Historic Sayonara Cup revival on the Derwent

  • March 9, 2019

Next weekend on the River Derwent will see a revival of the famous Sayonara Cup interstate yachting contest when the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania defends a challenge from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
Champion helmsmen Nick Rogers (RYCT) and Matt Whitnall (RSYS) will skipper International Dragon class yachts in a best-of-seven match racing series over Saturday and Sunday, 16-17 March.
Rogers will be on the helm of his own Dragon, Karabos IX, with Leigh Behrens and Oliver Burnell as crew. Whitnall will steer Whimsical with a crack crew in a mid-river series of short, sharp windward/leeward races.
Rogers won the Sayonara Cup from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron in 2009 and is a veteran of the Dragon class, winning the Prince Philip Cup 12 times (11 as skipper) as well as a Dragon World championship and this year winning the Masters and Corinthian trophies at the Worlds in Perth.
He outsailed SB20 Tasmanian champion helmsman Elliott Noye in a Defender Trials series for the right to again represent the RYCT.
RSYS skipper Matt Whitnall is a prominent competitor in the International Etchells Sydney fleet and his helm will be international tactician David Chapman and Olympian David Giles. Team patron is the doyen of the Dragon class Gordon Ingate.
The RSYS’ challenge is the first in a decade for the Sayonara Cup, first held 1903 as a challenge match between big racing yachts from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
Modelled on the America’s Cup Deed of Gift, it became Australia’s premier yachting event, the perpetual trophy named after the winner (from Melbourne) of the first challenge match.
Despite periods when no events took place, the Sayonara Cup remained well-known to the general public and the experience gained by Australian yachtsmen racing for the trophy led them to consider challenging for the America’s Cup in the late 1950s when the New York Yacht Club adopted the International Twelve Metre Class.
After gaps in challenges in wartime and depression years, the Sayonara Cup was revived in the early 1950s when it became a contest between International Eight Metre Class yachts, with the event expanded to include yachts from Tasmania as well as NSW and Victoria.
The RYCT’s inaugural challenger, Ted Domeney’s Erica J was designed by B J Aas and built in Hobart by Max Creese. In 1951 she sailed from Hobart to Melbourne but lost to the RYCV’s Frances.
The following year Erica J challenged against, reaching Port Phillip after battling a severe Bass Strait storm for several days in which she broke her boom and a spreader. Hasty repairs saw her contest the Sayonara Cup, but Frances was again superior.

Eight Metre class yacht Erica J won the Sayonara Cup for the RYCT in 1953.

A further challenge with a modified Erica J and Neal Batt on the helm gave the Tasmanian crew their first victory and brought the trophy to the RYCT. However, the following year, Frances won back the Cup in a contest sailed in Storm Bay.
The Sayonara Cup came into the public eye again when personable RSYS member Bill (later Sir Wiliam) Northam (later, Australia’s first Olympic Gold Medallist, in the 5.5 Metre class) brought from England what was reputed to be the world’s fastest Eight Metre, the Fife-designed Saskia.
In a three-way challenge against Erica J and Frances, Saskia won a hard-fought series and for the first time in 24 years the Sayonara Cup returned to Sydney.
Saskia, with its advanced technology, including a duralumin mast, stainless steel rigging and the finest of imported sails, maintained her superiority over the southern states.

Sayonara, original winner of the interstate yachting challenge that bears her name.

In 1962, Saskia had a clean sweep against Brigitte, the renamed Frances, and that was the last time the Sayonara Cup was contested in big yachts.
With focus on Australian challengers for the America’s Cup there was no interest in the Sayonara Cup until the 1980s when the rules were changed to have it contested in the one-design International Dragon class.
Since then Dragon class yachts and champion helmsmen representing Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales have contested the Sayonara Cup Matches, although the trophy has sat in a cabinet at the RYCT since 2009.

Elliott Noye and Nick Rogers with the Sayonara Cup at the RYCT.

The RYCT has won the Sayonara Cup nine times: the Eight-Metre class yacht Erica J, owned by Ted Domeney and helmed by Neal Batt in 1953; then the International Dragon Maj Britt, helmed by Stephen Boyes (1987 and 1988), followed by Nick Roger sailing Dragons all named Karabos in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 and 1994. Rogers regained the Cup from the RSYS in 2009 with Karabos IX.
The Challenge Match for the Sayonara Cup 2019 is scheduled to start at 1.30pm next Saturday and, if necessary, from 10.00am on Sunday. Sailing will be over mid-river, short, sharp windward/leeward courses with 0.4 nautical mile legs.
Words: Peter Campbell
Photos: Nick Hutton, Penny Conacher, RYCT files
9 March 2019