History of the Townsville Sailing Club

At the turn of the century, there was an active Townsville Sailing Club, which conducted races and outings and sailed occasionally to Dungeness (Lucinda Point) for a regatta. Sailing boats then were comparatively large and heavy moulded on the famous Brisbane 22 footers. They were very able craft and had a penchant to carry large extras to windward by way of huge topsails and topmast staysails.


Many new boats were coming into the club at this time also. There was THE VIKING, a short waterline boat with heavy overhanging bow and counter stem and MYRA, a beautiful tuck sterned 24 footer. In 1903 MONA was built, a narrow craft 6`6` beam., with a massive lead keel. It survived being blown around the yard in cyclone Leonta, and passed through many hands. These boats were so well built that with the advent of the motor, they were later converted to motor boats.

George Butler had the HEPPZIBAH which was also used in the ferry service to Picnic Bay before the development of the petrol engine.


In the years before World War I there was a decided change and Ross Islanders came into prominence. A great rivalry developed between the 'Townies' and 'Ross Islanders' (the area of South Townsville and Railway Estate). It was suggested you needed a ticket to wander around Ross Island at Might. The latter broke away and formed. the Ross River Sailing Club, racing out of the mouth of Ross River. This took most of the old fleet. Sharpies, 18-20ft in length carrying massive sail areas were developed. There were some Hornets, and 18ft Skiffs found their way to Townsville from Sydney. Then the smaller 16ft and 14ft Skiffs were developed. Canvas Boats were also introduced at that time.

It is recorded at that time that one of the larger craft sallied a race with a brass band on board. Another boat was called DOG BITE ME from an incident at her launching. Over the years since, there have been many boats with unusual and amusing names derived from incidents relating to events. Another incident occurred many years later at an Easter Regatta in Bowen on the first heat. the water was as calm is a millpond? painted boats on a painted ocean? when the crew retrieved a chess set from a buoyancy tank and played the game while waiting for a breeze.


After World War 1, the 'Townies' were quick off the mark and in 1919 the Townsville Flying Squadron was formed with an initial registration of five boats. The Ross River Sailing club never managed to get moving again.

Competitive racing of 16ft and 18ft Skiffs was established in North Queensland. These were good times.

BY 1926 the club shed (clubhouse) which began in 1919 had been erected. At this time there were sixteen 16ft Skiffs racing in Townsville with a couple of 18 footers. There was also a powerful 'mosquito fleet' of craft of all shapes and sizes from (10 to 16ft).

Most of the work in building the "shed" on the creek bank of Palmer Street, South Townsville was done by voluntary working bees. Mr Alf Everett designed the building and Mr Hagstrom watched over the construction work. Holes were dug deep in the mud for the piles. Years later, problems occurred with it and sleepers had to be put under the Piles.


The good times were not to last. The 1929 depression took its toll. In that year there were still the two 18 footers, but only three or four 16ft Skiffs. No pickup boats were available, so the racing was held inside the harbour.

With the clearing of the clouds, a revival was made and a new Skiff fleet was slowly assembled. VJs were introduced as a junior fleet and used as a training boat. Then the war came again? 1939 to 1945. This was nearer home and had more impact.


Recovery was slow, but the ensuing years saw the establishment of the Gwens, Thorpe12s, OK dinghies and of course, the ever important Sabot fleets. Before very long all the VJs went north to Thursday Island. The Thorpe trainees replaced these. They were the forerunners of the Thorpe 12s. These crafts were heavier with gaff rigged mainsails and were very popular. Sailing in Townsville never had it so good.

About 1948 it was decided to expand the clubhouse with an extension on the side and the addition of a top floor. All club members participated physically working on that project. The pontoon was reinforced and a new ramp was built also.

The clubhouse was the hub of the sailing fraternity with a strong ladies committee who organised all the social functions. Dances were held on the top floor two or three times a week, mostly Saturdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Fridays The lower floor housed sailing boats etc.

In later years the club had plans for further extensions,' but the Council refused these extensions and condemned the building. In fact, the clubhouse weathered another cyclone with only the loss of seven sheets of roofing, whereas the town was devastated. Not bad for a condemned building.


With the advent of the Olympics after the war, a class called the OK dinghy was introduced. This was a one-man boat for an Olympic senior class and because an amateur status was required of sailors, no prize money was given out by the club. This applied to all fleets in the club. This created some conflict and most of the Skiffs broke away to form the Cleveland Bay 16ft Skiff club.

The Catamarans and Lasers were also introduced to the club and became strong fleets in the post-war years. The Sabots became very popular training boats for children. Up to forty or fifty Sabots were sailing in the harbour each Sunday, so many boats in the inner harbour that it became dangerous with the congestion. It was decided to set the race courses outside the harbour in the Bay. to the consternation of many parents. However, it proved to be a very good move, providing better sailing and fewer risks.

It has only been in the latter part of the twentieth century that sailing boats have, incorporated buoyancy tanks. Prior to this, if a boat took in water and capsized it was a matter for the pickup boat and a tow back to shore. With buoyancy in the boats, sailors were able to right their vessels and continue on.

With the introduction of bondwood, fibreglass construction materials, the largest step in boat building has been seen, enabling handymen to easily build boats at home.


John Douglas Byrne - Born in Innisfail in 1958 started sailing small dinghies in 1969 with the Townsville Yacht Squadron (predecessor to Sailing Club) with almost no success. A newsletter at the time one week printed, "last week John Byrne excelled himself and for once was not the last to finish!"

Since that time he has won World and Australian championships, represented Australia many times and other countries, raced many Sydney Hobart races, raced in the America's Cup, coached international teams, navigated yachts to race records, managed race organization for World Championships and been recognised locally by induction into the North Queensland Sporting Hall of Fame.

He presently races in the highly competitive Farr 40 Class Australian circuit competition and back on the beach in Townsville teaches the learn to sail courses for the kids at the Townsville Sailing Club.

"There is wonderful satisfaction in watching kids enjoy the thrill of sailing in a stiff breeze when a month before did not know one end of a boat from another !"



 At some time during the post-war Years, the club's name had been changed to the 'Townsville Yacht Squadron'

By the mid-1970s, moves were afoot to amalgamate all the aquatic bodies in Townsville under the one roof to be known as the `Townsville' Yacht Club. This resulted in the opening of a grand two-storey clubhouse on The Strand in 1979.

After nearly sixty years on the banks of Ross Creek, the old club building was demolished.

In the meantime, sailing activities were, going from strength to strength. All fleets? which included Yachts, Trailer? sailors, Hartley 16s, Skiffs, Catamarans, Lasers, Gwen's, Thorpe's, Supa sabs, Sailboards and Sabots, competed at club championship level, North Queensland regatta circuits, hosted in rum by the Townsville, Calms, Bowen, Airlie Beach, Tinaroo and Mission Beach and in state and national levels.

However, the glory of a beautiful club building was not to last, by 1982 it was 1 lost to the sailing fraternity through mismanagement, bad luck or whatever! The sailing community was fragmented and all fleets went their own way, the Yachts to share housing with the Motor Boat Club, the Trailer sailors, Catamarans and Lasers each did their own thing, the Skiffs, Gwen's and Supa sabs disappeared altogether and the Thorpe's, Sailboards and Sabots reunited under the banner of the Townsville Yacht Squadron again whose Articles of Association etc had not been canceled.



Since then the Thorpe and Sailboard fleets have also disappeared. The 125 class has been introduced, also the 505 class. The Lasers and Catamarans have returned to the club. It is slowly building up again.

In 1985, again there was another name change ? to the original Townsville Sailing Club'.

In the years since the loss of the clubhouse, Townsville Sailing Club members have made every effort to acquire a site for a building originally at Pallarenda and latterly on the Marina The Strand. Efforts in this direction bore fruit in 1990 with a lease drawn up with the Breakwater Marina Trust for a building to be erected at the Marina site.



Once again voluntary working bees gathered together, under the guidance of master builder, George Kimlin, to erect a clubhouse. In the preceding years, club members had raised funds from the Club canteen, with lamington drives etc to completely fund the building.
In the mid-1990s Townsville hosted the 505 World Championships. 29ers were introduced to the club and sailing is still healthy though member numbers are not great.

Technology has changed and sailing skills and boats today are very different to what they were at the beginning of the century.
Over a century of sailing in Townsville there have been many, many people who have given years of effort and support in keeping the sport of sailing flourishing and which has been very much appreciated.


Acknowledgement is made to Gerry Clancy in recording these memories on tape.

Compiled in the year of 2000 from the memories of :
Arthur Nilsson
Arnold Duffield
Les Sinclair (Doe)
Gerry Clancy
George Kimlin
Dave Young
Ted Darby
Kevin Jones
Mary Lambert 

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