OZ has hidden some of these vintage
models for the last 100 years. People would be amazed when told about our
history in regards to vintage model yachts. Australians are a resourceful race
that can turn theirs hands to almost anything. These vintage models have been
found in many places in and around the country.
People have a tendency to just put away stuff, while they are not
actually using it, which will be close to hand when they need to have another
go at it.
I would suppose we could divide these vintage boats up into
eras and they would go something like this, Pre WW1, between wars, Post WW2 and
Modern. Now you might think modern can’t be vintage. A modern boat can have all
the lines of a vintage model and still be new, for all these boats were new at
The ‘Balmain Bug’ comes from a waterfront sport that had its
roots in the boatmen (circa 1860s) of Balmain on
Harbour. This suburb of
Sydney is roughly a mile as the crow flies
from the city and has the harbour on two sides of it. The place in the early
days was for the working class who were engaged in shipbuilding, waterside
workers, and of all things, coal mining for there was actually a working coal
mine in Balmain. There was some sailing clubs there as apposed to Yacht Clubs,
that were for the gentry. The sailing (skiff) clubs were for the workers.
These skiff people had strict rules about who could skipper
a skiff in racing. And at what age a person had to be to do this irrespective
of how much money a family had. The sons of people sailing skiffs didn’t have
much chance of joining in this skiff racing at a young age except as a
bailer-boy on a skiff. So if one wanted to participate one could join a model
sailing club in and around Balmain or at the many ponds around in
Southern Sydney. These models were a lot like the
full-size boats having skiff proportions with a pointed bow and broad transoms,
with a long bowsprit, (that they called a ‘bumpkin), arching out from the
bow. A huge amount of sail festooned the
sailing rig. This big rig gave these little boats a startling performance
downwind. The only difference to the bigger boats was a keel protruding from
the bottom of the hull in place of a dagger board. With a bulb type piece of
lead on the bottom.
After a while these model skiffs started to develop their
own followers. It wasn’t long before the local larrikins started to bet on
them, for there was no betting on anything in NSW on Sundays. For it was highly
illegal practice and it could be carried on in virtual seclusion in ferries.
This developed a lot of local interest, particularly among the gambling working
class. In the model history (1900 to 1954) it attracted a lot of the famous
names of the full-size skiff sailors, who started in these model fleets as
boys. This model skiff racing was practiced only as a winter sport, as apposed
to the big skiffs, which were only raced in summer.
The Balmain Bug as it is now called was divided into classes
based on length of the actual hull such as: 8”, 10”, 12”, 18”, 2ft and
32”er. The 32”ers are an actual scale
version of the 16 foot Skiffs that sailed around Balmain, even to this day.
Only some clubs sailed more than one class.
These boats really stand out from the normal type of model
yachts, for it is quite squat, as though it was chopped off at some stage. The
boat was mostly underwater when it was sailing with only this enormous mast and
sails showing, with the owner’s colour patch on the Mainsail to identify it.
Never the less these little boats could attain some phenomenal speeds that
could out distance two fit oarsmen in a very quick time. There are still
legendary stories of this happening in the upper
Harbour where this sport was practiced.
These little models were raced as a fleet around a proper triangular course,
with an attending rowing boat for each model. The rowing boat and the model
skiff were considered as a sailing unit. There was only one race per day. They
were sailed only on Sunday for the locals were fanatical about their football
(Rugby League) in a big way. So they had a pleasant time of Open water model
skiff racing on Sundays and ‘footy’ on Saturdays in winter. The model skiff racing fraternity was divided
up into the professionals and the hobbyist clubs. Both received Money prizes. A
first prize in the professional model skiffs was 35 shillings (per race) or
about a normal labourers weekly wage for those days.
The racing model skiffs finally died out in about (circa)
1954. I have been told many reasons for this occurrence. The version I like is;
there was a big race on Iron Cove. Four ferries containing the barrackers and
punters of the Drummoyne Model 2ft Sailing Club were watching this model skiff
race. The favorite was heavily backed to win for it was the scratch boat. In
actual fact it was coming last, coming into the last leg of the course. The
bookies, friends or some persons (who will remain nameless) picked up the
loosing scratch boat and carried it some distance and put it in again for a
better finishing place. It was a blatant act, so much so that this club
withdrew their boats and never raced as a professional club again. The Iron
Cove club was the last of the Open Water Model Skiff Clubs in
Stephen Crewes, National Historical Officer ARYA.
firstname.lastname@example.org Phone 02 9558 5675.
for more Balmain Bugs.