Robin Hawthorn, Jim Ley, David Hogan and other founding Double Bay Sailing Club members got together and gave us this recollection for our Diamond Jubilee Party 2016.
As kids in Double Bay on the beach we often would speak to the men rigging up their 18footer sailing boats, with boat names such as AJAX, PATHFINDER, TOOGARA, MISS PEPSI and many others, we would persist in asking for a ride or a brief sail, they obviously were impressed with our interest in sailing and obliged to our delight with offers to have a sail. Some of the older boys had VJ's and others were pestering their parents to acquire boats. The fleet initially was rather assorted in age and quality, Rob Hawthorn was one who eventually got an old VJ which was very heavy and together with his dad they worked on the boat for what seemed years trying to stop it leaking and reducing its weight to make it competitive.
Initially boats were stored in Piggins Boat shed at the bottom of Beach St off William St, others at the Pier Boatshed Rose Bay, people’s backyards and so on, and while this situation allowed us to gather together as a club on the beach at Double Bay it was realized that there was a need for a club house to be built. The initial Club was known as The Pioneer Boating Club having Club meetings in the Piggin’s boat shed, Reg Slight, Bob Hogan with the help of Bobby Reid and others with their classic timber power boats with putt-putt motors (one named ‘BUGGSIE’) became the race officials and pick up boats.
Parents of the youngsters including Charlie Messenger, Ross Piggin, Hedley Hawthorn, Patricia Ley, Reg Slight, Keith McCrowan, Dutchie Backhouse and many others comprised the foundation members of the Double Bay Sailing Club.
With permission granted from the Maritime Service Board to build over the water (our contact being Bill Longworth Jnr.) they then lobbied with Woollahra Municipal council to allow the club house to use the Park for access to the proposed building and with the support of Dutchy Backhouse who was a Woollahara councilor at the time, the Club gained initial approval to have access to the proposed building through the park. Initial funds were provided by parents taking debentures of 20 pounds repayable in the future when the club was financially able to do so The parents also sought bank finance approval with the assistance from George Kiernan, Theo Kelly and Mrs G Hornabrook to provide further building funds and this was successful. There was then resistance from a number of the local residents at the time who did not want the park vista disturbed by such activity, however with lobbying and the help of Theo Kelly (he was a very influential person) Woollahra council finally gave their approval.
At this significant period in the Clubs history two of the parents namely Ross Piggin and Patricia Ley suddenly passed away having been very active members of the group gaining these approvals to create the building now known as the Double Bay Sailing Club.
The future of the Club was assured when Cliff Monkhouse agreed to build and complete the Club in the mid 1950’s and then continued on to build the 18ft Skiff Sailing club next door.
The club became a social mecca for kids from Double Bay and adjoining suburbs. It was a meeting place where teenagers gathered to work on their boats and to socialize. The club took on its role as a venue to foster social events such as club dances and so on, it became a really popular meeting place for the kids in the area. The Club at one period also had a football team.
As the club grew in strength and numbers they commenced interclub events between Vaucluse VJ sailing club, Woollahra and many other clubs around Sydney Harbour and Middle Harbour.
It was with the help of Charlie Messenger's Trawler fleet that often boats were towed to other venues for regattas, in a line of up to 8 or 10 VJ’s to places like Greenwich, Drummoyne and Middle Harbor and Northbridge sailing clubs to compete in interclub events.
The VJ at that stage together with the Moth Class were virtually the only small centerboard dinghy’s that teenagers and young adults could sail in. There was Australia wide competition with strong clubs competing in locations as far away as Melbourne Adelaide and Perth, boats were sailed in NSW in locations such as Cronulla, Port Hacking, Botany Bay, Lake Macquarie, Taree, Lake Illawarra and Toronto.
To gauge the popularity of the VJ class there was about 6000- 7000 VJ's built and registered during that period of time from the initial design stage.
The competition to compete in the Australian titles at that time was fierce and it involved zone championships to qualify for state championships from which a team was selected to compete in the national title and it was a keenly fought competition and it was the basis from which many of our famous sailors had their beginning.
One favorite memory was of Bobby Reid our ever faithful pick up boat skipper. Bobby was special in two ways, he had been born with some spastic paralysis causing him speech and motor difficulty, but he was present every week to pull us half drowning kids out of the drink and get us back to the club. At one of the prize giving occasions the committee awarded Bobby with a captains hat and he never, from that day on, took it off. To this day we remember Bobby fondly and in high regard.
As the club and its young sailors matured teams were sent to Melbourne and Perth for Australian titles. The Club gained prominence and was given the honor of running the Australian championship. In 1962-1963 season.
The Club provided its members with great memories and experiences that in later years placed many in Maritime situations of prominence.
By 2009, the National Trust had decided that the club house, rather than our older sailors, should be added to the list of historic structures in Australia.