It was war-torn Australia on 31st May 1942 when the 19m auxiliary ketch Lauriana was patrolling Sydney Harbour and three Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney. For the next four hours, “all hell broke loose” on the harbour until two of the midget submarines were intercepted and sunk with depth charges near the wartime harbour boom gate. Ten years later this magnificent yacht assumed the role of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race’s Radio Relay Vessel from 1952 to 1964.
In March 1944, when the Japanese were retreating in the Pacific, Peter Luke and Charlie Cooper were separately cruising in Pittwater on their yachts, Wayfarer and Asgard. Peter Luke had noticed Charlie Cooper’s Asgard when she was launched a few years earlier and had noted that the two yachts were designed by the same person, John Alden of Boston, USA. With his camera, Luke took some shots of Asgard and sent them to Cooper creating the start of a long relationship.
Peter Luke and Charlie Cooper convened a meeting with six other yachtsmen from the war effort at Monte Luke’s (Peter’s father) photographic studio on Castlereagh St, Sydney. This early winter meeting in 1944 was the club’s first meeting with a fee of £1 from each member being collected to assist with the club’s miscellaneous expenses. These founding members were:
- Charlie Cooper (Wholesale Fruiterer, Asgard)
- Peter Luke (Photographer, Wayfarer)
- Syd Dickenson (Sea Rover)
- Jack Earl OA (Artist, Kathleen)
- John Rosendale (Accountant, Malua)
- Bert & Russell Walker (Saltair)
These founding members formed the Cruising Yacht Club (CYC) with the name being changed to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) in March 1946. Jack Earl designed the Southern Cross burgee which the CYCA still proudly flies today.
Some of Sydney’s finest yachts competed in the CYCA’s first race from Sydney Harbour’s Quarantine Station to northern Sydney’s Broken Bay over the October 1944 Labour Day weekend. These yachts were Archina, Asgard, Julnar, Horizon, Kathleen Gillett, Moonbi, Saltair, Strombird, Thetis, White Wings, Wayfarer and Zepher. Charlie Cooper and Peter Luke donated the Founders Cup with the race becoming a permanent fixture, although the course has been modified over the years.
During May 1945 while Jack Earl was planning a cruise to Hobart, the CYCA Commodore invited prominent English sailor Captain John Illingworth R.N. to dinner to give a presentation. After dinner, the cruise was being discussed with Illingworth being invited to join the cruise, with his response being, “why don’t we make a race of it?”. Later in 1945, the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania agreed to host the finish of the race. Captain Illingworth’s words were to change the history of the CYCA which was until then formed to engage in cruising passage events.
The start line of the 1945 race was from Flagstaff Point of Quarantine Bay to a start boat moored 200 meters to the west. Boxing Day 1945 was a beautiful summer day with building north-easterlies for the afternoon. The 1945 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race the first fleet of Ambermele, Archina, Horizon, Kathleen, Mistral, Rani, Saltair, Wayfarer and Winston Churchill were swept by gales that played havoc with the fleet. Two yachts were reported missing for four days and the fledgling race made front page headlines in Sydney and Hobart every day. Many of the entrants, most of whom having never ocean raced before, sought shelter, sometimes going ashore for a meal or to telephone home to say they were OK and then continuing the next day. Captain John Illingworth R.N.’s yacht Rani surviving the storm and finishing first ahead of her larger rivals in Hobart 6 days and 14 hours later, her elapsed time was enough to secure handicap honours, handing Captain John Illingworth R.N. and crew the rare “double” victory. These overall honours were dedicated the John H Illingworth Challenge Cup for line honours and George Adams Tattersall Cup for overall handicap honours. Peter Luke’s yacht Wayfarer was the last yacht to finish taking 11 days and 6 hours to complete the course, which stands as the record for the longest elapsed time.
By 1951, the CYCA had held five Sydney Hobart Yacht Races and still had no clubhouse. A waterfront property and business in Rushcutters Bay, Rushcutter Yacht Service Pty Ltd was put on the market and the CYCA Committee agreed to borrow the funds to acquire the £10,000 purchase. Rushcutter Yacht Service had its ups and downs over the years until its closing its doors in 1974, but the rickety weatherboard and corrugated iron building first located on the site in 1951 has given way to re-construction over the years to 2018’s opening of the stylish clubhouse that now houses the CYCA.
In 1953 the CYCA entered the international yacht racing scene when it held the first Sydney to Noumea Yacht Race. A storm-ravaged race was won by the 12.5m sloop Irene. By the 1960s, the CYCA’s members thought that they could match it with the best ocean racers in the world, sending a team of three yachts to the Admiral’s Cup in Cowes in 1965. This team placed second and the CYCA then returned to Cowes in 1967 with Balandra, Caprice of Huon and Mercedes III to win the Admiral’s Cup, placing the CYCA on top of the world ocean racing podium.
Over the years, the CYCA members felt that there was no pathway to sailing for the Members’ families and the public to join the adults crewing on the yachts racing out of the CYCA. In 1993 the CYCA Youth Sailing Academy was formed to fill the gap between dinghy sailing and crewing onboard yachts. As of 2019, 76 Youth Sailing Academy Students or Alumni have competed in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race out of 643 graduates who completed in the Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced sailing courses. The Youth Sailing Academy has certainly filled that void between dinghies and yachts but also has had various successes in the youth sailing world with the CYCA’s Youth Sailing Academy winning the Youth Match Racing World Championships in 2017, 2019 and 2020.
Many CYCA members have represented the CYCA and Australia at the highest competitive levels of sailing being the America’s Cup, Olympics, Admiral’s Cup, World Championships, skiff & dinghy sailing and all the major global ocean races. This tradition of CYCA members travelling to world-wide events continue with ongoing global success.
The CYCA has a full calendar of sailing events running throughout the year and works with various yacht clubs around the harbour to run various events so that all yacht clubs compete together. From a relaxing afternoon in the non-spinnaker twilight to the forces of the raging Bass Straight in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, over the years, the CYCA has developed a world-class sailing program to keep all levels of sailors on the water. The first time in seventy-five years that the sailing program was cancelled was for the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In 2019 the CYCA celebrated its 75th anniversary with long time member Gordon Ingate cutting the celebratory cake and sharing anecdotes about the club and its history. The CYCA conducted the 75th Sydney Hobart Race in 2019 with 157 starters, with the tradition of the club and the race running strong into the future.
The CYCA’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, Ponant Sydney Noumea Yacht Race and the Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore all have their own websites in which more historical information regarding each race can be found in the ‘About The Race’ menu on each site.
In 2008, the CYCA launched David Colfelt’s book on the history of the CYCA entitled ‘From Ratbags to Respectability’. The book is available for purchase for $19.99 either through the online CYCA Store or at reception.
In 2019, the CYCA launched Rob Mundle’s book on the history of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race entitled ‘The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race’. Learn more about the book and how to purchase.
The CYCA History & Archives page contains direct access to the Video Archive Project which has interviews with prominent members and yachts people relevant to the CYCA and Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the digital collection of Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Programs, the digital collection of Offshores, the 1987 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and Southern Cross Cup songs and access to CYCATV on YouTube.
The CYCA History & Archives Committee continues to work on projects towards a digital archive of images, videos and documents which will be displayed here at the CYCA History & Archives page in the future.