Club History

A History of the Williamstown Sailing Club

Centenary years 1910 - 2010

by Bill Pride, Life Member, Williamstown Sailing Club

In 1903 an attempt was made to form a Williamstown Yacht Club by a breakaway group of yachtsmen from the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club, reportedly headed by high profile sportsman and politician JJ Liston and also Master Sailmaker Harold Morwick. The boats of the new club were all large yachts and nothing like the small skiffs that were to eventually follow. The ‘breakaway yachts’ were moored at Breakwater anchorage, which was known as the GAP about where Mobil oil tank farm is now situated.

By 1906 the foundation club folded and returned to race again at the Hobsons Bay Yacht Club. In 1910 the Williamstown Punt Club was formed by a group of young lads who had built small skiff like punts for catching eels. The meeting place and first activity centre was ‘Snuffy’ Parsons Boat Shed, located where the Anchorage Restaurant is today.

The punts were flat bottomed, double ended boats with a very narrow beam of only 3 feet and approximately nineteen feet in length. They were fully decked with a small well amidships for stowing their catch of eels. The punts were built out of timber planks salvaged from packing crates used for transporting kerosene drums and also dunnage timber from ships holds. These boats were built to go eel fishing, and used a basic sail to travel downwind when eeling. Then it appears that the owners decided they liked to race and this led to the first sailing races at the Williamstown Punt Club. The early sails were made of bed linen sheets reported to have been borrowed from neighbouring clothes lines during the night.

By 1914, the club boasted a membership of 49 with an annual subscription of one shilling. The boats had improved and become very competitive. Sails were professionally made mainly by local sail maker Harold Morwick. Races were started off Stevedore Street pier and cash prizes were awarded to the fastest boats.

Membership increased to 76 members until 1915 when many of the young men were required to fight in World War 1, 24 members enlisted.

In 1918 the club meeting place shifted to the Marine Underwriters Boat Shed. This is still the boathouse used by the Williamstown 4th Sea Scouts today. The shed has a remarkable history. It was built in 1904 for the Marine Underwriters Association who retained ownership until 1926. In 1918, the building was leased to the Punt Club for ten shillings per annum until 1921, when the new clubhouse was built. From 1926 until 1935 the shed was occupied by the Public Works Department to house the motor boat used to service the explosive powder lighters off of the Williamstown foreshore. In 1926, the Public Works Department transferred the operations to Ann St depot and offered the shed ownership to the Punt Club for one guinea. It was reported that the offer was refused because at that time the Punt Club could not see any future requirements for the facility. The Sea Scouts then occupied the shed in 1936 for a peppercorn rental.

In 1919 the Williamstown Punt Club applied to the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners for a site on the foreshore to build a new clubhouse. The application was granted and a site was allocated opposite Mariner St, adjacent to Parsons Boat Shed, at a rental of £5 per annum. A preferred site was between Stevedore Street & Hobsons Bay Yacht Club and the Punt Club requested a transfer of sites and also a reduction in the £5 rental. This request was granted by the Harbour Trust and the new club house building started in 1920, with a rent reduction to £2 10s.

Local picture theatre proprietor Mr ‘Dickie‘ Dark of the Empress Theatre, Williamstown was guarantor for the financing of the new construction with the bulk of the work to be done by voluntary club workers. The official opening of the new club rooms was made on the 3 November 1921 by the Governor General Lord Forster. It was reported that over a thousand people attended the opening. Much of the original building stands today.

The initial Club house was a basic design and constructed with hardwood wall studs, floor bearers and timber floor. The corrugated galvanised roof sheets were supported by 6 iron frame trusses. Wall cladding was fibro cement sheets for two thirds of the wall, from guttering down, then lined with pine weather boards. The building was supported by jarrah stumps and blue stone blocks. There were three doors, one in the front, the second door was in the alleyway on the south side between the Sea Scouts boat shed, and the third door was a double sliding door at the end of the building facing the water.

A small landing was built over the water at the rear of the building approximately 40’ x 25’ with a timber slipway to accommodate the punt sailing boats. There was no jetty at this time.

The land in front of the club building was not sealed and mainly comprised gravel and dirt until 1985. Mature date palm trees were spaced along the foreshore and some form of grass areas were eventually to become the lawn reserve. The paint scheme was basic white with brown trim. The interior was not lined and had no ceiling but an attic floor was built across the front wall, accessed by a steep ladder. On either side of the front door were two small rooms. The right hand room had a small pay slot where they collected the sixpence entry fee on dance nights. The left hand room was used by the caretaker. The floor was made of Tasmanian oak and unsealed and was known as a great dance floor. On dance nights the floor was made slippery with sprinklings of a mixture of kerosene and sawdust.

It is of interest to note that while the Stevedore Street Pier was of some importance to the Punt Club, with its sailing races and a few events centered around the pier, it was demolished in 1925 to make way for the new pier at Ferguson Street which was completed in 1927.

During the Depression years around 1930 the membership declined to only 14 members. To keep the club alive the committee agreed to accept fishing members into the club and the name of the club changed to the Williamstown Punt & Fishing Club. Financial support was generated through Saturday night dances and the sale of cigarettes, admission was sixpence. The dance floor was reported to be one of Melbourne’s best, but despite the popularity of the venue, rumour had it that the nice young ladies of Williamstown were not encouraged to attend. In 1939 World War 2 started and 39 of our young members enlisted to fight. Sadly, five failed to return. The Bernie Simmons trophy commemorates one of these losses.

During the early 1940’s the name of the club changed to be the Williamstown Sailing Club. By 1942 membership had grown to 127 members and classes of sailing boats additional to the Punts were introduced. Idle a Longs, Vee Jays, Sharpies, Gwen 12’s and Moths. Some concerns were raised at this time with three of the larger fishing boats taking out fishing parties for commercial gain and this was damaging the good reputation of the club. So to offset this problem, a new rule was introduced to restrict the maximum length of 18 feet for all future boat registration and that no boat can be used for commercial gain. This rule still applies today and has proved successful over the years in ensuring the long term future of the club.

In 1971 the club hosted it’s first Australian Championships for Kitty Kat catamarans. One of the conditions to secure the championships was for the club to provide adequate rigging space for 30 boats. The club only had a small rigging area of 1500 sq ft (50 x 30) directly behind the clubhouse- totally inadequate. Following an application to Melbourne Harbour Trust it was agreed to construct a timber staging on steel piles along the rock seawall fronting the See Scouts club rooms of approximately 1800 sq ft (60 x 30). Access to the new landing was by two timber staging planks loosely laid across the motor boat slipway. Despite the hazardous crossing, no one fell into the water & no damage was done to any boats. Incredibly a bridge was not installed. The National championship carnival was opened by Sir Rohan Delcombe, Governor of Victoria. The championship was won by the Williamstown boat, ‘Joy’ sailed by Rob Ballard.

Prior to the building in the 1970’s the amenities at the club were very basic. Gas was supplied for the kitchen, which was now located in the room to the left of the front door. The room to the right was now the Captains locker. A shower place was built in the alleyway between the Sea Scouts and the waste water just ran into the sea. The shower room is now the fishing member’s locker room. Sewage connections for toilets and waste water did not exist and the nearby public toilets provided the necessary amenities for members.

In 1972, contractors were employed to connect sewer pipes to the main outlet adjacent to the public toilets. The attic floor inside of the club house was sealed with fibreglass and shower and toilet facilities were installed. Access to these was via a steep step ladder. This amenity remained until 1984 when change rooms and toilets were built on the lower deck.

1970-1986 were the ’Building Years‘, both on land and water. Our fleet of racing boats tripled with the introduction of trailer sailors - Hartley TS16, Ultimate 16 and 18, Explorer 16 along with Mirror Dinghies, 125s, Arafura catamarans and Kitty Kats were still strong. The only old boat still in the club was Treasurer Jim Pearl’s ‘Idle a Long’- ‘Araluen’. This boat was used as a training boat until 1974.

Two subsequent training yachts followed, a Jubilee and an Explorer - both named the James Pearl, in recognition of his contribution in teaching so many young people to sail. Membership grew to 220 and the winter working programs appeared just as popular as the sailing agenda. The main south jetty was rebuilt and extended to 100 metres and the north jetty built to 70 metres. Both north and south rigging platforms were built and the north platform extended seawards by 90 feet. A wind up gangway was designed and installed over the motor boat slipway- which is now the slipway for repairs.

In 1972 the club approached Williamstown City Council for use of land on the north side of the Sea Scouts clubrooms. The area was a haven for rubbish dumping and overgrown with castor oil bushes. The application was granted on the condition that the club would clean up the area and keep it presentable. Also, no more than 30 motor boats could register to use the ramp when the facility was operating.

The Melbourne Harbour Trust then agreed to an application to install a concrete launching ramp joined to the newly acquired land for the members to launch fishing and runabout boats. No one could have envisaged the impact that this new facility would have with the explosion of trailer sailer racing boats and trailable fishing boats.

With the opening of the new boat launching ramp many members purchased runabout outboards and sold their moored fishing boats. The club at the time was reliant on fishing members to provide a rescue boat service on a roster basis. For nearly ten years up to seven ‘crash boats’ worked every Saturday free of any running costs to safeguard our sailors. Unfortunately, this service came to an end when the club purchased their own rescue boats. Dick Lanyon was the first to provide a boat for rescue work, and Rob D’Altera was the last and probably the longest serving driver to provide this service, finishing in about 1983.

In 1977 the Victorian Government introduced Bingo licenses for ‘Non Profit Community Clubs’. Despite some opposition from some committee members, the Sailing Club applied for and was granted one of the first licences. The early attempts to organise our game of Bingo at the club were held in the ‘Amenities Room’ - now the training room. It was an abject failure but an opportunity was presented to transfer to a different venue, in conjunction with the North Footscray football club to ‘Our Ladies’ Church hall in Maidstone. It was an immediate financial success. The license was held by the Williamstown Sailing Club Social Committee - the chairperson was Merle D’Altera, Phyllis Pride, and later Russell Bates and Dick Lanyon.

In 1978-1980, the Victorian State Government at this time introduced a co-operative plan for sporting clubs and non profit organisations to borrow money under government guarantee to fund the building of new club facilities. The Williamstown Sailing Club Co-Operative was formed and all club members were required to become co-operative members at a cost of $30, each to be a guarantor for 300 shares. Darryl Janes was appointed Public Officer, and John Davies was the first Secretary.

The initial proposal for the new club room was to negotiate with the Sea Scouts to demolish their boat shed and to include the replacement boat storage for them in our plans to extend along the shoreline with a two story building. The scouts would have had access to the lower section. The Williamstown Council objected to this proposal as did the Sea Scouts. Council’s objection was that the existing profile of the building had to remain and the historic Scouts boat shed stay intact. Council has no objections with our second proposal to extend the new plans seaward on the proviso that the profile of the original building remained. The final plans were approved by the Port of Melbourne in 1981 and the Upper deck Social Room opened in November 1982.

The Learn to Sail programs were started around 1970 by James Pearl using his own Idle a Long to take 4/5 junior sailors out for a sail. As a result many leaner’s progressed into sailing or crewing Mirror dinghies and by 1986 it was not uncommon to watch a fleet of 20 Mirrors racing regularly. In 1974 the ‘Araleun’ Idle a Long was retired and a Jubilee boat purchased. This boat was found stored under a tree at the St Johns Home for Boys in Sorrento and was in very poor condition. Because the yacht has been donated to the Boys Home, the Directors’ were reluctant to sell the boat but an arrangement to exchange two Mirrors for the Jubilee was agreed to. During the winter working bee the yacht was completely refurbished and renamed the ‘James Pearl’. It was a sight to behold to see this magnificent yacht loaded with young learners sailing on Hobsons Bay. James Pearl sailed the Jubilee himself until 1982, when he retired due to ill health and was awarded a Life Membership.

From the early 1980s the Learn to sail program was conducted by Bill Pride. The training was mainly with junior members using their own yachts and the ‘James Pearl’ was still overcrowded. In 1990 with the introduction of Windward Project by Andrew Burbidge and Ted Peck, the approach to sail training became more proficient. The Windward Project was a program to offer disadvantaged youth an opportunity to further their interest in a sporing arena. Six Mirror dinghies were purchased through sponsorship and the scheme was self funding. The Windward Project was held in conjunction with the club’s Learn to Sail program over 8 full Sundays and proved very successful. 24 participants, male and female, participated in a mixed group. Joan Kirner, the Premier of Victoria at the time, presented achievement awards at one of the Windward Project graduations.

The Williamstown Sailing Club began Learn to Sail programs in the 1970s and they were possibly the first organised training courses in Victoria, or one of the earliest ones. By 1990 The Victorian Yachting Council started to promote sail training courses for beginners and introduce programs to qualify experienced sailors as instructors. Williamstown Sailing Club was one of the first clubs to gain Yachting Victoria accreditation as a training centre. Today we are a registered Discover Sailing Centre through Yachting Australia and we offer introductory small boat sailing programs. Our training fleet consists of 7 Pacers and the ‘James Pearl’. We currently run one program a year, for juniors from 12 years of age to adults of all ages. The club has a number of qualified and accredited instructors, and with support from many experienced sailing members, we continue to deliver one of the best practical training courses in Melbourne – providing one on one training with experienced sailors and instructors. In 2015 we have introduced a Tackers training program for children from 7 to 12 years of age.

Since 1970 the desire for success within the WSC has been paramount. To be the best in organisation ashore and on the water has been our aim and in most cases achieved. The rebuilding of the small worn out club rooms of the 1970’s and the magnificent upper deck extensions with unimpeded views over Hobsons Bay and the city skyline is evidence of this success. Now our membership is over 300 - including family memberships, and there are 107 yachts and 80 fishing boats registered with the club, a combination of off the beach, trailable and moored boats who all use the club facilities.

The 1970s

by Phyllis Pride | Life Member, Williamstown Sailing Club

In the mid 1970s we enjoyed the formation of a very strong Ladies Committee. A group of about 10 ladies accepted the responsibility of Fund raising and organised the operation of the canteen which was located at the front entrance way, where the Ladies change room now is.

The next venture was to build an Amenities room which is now known as the Lecture/Training room. The estimated cost was $6000 and the members support towards raising the necessary funds was fantastic. Many activities were carried out in that room- Melbourne Cup draws, raffles, Fish & Chips nights. When the room was opened Sing a Long nights were held with the Williamstown SC orchestra comprising a Booz a Phone, Piano, Bongo drum and Tea Chest Bass to raise funds to buy furnishings.

Bill Pride applied for and was the first license holder of our Bingo permit. We started playing in the Amenities room, but this venture was unsuccessful. The venue was then transferred to ‘Our Ladies’ church hall in Maidstone in conjunction with the North Footscray football club and became very profitable. Bingo was played on Monday nights and Saturday afternoons and was supervised by club representatives Merle D’Altera (President), Phyllis Pride (Treasurer) and in later years by Russell Bates and Dick Lanyon.

About 1980 the Committee of Management promoted the starting of the Upper Deck Social Room, and a quote of $60,000 was accepted for the construction of footings and the concrete base slabs. To fund the commencement of the project a Co-Operative loan was obtained and called the Williamstown Sailing Club Co-Operative Limited. John Davies and Phillip Snow were the early secretaries. All members were requested and later obliged to be guarantors for 300 shares at $30 for the loan repayments. Due to the generous returns from the Bingo, the borrowings were quickly repaid and all share holders paid out in full.

The very strong Ladies Committee continued to raise funds to purchase the furnishings for the upper deck.

Over the time 1970-1985 the WSC went through a phenomenal expansion and a successful period was established. Many National Championships were hosted at the WSC, and the club was honoured with visits of the Victorian Governor, Sir Rohan Delacombe and Sir Henry Winneke.


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