Tales of the ‘Tassies’
The splendid sight of the restored 21-foot restricted class yacht Tassie Too racing at the 2020 Port Cygnet Regatta has prompted Peter Campbell to delve back into the exciting sailing times of interstate racing for the Forster Cup.
Now well into her 93rd year, the famous Tassie Too, launched on 26 November 1927, became an icon of Tasmanian yachting between 1928 and 1952 and today is a living reminder of a remarkable era of interstate yacht racing, creating a sailing culture in this State.
Competition between the 21-foot restricted class boats for the Forster Cup and the Albert Cup between 1922 and 1952 (with the exception of the World War II years) created unprecedented public interest, particularly so in Hobart.
Tassie Too is one of three ‘Tassies’ specifically designed and built in Hobart to contest the Forster Cup; the national title for the 21-foot class: Tassie, Tassie Too and Tassie III. All three were winners over the years with the Batt family figuring in all but one of those victories.
‘The Mercury’ newspaper, in its report on the 1927 Forster Cup held in Adelaide recorded: “From before seven o’clock large crowds waited outside ‘The Mercury’ office to see how the Tasmanian champion (Tassie) had fared and the posting of the result was the signal for an outburst of cheering. The result was flashed upon the screen in the picture theatres, where Tassie’s great victory was received with tumultuous applause.”
Tassie Too won the Forster Cup a record 10 times (combined the ‘Tassies’ won the national title a record breaking 16 times) and is the only boat of the three to survive; her restoration and return to the River Derwent the culmination of dedicated efforts of the Friends of Tassie Too (FOTT) organisation, including president Kenn Batt, project manager Greg Muir, historians and committee members Nicole Mays and Colin Grazules.
Kenn Batt has a special family connection to the boat. His uncle, WP ‘Skipper’ Batt, designed and skippered both Tassie and Tassie Too, winning the Forster Cup six times (more than any other helmsman). His grandfather Harry also steered Tassie Too and Tassie III to success, winning the event four times. His uncle Neall, as helmsman of Tassie Too, won the event five times, and his father Ken, as crew at times, sailed Tassie Too during its last Forster Cup win in 1952 (notably the last time Tasmania participated in the interstate series).
The tales of the 21-footers is part of a chapter in ‘Sailing On…’ the history for the RYCT from 1880 to 1980 and much of this article is attributed to that chapter.
Back in October 1920, a committee comprising delegates from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club met to decide the class of boat for interstate racing.
The committee was unanimous that to ensure success the class adopted must be comparatively inexpensive, suitable for pleasure as well as for racing, and small and handy enough to be raced by a small crew.
A restricted, centreboard yacht that had been successful in Victoria for more than 10 years was considered suitable in every way. The committee recommended that the boat be built within the restrictions laid down by the Victorian Yacht Racing Association, but not necessarily an identical design.
The restrictions included: LWL 21ft maximum; LOA 25ft maximum; beam 7-8ft; draft (centreboard up) 20 inches minimum; (centreboard down) 3ft 6in maximum. Other restrictions included freeboard, stern shape, scantlings, ballast and total sail area.
The class in Sydney was then given a huge impetus when the then Governor-General, Lord Forster, a keen yachtsman himself, announced in December 1920 that he was having a boat built to the class, along with several other of Sydney’s more prominent yachtsmen. To encourage interstate racing, in September 1921, Lord Forster chaired a meeting of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, of which he had just been appointed Commodore, and presented a fine cup bearing his name for perpetual competition as an Australian yachting championship. The Deed of Gift required that the Cup be competed for in each State in turn, provided the State could mount a challenge.
The first national contest between the 21-footers was held in Sydney in 1922 with only New South Wales and Queensland competing. The following year the event was held in Brisbane, again with the same two states represented. Victoria joined the contest in 1924.
To encourage other states to enter the competition, Lord Forster invited a group of Hobart yachtsmen to compete for Tasmania in Melbourne in 1924, sailing his yacht Corella.
The most important result for Tasmania was that Angus Cummings purchased the Queensland boat Lakatoi and ensured that Tasmania could challenge for the Forster Cup on the River Derwent in 1925.
In the months leading up to the Hobart contest, the committee of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania decided to fund the design and construction of a locally-built challenger. WP ‘Skipper’ Batt designed the boat, with plans by Alf Blore and JW Tarleton. The keel was laid on 18 December 1924 and the hull built by Charlie Lucas with the help of ‘Chips’ Gronfors in just four weeks, a rush job as the Cup contest was scheduled for February 1925.
The Forster Cup series on the Derwent that summer was an historic event for Hobart and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in particular.
Tassie, with ‘Skipper’ Batt on the helm, won all three races to win the Forster Cup for the first of many times. In the final race she crossed the finish line to ‘a tumult of cheering, tooting and hootings of sirens and whistles from drivers and other queer noises, the volume of which was truly surprising”, according to a local press report of the day.
“The Mercury’, in an editorial claimed the victory as wholly one for Tasmania, going on to say “It may be ridiculous but it is nevertheless a fact, that the winning of a yacht race against the picked boats from the mainland has a bearing on the fortunes of Tasmania.”
By winning the Forster Cup in 1925 Tasmanian yachting came of age and the RYCT began a long association with interstate yacht competition.
Tassie, ‘Skipper’ Batt and his crew won two more consecutive Forster Cups (in Perth and Adelaide) before Tassie Too was built, again created by the design brains of ‘Skipper’ Batt and the boat-building skills of Charlie Lucas.
After the launching the two boats were sailed against each other by the Batt brothers ‘Skipper’ and Harry with the RYCT deciding which helmsman would sail which boat they would sail in Sydney. In fact, ‘Skipper’ always helmed Tassie, even after Tassie Too was built.
In the end, both boats were shipped to Sydney in January 1928 and in a close series Tassie (‘Skipper’ Batt) won the first heat, Tassie Too (Harry Batt) took out the second heat and beat Tassie by 48 seconds in the third and final race to again win the Forster Cup for Tasmania.
Kenn Batt attributes the success of Tassie Too to the underwater shape of the hull, along with the seams, and the way the boat was rigged. “This gave it exceptional speed upwind, downwind and reaching….so it was able to, most of the time, easily beat the other 21-footers,” says Batt. “There was also no caulking used at all, so the timber (Huon and King Billy pine) sits on timber, which back then was probably a new boat-building technique.”
The two crews were feted on their return to Hobart with a street parade and a public concert in the Town Hall where the two Tassie boats were fully rigged in front of the stage, along with the Cadet dinghy Gumnut which had won the Stonehaven Cup that summer steered by a young Neall Batt.
Tassie won the Forster Cup the following year (1929) after a somewhat dramatic series in Brisbane in which Tassie Too was disqualified after finishing second in race two.
Late in 1929 Tassie III was launched, again designed by ‘Skipper’ Batt and built by Charlie Lucas, quickly making her presence felt in interstate racing when she won the Invitation race for 1930 Forster Cup on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. However, foul weather played havoc with the fleet and to make matters worse, Tassie III was disqualified after finishing first in race two.
Tasmania lost the Forster Cup that year to a crack new build from New South Wales (N.S.W. III) but Tassie III (Harry Batt) regained the prestigious trophy in 1931, with sailing on the Derwent. In Sydney in 1934 it was Tassie Too (‘Skipper’ Batt) the champion.
1936 was a controversial year, with protests deciding the result, in favour of Tassie Too (helmed by ‘Skipper’ Batt). Harry Batt sailed Tassie Too to victory in Adelaide in 1937, and Tassie III in Hobart in 1938. Tassie Too won again in Brisbane in 1939, this time skippered by AK (‘Barney’) Ward.
From 1940 to 1946 there was no competition because of the war, but 1947 saw a revival of the Forster Cup with racing on Port Phillip.
Tassie Too, with Neall Batt on the helm, added another win to the long list of Tasmanian successes by claiming the Forster and Albert Gold Cups (a series leading up to the Forster Cup that had been staged in conjunction with the event since 1922).
In 1948 this blue ribband event was back to the Derwent. Tassie Too, again under the command of Neall Batt, registered the State’s 13th victory in 16 interstate contests between the 21-footers. Tassie Too also won the Albert Gold Cup and the WP ‘Skipper’ Batt Cup Memorial race, both sailed before the Forster Cup.
The Batt Memorial Cup was provided by the RYCT as a fitting monument to the part played in yachting by its namesake.
In Adelaide the following year, Neall Batt steered Tassie Too to retain all three trophies. The following year, on Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, Tassie Too won all five races sailed by Neall Batt (skipper), Reg Gorringe, Frank Makepeace, George Makepeace, Harry Whelan and Gordon Hopkins.
Tassie Too was not without her problems after arriving in Brisbane. Measuring was carried out on a flooded Brisbane River and it was found that Tassie Too measured 21ft 6in.
However, Neall Batt requested that the boat be re-measured in salt water out in Moreton Bay where it successfully passed the measurer’s examination.
In 1951, Ediss Boyes helmed Tassie Too in Melbourne, winning the Albert Gold Cup but losing the Forster Cup to the Victorian boat, Edalgo, in somewhat controversial circumstances.
The next year saw Neall Batt back in command and Tassie Too was successful in regaining the Forster Cup and retaining the Albert Gold Cup, both staged on the Derwent. That was to be Tassie Too’s record 10th and Neall Batt’s fifth win as skipper; he was one title shy of equalling his uncle ‘Skipper’s’ record.
Sadly, it was to be Tassie Too’s last win in what had become an iconic interstate yachting contest.
The Club’s annual report of August 1953 stated that ‘owing to the high cost of gear and transport, it was reluctantly decided to drop out of the Forster and Albert Cup races for the time being; Tassie Too, however, is being well cared for with a view to possible future contests.’
An extraordinary era of yachting for Tasmania came to an end when Tassie Too, the boat that had brought so much glory to Tasmanian yachting, was raffled by the RYCT in 1955. By this time the Forster Cup had been discontinued. Only Victoria had an active fleet of 21-footers racing on Port Phillip and at Metung. Ultimately the class was supplanted by the increasingly popular Dragons, Sharpies, Star classes.
Tassie Too was subsequently sold to Victoria in 1959 and in 1966 converted to a bay cruiser before being bought and restored to its original 21-foot restricted class racing configuration by Victorian Tony Siddons in the early 2000s. The Friends of Tassie Too (FOTT) purchased Tassie Too in 2015 courtesy of a loan from Club stalwart Captain John Solomon. FOTT continues to keep Tassie Too as a “sailing museum” via our Sponsors and from donations from Club members and also the interested general public.
FOTT members regularly sail the now 93-year-old boat on the Derwent and down the Channel, competing in the Opening Day parade of sail and recently contesting the Port Cygnet Regatta.
Tassie Too is now a living testament to the 21-footers and the sailors that sailed them in that great era of interstate yacht racing.
Of the two other 21-footers designed and built in Hobart, Tassie also went to Melbourne and finally became a fishing boat with Italian owners. It is believed she was destroyed by fire after a mishap with a fire-pot on board. Tassie III went to Brisbane and was converted to a cruiser. It’s believed that she lost her life courtesy of fire as well.
The Deed of Gift for the Forster and Albert Cups was changed in the mid-1950s to enable the historic trophies to remain a status symbol in Australian yachting, competed for by the then Olympic classes, the Soling and Flying Dutchman classes respectively.
FOTT committee members, Nicole Mays and Colin Grazules, as well as David Payne of the Australian National Maritime Museum are currently compiling a book on the history of the 21-foot restricted size class, the Forster and Albert Cups, and the more than 70 vessels built to the class between 1909 and 2010, of which around 15 still survive. The book will be published later this year.
Check out the following links for further information
Words: Peter Campbell based on a chapter of ‘Sailing On…the history of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania 1880-1980.
Photos: Port Cygnet Sailing Club, ‘Sailing On…’, Peter Campbell
6 May 2020