with raising money for the children's hospital and held popular charity events.
All of these activities brought people and money to the sailing club. This meant large prize money was offered for races and more boats were built. It has been estimated that in the 1930s up to ten thousand people would watch the 18-footers race from the harbour foreshore and fleets of spectator ferries.
These days the AHSSA actively promote skiff sailing as a spectator sport. At regattas the fleets of 10-footers or 18-footers try to all rig together in an area close to the club. The public are encouraged to inspect the craft at close quarters and ask questions about the boats and their rigs. There is often some form of historic display at each club visited. In particular the Sydney Flying Squadron has a permanent historic display of skiff photos, trophies and paraphernalia.
At most regattas there is usually some way to watch the racing from the water. The Sydney Flying Squadron run a special spectator ferry that leaves from the club each race day. At other regattas less formal arrangements are made. Sometimes there is a designated spectator vessel and sometimes an association member makes his boat available to guests. Sometimes the racecourse is designed so the spectators can follow the racing from the comfort of the sailing club veranda. For information about on the water spectator facilities it is best to ring the club organising the event.
SFS Spectator Ferry
The members of the Sydney Flying Squadron are dedicated to looking after the spectators and maintaining the rich traditions of the past. On race morning the sailors sell barbequed bacon egg rolls to raise money for the boats. Visitors can enjoy the morning sunshine on the deck and then wander amongst the boats being rigged in the adjacent park.
Ferry tickets can be purchased at the bar and can be booked a head of time. The ferry departs at 2pm from the wharf in front of the club that can be accessed via the blue staircase near the balcony. The ferry isn't licensed to sell alcohol but the club members haven't let this technicality get in the way of a good time. Drinks coupons are purchased at the club bar and drinks can be collected during the afternoon. Spectators can expect to return to the club at around 4.30pm. After the race the ladies provide tea and coffee on the deck and the sailors and spectators mingle and enjoy a sausage sizzle. Race presentation is on the deck at 6pm.
Tickets are a fraction the cost of any other harbour cruises:
Family pass $45