The Inverloch Classic Wooden Dinghy Regatta has established itself as the place to be over the Australia Day weekend for owners of wooden racing dinghies of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Over the three years the event has been going, a core group of regular attenders have been at every regatta. I am one of them.

Where else can you see a collection of boats from the era that made Australian dinghy racing so wild and vibrant?

It was a time when plywood was a new wonder material, and building a boat in the back shed was the booming popular craze. Today’s crazes are about cooking or fitness or renovation, but back then you bought yourself a Mirror kit from Blockey the Boatbuilder, or you built something from Build a Boat magazine and you did the best you could with nails and glue and hand-me-down tools.

The results were boats with individuality and character. Some were the woodworking masterpieces of those with the skills, some were the subjects of constant experimentation and some were just great family fun.

The regatta has a special focus on the Moth class due to the class originator, Len Morris, first sailing his prototype Moth “Olive” at Inverloch. This was in the 1920’s, before the advent of plywood. “Olive” was on display at APYC until recently and is now in the storage area. It was restored by WBA and APYC members about 15 years ago.

It was great to see a large contingent of International Moth class boats at the Regatta. The scow Moths were a centre of technological and competitive development in sailing in the 60’s and 70’s. Last year’s award winner, Mark Rimington’s chine plywood design, a replica of the World Championship winning boat sailed by David “Shorty” McKay” in 1969, set a high standard of skilled construction and finish for the other Moths at the regatta. The chine plywood Moths owned by Jim French, Andrew Chapman, Pete Keily and Jonathon Parise made the racing competitive and were a great sight for spectators.

However, the newly completed restoration of a moulded veneer scow Moth by Phil Johnson stood out for the quality of workmanship and dedication to the task over 18 months of skilled work. Phil bought the boat expecting do a quick clean up and take it out sailing. Instead he found that all the veneers had to be carefully prised off, cleaned up and re-glued. The framing and decks were also completely refurbished. This was the clear winner of the “Best Moth in Original or Restored Condition” award and Phil is a great supporter of the revival of the vintage Moths and their connection with Inverloch.

It was great to see a number of other Australian designed dinghy classes represented in the list of entries. Notable amongst these was Graeme Cox’s Aquanaut class training dinghy. Graeme rescued the boat from a hard rubbish collection and after refurbishing and repainting the boat in bright red and white, he sailed in every race over the weekend.

There were two Sabre class dinghies entered in the regatta. They are an Australian design that is still being actively raced, and built, today. John Honeybone’s Sabre class dinghy was built by our Moth class winner Phil Johnson and was also in great condition. The Sabre owned by SGYC was sailed well by Oscar Llewellyn.

The 16 foot skiff owned by Frank Raisin has been to all three regattas and looked great after a major overhaul by John Fairfax during the winter. 16 footers are a truly iconic Australian dinghy class and Frank’s skill and experience in sailing this high powered and sophisticated machine was evident.

Andrew Chapman’s Rainbow class dinghy was in excellent condition, showing us a rare example of a once very popular class. As you are starting to see, Andrew, the Regatta Coordinator, has a significant collection of interesting boats and he has been a driving force in originating and developing the regatta.

The Vaucluse Junior class was represented by two boats at this year’s regatta. VJ’s are a great example of the Australian ethos in boat design during the 1960s. The aim was to make boats that were simple to build, had some allowance for experimentation and were wet and fast to sail.

Abby Angus-Smith’s VJ has sailed at all three regattas. The little red boat has been featured in the regatta videos, has been sailed often and has a scar or two to show for it. John Fairfax was keen to show us his recently discovered 1970s VJ “Trend” which he found under a house a few months ago. His research and relentless pursuit of sails and other VJ gear has rewarded him with a boat which is stunning to look at and sails as fast as it looks. With Jeff Cole as crew, John put in a creditable performance in the Monday afternoon race.

Another uniquely Australian design is the “Sailfish” dinghy. Sometimes called the “sailing surfboard”. The “Best Presented Sailing Dinghy” award went to the Sailfish class dinghy “Debonair” owned by Andrew Chapman. The history of this boat made it stand out as something that is important to preserve, and some its features made it unique. “Debonair” carries sail No. 2 for the Sailfish class. It was pictured on the cover of a “Build a Boat” magazine from the 1960’s, with the original owner in the photo. This original owner handed the boat on to Andrew with a copy of the magazine.

The deck of the boat appears to be made of one continuous sheet of plywood; puzzling, since a sheet of plywood 11 feet long is unheard of. Only on close inspection, and with Andrew’s assistance, does it become clear that the woodgrain is painted on to the ply over a white base coat. The skill of painting woodgrain, once sought after by furniture repairers and restorers, is now pretty much a lost art.

There were a number of outstanding non-Australian design entries also. John Fankhauser’s 12 Square Metre Sharpie has sailed in the regatta for all three years and is a testament to his dedication to restoring, maintaining and sailing these boats with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics history behind them. John’s Sharpie “Cheyenne” was the only non-plywood boat at the regatta. The hull is planked with full length (20ft) planks, copper fastened and splined between the planks.

Trilby Parise and her two daughters sailed their colourful Heron dinghy in the race on Monday and once again were great supporters of the event.

Three Mirror class dinghies, including mine, also sailed in the race, representing the class in which so many of us learnt to sail in the 60’s. The Mirror class is still active today with State, National and World championships.

For the “Best Presented Sailing Boat” award for non-racing boats John Landy’s newly built Derwent Raider design stood out as the latest thing in wooden boat technology. This kit boat designed by Alan Witt of Hobart is made from laser cut plywood panels. The jigsaw joins that replace scarph joints to make the 18ft long planks attracted the attention of many onlookers for their precision and ingenuity. The boat was designed to be part of a relatively new activity known as “Raids” in which a group of boats complete a coastal voyage over 2 or 3 days with overnight camps. The boats can be rowed or sailed to the day’s camping spot, whichever gets you there fastest, but no motors are allowed!

Keith Cousen’s Fireball dinghy returned to the regatta after a year off and added to the spectacular variety of vintage boats gathered for the race this year.

Special mention must be made of Geoff Cole who has brought along his Oughtred designed McGregor canoe to each regatta and sailed it – with quite a few capsizes – in company with the larger dinghies. His involvement with the regatta and his interest in talking about boats with every participant has been exactly what Andrew and the Regatta Committee hoped to develop from the event.

Looking at the boats and talking to the owners in the club boatyard or on the beach is an essential part of participation in this regatta. There are so many stories to be told and there is so much to be learnt about how the boats were built and sailed. Connections between people are made and new projects to restore or build boats are started in this way. Boats are bought, sold and swapped on the beach or over a drink in the clubhouse too.

I am convinced there are many boats which could be participants in this regatta out there, hidden in sheds and garages, or under houses, waiting to be brought to Inverloch for next year’s regatta. It is my hope that WBA members will spread the word, and help to display and sail more of these wonderful boats at the regatta next year.

Leigh McNolty, with additional photos by Andrew Chapman.