AUSTRALIA’S FIRST ‘8’
Defiance is the first Australian designed and built 8 metre, created by Ernest Olney Digby, aformidable Victorian shipwright and champion helmsman designed who built Defiance in the backyard of his home in Williamstown, Melbourne. The boat was launched in 1935. Digby helmed his own ‘8’ to victory, rapidly establishing her as the ‘gun’ boat of her day and the pride of Port Phillip Bay.
Defiance was aptly named. Digby defied all class barriers with his new 8 Metre. In a most unusual combination, Digby designed, built and raced his own yacht — at a time when large metre boats were the preserve of the very wealthy and the royalty of Europe, not hardworking shipwrights from ‘struggle town’ in Williamstown, Victoria.
ERNEST DIGBY THE LEGEND
Ernest Olney Digby, or ‘Old Dig’ as he was affectionately known, built a number of champion racing yachts and celebrated vessels over his lifetime, including Moyne, Nancy, Independence, Frances, Victory, Goudie, Tam-O-Shanter and Thorsen.
Digby owned and raced Defiance for a decade. He then built a second champion 8 Metre ––named Frances after his wife Mary Ann Frances — that he launched in 1946. His pair of 8 Metres were pure racing weapons, akin to being the Wild Oats of their day.
The 8 Metre Defiance was a masterstroke of ingenuity, determination and imagination. It was also an act of great confidence.
To build a racing yacht of nearly 50 feet — 14.78 LOA, 2.27 Beam and 1.95 Depth — in one’s own backyard in the middle of the Great Depression as a father of eight and the usual working man’s load was no small feat.
Digby achieved this with the help of three of his sons and apprentice shipwright Harry Clark, and with the patient understanding and support of his gentle wife Mary Ann.
The industrious shipwright built Defiance with meticulous pride and care from carefully selected and collected Australian timbers such as Queensland kauri for planking, celery top pine, blackbutt and huon pine as a feature for the cabin top. Her hanging knees were fashioned from the crooks of trees for both beauty and strength and to some degree a shipwright and timber lover’s pleasure.
Every part of Defiance was made to Digby’s rigourous specification, including the lead keel and the bronze keelbolts. What he could not make himself, he had made through his access to skilled tradesman as foreman at the Melbourne Harbour Trust.
Digby’s style was simple and strong, with chamfered edges and quality timbers, robust bronze fittings such as keel bolts and sleek lines. The boatbuilder spared nothing on his own boat. He studied wave motion and had a portrait of his hero William Fife in his study over his desk, taking lessons from others but creating boats of his own unique style.
Although the original plans were lost, Digby’s intentions were true. Sydney-based naval architect Andy Dovell and international measurer Ken McAlpine confirmed what the newspapers of the day pronounced — that the scantlings of his new boat — including freeboard, girth and draft — all fit the 8 Metre rule.
For Dovell, her position sitting perfectly on the displacement line is the surest evidence of her being drawn as an 8m class yacht. Andy notes, “It is difficult and takes considerable effort to design a hull that has the minimum displacement over a range of lengths, matching the angle of the overhangs with the volume gained. Defiance is right on the line.”
The new racing yacht was the source of great pride and caused something of a local sensation when launched in 1935. The unusually pronounced camber of her deck and shallow, self-draining cockpit — unique among 8’s — and possibly her low freeboard — were designed to shuck off a bigger sea state. Certainly no lake boat, Ernie built her strong and long for the conditions of Port Phillip Bay — for choppy waters, stiff breezes and tide.
EARLY RACING HISTORY
Defiance was launched with great excitement in 1935. The beautiful yacht was a beacon of hope, of singular courage and vision to all.
Approximately 500 8 Metre yachts were built around the world, of which only about 177 have survived. They were built strictly in accordance with the metre rule which was essentially a racing formula that enabled subtly differing boats to race together. Able to be manned by fewer crew, they quickly symbolised sporting freedom, elegance and speed.
British sailor and author Uffa Fox on the 8 Metre, 1934:
The owner can sail his Eight Metre round the coast from regatta to regatta for coastal cruising would give owners the two most sought things in life; health and happiness, for without doubt sailing at sea brings peace to the mind, and the clean salt-laden air health to the body; which are both needed by all in this mechanical age of irritating noise and poisonous fumes. The Eight Metres are very popular, for in the cabin and [sic] owner can live, or simply change his wet clothes after a hard race and eat his lunch in comfort according to his ideas of pleasure. Added to this there is the protection the cabin gives in bad weather, for then it seems to make what otherwise be a boat, a ship.
The Digby 8 Metre was enthusiastically met in 1935, reported by the local press as meeting the rule in every way. Designed to win against the A1 boats of the day, she quickly established supremacy, winning seven of her first twelve starts.
Digby himself was a well-liked and admired figure on the waterfront by the time he launched Defiance, known as both shipwright and yachtsman. Sailing his earlier yacht Independence in 1932, (which later perished on the way from the way back from racing the 1949 Sydney to Hobart) the Sporting Globe praised him: “Ernie Digby is one of our best and most popular yachtsmen, and one who is always ready to give a helping hand where needed.”
In fact he was known to have bolstered the Royal Club of Victoria in the 1930’s, when he brought, it was said, ‘ his boats and his boys’ across to stimulate the scene at the time.
Sailmaker Colin Anderson, owner of the beautiful Acrospire, remembers Digby as an eight-year-old. “ I knew Ernest. He was like a God to me,” he said. “If you showed an interest he would take you by the hand and encourage you.” His reputation was ‘firm but fair.’
In post-Depression Melbourne, getting ahead was the essence of the times and friendly rivalries on the water such as that between Ernest Digby and Melbourne businessman Joe White of the Joe White Maltings company were enduring and fruitful. Interestingly, White’s boats were all named Acrospire after the shoot from the malt kernel indicating the readiness to brew. The racing boats of these eras, including the Couta boats of Melbourne and the 18 Footers and Rangers of Sydney, all went towards creating the sailing culture that is the hallmark of Australian coastal life.
THE INTERNATIONAL EIGHT METRE
Metre boats such as the 5.5, 6, 8 and 12s dominated racing for half a century and still surprise today. International 8 Metres familiar to Australians that were either built here or raced here are: Vanessa, Norske, Cariad II, Sandra, Juana, Juanita, Varg (also known as Norn), Erica J, Saskia, Jo Palmer’s Brand V, Marie Louise III, Emily, Pakadoo and Moonbeam. Josephine, a Fife built in the metre boat-style was closer to a 9 Metre, and was the sister ship to a boat called Carina.
Yachts raced for prized trophies such as the Sayonara Cup, although the penultimate big-boat Cup was not held from 1932–51, over the years Digby owned Defiance. In the post-war period, Digby challenged and won the Sayonara Cup with his second 8 Metre Frances — in 1951 and ‘52. In 1953 Digby lost the Cup to Erica J, the Tasmanian-built 8 Metre. According to the rule of the Sayonara Cup, a challenger had to sail on their bottom to the place of the defender. So Digby sailed Frances to Hobart and won it back in 1954.
The Sayonara Cup was then lost to Olympian Bill Northam in an imported 8 metre by Fife called Saskia. Interestingly the champion boat left England with a wooden mast, but prior to competion with Frances had been fitted with a mast made of alloy, a cutting-edge material at that time which was allowed by the Rule but would have been an advantage against a yacht with wooden spars.
In the famous tussle of 1955 Digby won one race but ultimately lost and the Sayonara Cup transferred to the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. In a heroic final bid, he sailed Frances to Sydney to compete against the alloy-masted Saskia in 1956 but sailed back empty handed; the fabled Sayonara Cup stayed with the RSYS until it was transferred to the dragon classes in later years.
Five generations of Digbys made their stamp on Victorian waterways from their first port of call in Port Fairy around 1840. They were ancestrally imbued with the love of water, sailing, boat building and the quiet lust for good timber, doubtless stemming from father Joseph, a fisherman and carpenter who built a Couta boat for himself in 1903 called Elise.
“There was a tradition of boat building and affinity with water,” recalls Digby’s granddaughter Ann Crisp. Her father, Ken, was one of the three sons that worked on Defiance. “Anywhere we were near water — whether river or bay — was where my father wanted to be. He was off to the water’s edge. Mentally he would sail off into the horizon.” Ken went on to build his own racing yacht Moyne and carved out his own distinguished record on the Melbourne waterways, taking out the Royal Geelong Yacht Club’s Australia Day Regatta, a 32-mile passage race from Williamstown to Geelong in 1933–34. In his own boat Topsy D, won the highly competitive 21ft Restricted Class.
Crisp remembers her grandfather’s dedication and enthusiasm, taking her out specifically for a sail and handing her the helm of Frances as a young girl: “He was a tall man who knew what he wanted. He was quite emphatic. He stood erect. He was a very proud man and led in everything. He made himself felt wherever he went. In the house there was a wall of trophies.”
Digby put his twist on everything he built, from the 18 Footer he built in around 1924 for his 14-year-old son — the sweetly named and inclusive Utu (long before U2) — to a pair of stunning tugboats called Victory and Goudie, both featuring unusual yacht-like counter sterns.
Digby’s Victory, which was built in 1934 just prior to the launch of Defiance, replacing an earlier tugboat of the same name, was lighter and faster. Both had been celebrated tugs that had been used as supply vessels for gunpowder and a familiar sight on Melbourne waterways during World War I. Digby’s Victory was equally aptly named — against a backdrop of waterfront disputes that rendered a certain amount of shipbuilding forbidden.
True to his characteristic determination, the shipwright/foreman of the Melbourne Harbour Trust found a way to get the job done. The wonderful tug is currently owned and being carefully restored by marine engineer and a partner in Westug/Engage Marine.
Each of Digby’s boats was dynamic and useful in its era. A cruising yacht called Tam-O-Shanter was built in 1951, and was entered into the Sydney to Hobart in 1954 by the Royal Australian Navy, and a pilot boat called Thorsen built in 1960, is still in service as a committee boat for the RYCV today.
It seemed that the passion for boats — building, sailing and championing them — galvanised the whole family. Digby went on to become the Commodore of both the Hobson Bay Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, his wife Mary Ann appeared on Frances in Lady Skippers’ events, and each son distinguished themselves on the waterways.
Len Digby was awarded best performance of the summer season for six seasons in a row. Part of a syndicate that imported the famous 5.5 Metre Yeoman from the Aisher family of Cowes racing fame, he became Commodore of the RYCV and sailed into his mid 80s. Like his brother Ken, Arthur built and raced and won in a boat built by his own hand — this time in the Australian 21ft Restricted Class named Bunyip.
With his energy and intelligence, Ernie Digby had set the precedent as designer/builder, owner, Commodore and champion helmsman.“Ernie is something of a hero of mine,” says Peter Johns, former Commodore of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club and Queenscliff Cruising Clubs and the current owner of Frances, along with his wife Karen.“He was the original poor man’s rich yachtie.”
Ernest was the Finn controller for the Olympics in 1956 and had input into the 5.5’s, some of which were distorted by heat in the journey over the Equator. He built a system to re-shape the 5.5s in order for them to measure and compete.
Ernest was still racing Frances when he was tragically struck down at the age of 78. Cycling to the corner store on a newly gifted bicycle to retrieve a newspaper left behind, he was struck down by a drunken driver — an inestimable loss to Australian sailing and maritime history. He left behind his second wife Lillie May and seven children. His first wife and mother of his childen Mary Frances, having actually passed away from a heart attack at the RYCV.
It is said that a Digby goes for a sail the way others go for a walk. Ernest’s son Len was the winner of the George D. Low Trophy for the best performance of the season of any yacht — six seasons in a row by ’59 -’65. He was partly assisted by his son Peter who continued the competitive sailing tradition over four decades. An International Cadet champion in his youth, RYCV Cruising Yachtsman of the Year (2012–13) and effortless solo sailor of a 500–1000 km, weather dependent, each year. Peter is an involved yacht club man who has provided invaluable help in the restoration of Defiance.
Grandson Peter Digby recalls his forebears were speedsters on the water, men in a hurry who would have explored every new option in order to win. Digby himself chose a Bermudian rig for his second 8 Metre Frances in 1947 with stunning results. Interestingly, the E. O. Digby Cup once raced for by the A1 division — inaugural win by Vanessa in ’61-’62 in the year of Ernest’s presented in his memory, ’63 -’64 Georgina, ‘64-’65 Vanessa, ‘65-’66 Venger, ‘66-’67 Vanessa, ‘68-’69 Acrospire and ‘69-’70 in which 120 yachts raced across three divisions was won by Destiny 11, in furious competition which led to the destruction of an imported dragon in a collision during the race. The Cup is still raced for by the fastest yachts on Port Phillip Bay. The most recent successive winner is Terra Firma, a Cookson 52. The Digby legend lives on in his boats.
DEFIANCE SAILS ON
Defiance has delivered numerous triumphs and delights over eight decades to her six owners since 1935: Ernest O. Digby, Frank A. Bullock, E.A. Harris, Nelson D. Rundle, Alan B. & Dr Ann Hinds and N. G Shrimpton.
Digby had owned and raced Defiance for a decade when she was purchased at the end of 1945 by Sydney sailor Frank Bullock with the Sydney to Hobart, Jervis Bay and Montague Island yacht races in mind.
On the delivery from Melbourne to Sydney, Defiance had tried to break the race record for the shortest journey but she was becalmed off Wollongong, with newspapers reporting concern the crew might starve. Among the crew was a young sailor named Neville Wran.
On arrival in Sydney, Defiance was promptly converted for conditions offshore: her cockpit was reduced to minimise water ingress, and a second hatch and such modernities as a gimbled stove and ice box were added for the long haul.
The 8 Metre attracted stellar crew, among them the well-known Sydney yachstmen and grandfather of John Flannery — Georges Brenac(who was reputed to have had his two front teeth knocked out by the boom), the white-singleted, international sailing legend Joe Palmer, Mick York, Gordon Ingate and Olympian Dick Sargeant.
Her home was the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay, the home of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race since 1945.
The yacht was ultimately dubbed the ‘Offshore 8,’ and became the only 8 Metre in history to sail in this prestigious offshore event. Defiance placed 3rd overall in the second Sydney to Hobart Race in 1946 and competed in ‘47, ’54, ’55 and ’57.
In the 1947 race, Morna a Fife yacht of 65 feet high was first across the line easily at 3.00 in the afternoon, and then seven hours and fifty seven minutes later Defiance was second across the line, with Mistral (a 64 foot schooner designed by Aldin of Boston and built by Ford at Berry’s Bay) was third by thirty seconds — Mistral averaging 10 knots and whilst she and the those around her and endured a range from being becalmed to Force Eight.
Sadly, there was an incident at the start which robbed Defiance of the glory of her second place. Along with a later winner Christina, Defiance hit the starter’s boat. Under the rules of the day Defiance was technically not wrong at the start. As described in Blue Water Warriors, the book written by Craig Harris and as logged by Marsden Hordern of Mistral, “We avoided a collision between Christina, Morna and Defiance who had converged at the windward end. Morna wore some of Christina’s paint on her starboard quarter but was otherwise undamaged. Defiance bounced off Christina and onto the starter’s boat which was obviously anchored in an inconvenient position.”
Defiance then led Christina for most of the way until to the Derwent River and came in with a respectable placing of second across to line to Morna but both boats were disqualified. Christina failed in her protest and was disqualified. But rather cruelly Defiance, the innocent party was disqualified for simply not reporting the incident within 24 hours of finishing. Such is the heartbreak of the ‘Hobart’.
After a successful decade racing Sydney Harbour, Defiance was purchased by the Nelson Rundle of the Rundle family who raced her to Hobart and on Lake Macquarie.
She was then bought by the Hinds family and was a much admired sight on Pittwater for many decades. Keen yachtsman and intrepid skiier Alan Hinds initially raced the boat out of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club until his wife Ann spirited his away to cruise instead. An early female doctor and one of the first full female members of an Australian yacht club — the breakaway Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club who went on to write a beautiful recollection of their years as a family cruising Defiance (www.mysailing.com.au.) It should be noted that Mrs Hinds theories on ‘wetherhelm’ should be noted relate purely to the rigging of the time and not to any inherent fault in Digby’s construction.
The handover of a boat from one owner to the next, and after such a long time in one family, is a poignant one. The latest custodian of Defiance is Nicole Shrimpton who bought the boat in 2012 with a view to total restoration and a return to racing, inspired by restorations such as the American Elizabeth Meyer’s restoration of the the great 1930’s J yacht Endeavour, Nigel Stoke’s beautiful 45 square-metre Fidelis and Jeremy Arnott’s 6 Metre Fife-designed Sjo Ru.
The classic lines of the 8 Metre seduce from every angle. Defiance is almost a public service for the joy she brings to the harbour, with each new ferry a fresh crop of admirers. Pittwater’s loss was to be Sydney Harbour’s gain.
In preparation for her return to racing, Sydney to Hobart racing champion Sean Langman lengthened the mast step, tidied her topsides, improved the rig and added a feathering propeller. The owner of the feisty classic Maluka (a 1932 boat designed by the late Cliff Gale) that is the oldest boat to race in recent years) observed she was strong enough to pass the ‘knock down test’.
Defiance underwent restorations in 2014–2016 at Colin Beashel Marine in Elvina Bay Pittwater, with third generation shipwright Colin Beashel, a mild-mannered Olympian sailing legend who was part of the original America’s Cup winning crew and is widely regarded as one of our best helsman and sailors. His innate understanding of metre boats, love of timber and and what a boat needs to race well made him the natural choice of shipwright for the restoration of this large racing vessel. Of Scandinavian ancestry, Colin’s taste run to the cleanness of lines, elegance, purity and simplicity.
Bliss is visiting your boat at Beashel’s. Time stands still if just for a moment in beautiful Elvina Bay, accessible only by water, where all focus is on the job at hand. The name Beashel’s is synonomous with boat-building and racing in Sydney, firstly with Alf and then Ken and now Colin. The Beashel Buoy on Sydney Harbour is named Colin’s grandfather Alf Beashel, a founder of the Australian 18 Footers League and clubhouse in Double Bay.
Initial restoration saw the tidying up of interiors and the addition of some cabinetry and detailing sensitive to the art deco period of the boat, featuring exquisite huon pine finger pulls and French curves of kauri, superbly executed marquetry cabinet doors and a new floor of matched teak.
The discovery of a photo of the original deck plan in the Digby family album called for the re-modelling not only of the deck but of the interior. Defiance was about to return to her racing roots. Whilst it was hard to remove such beautiful workmanship along with creature comforts such as a galley, the restoration to racing of a historically significant racing boat to her original purpose was paramount.
Classic boat owners are custodians of these beautiful pieces of history. The French government has gone so far as to decree, France, its famous 8 Metre a national monument. Ernest Digby’s pair of 8 Metres are a vital part of Australian maritime history that one feels driven to preserve.
Digby’s plans for Defiance have been lost, quite possibly in a bonfire of assorted document followed the merger of the Melbourne Harbour Trustmerging with another government department. Much has had to be pieced together from original photos, comparison of the two 8 Metres and his other boats. Looking for Digby clues has been a hugely enjoyable part of the restoration.
Moved by her beauty and historical importance, a ‘brains trust’ of like-minded fellow timber boat lovers and restorers was formed. Each has played a part, with their practical and sophisticated views and support gratefully received.
These include Brits Duncan Walker, an expert on the yachts of William Fife and Rob Gray, a lover and restorer of classics including Clarionet, whose recommendations included Australian custom made winches by Hutton Arco; formidable sailor Carl Ryves — creator of fine wooden boats from the gorgeous mahogany Riva-style Ryvescraft and driving force behind the replica of Ben Lexcen’s Venom; and the late Roger Hickman, Sydney to Hobart and Taswegian champion who was a purist when it came to racing 8’s. ‘Don’t add a thing,’ he advised. ‘Keep it simple.’ He was so right.
For the sake of longevity and also for the fact that kauri of the necessary lengths for the deck were unable to be sourced, high-grade teak has replaced the original kauri planking. The covering board was clearly kauri but unable to be replicated in the same width. It is estimated that the deck had been replaced three times prior to Beashel’s deck.
The introduction of the new deck allowed us to take took her back to her original racing deck configuration. Correcting past mistakes, her transom was also restored to its original perfect form. Taking Defiance back to her original day- boat format became obvious. Removing good work was sometimes part of the process that ultimately pared her back to the purity of Digby’s original plan.
Wherever possible, original features and materials have been preserved or replicated. Existing planking is in remarkably good condition. Due in part to the quality of the original construction and materials, and also thanks to the stability given to the boat by a plywood deck added in the 1980s, there is a low level of degradation in the fastenings. Digby built his boats strong to last.
At each part of the restoration the question was asked, “What would Digby have done?” Removeable self-tailing winches for a Bermudan rig set-up are a modern concession, as is the removeable Volvo engine for safety on a crowded modern harbour. The boat has now been weight-adjusted to bring her back to her original water line.
A difficult decision to make has been whether to keep the existing Bermudian rig or re-create its original gaff rig. By 1935, virtually all 8 Metres were Bermudian. The 8 metre in particular was designed against a backdrop of 12 metres and J class yachts for personal racing pleasure with fewer crew.
Gaff rigs have made a return to the world-wide stage in recent years. Sydney’s own beloved Ranger class of under thirty feet long are a great example of a perfectly-sized gaffer for the local waterways, requiring less crew to sail and being easier to manage. The gaff rig for Defiance at nearly fifty feet, with its spectacularly long boom, would deprive her of the current ease of handling, visibility and the option of two- and three-handed harbour cruising she currently enjoys.
In the interests of versatility, and suitability for regular racing over sheer beauty and historical reference, the existing oregon mast and boom of her 1951 conversion — with which Defiance completed three of her five Sydney to Hobarts — remains.
The original gaff rig had only a tiny pair of bronze winches that are long gone. Powerful bronze winches with a lower profile to compliment the classic style were specified by the owner after an exhaustive world-wide and were ultimately custom built by Australian winch expert Allen Hutton of Hutton Arco.
Hutton was the man behind the legendary Barlow winches and is a quiet achiever whose winches are in demand the world over. A set of his winches was recently commissioned for the yacht Manitou once belonging to President John F. Kennedy.
Duncan Walker, an expert on the boats of William Fife, flying in from Southhampton to enjoy a break on Pittwater, happily assisted with the installation of period Davey lighting and assisted with the creation of the boom crutch over a busy period. The pleasure Duncan took in this project was palpable.
Ian ‘Shorty’ Short of Ian Short Sails was commissioned to make up a completely new sail wardrobe using taffeta laminate. Ian knows his way around an 8 Metre. He designed the sails and was — along with sailor Glenn Cooper and Doug Sturrock formed — part of the all-Australian crew on the 8 Metre Saskia that won the World Cup in 2007 in Scotland.
There is a special silence onboard when the spinnaker goes up. Shorty and Hedgy have worked together for many years and their knowledge of sail making and the joy they have in flying them is really very special to witness. They are devoted to to their field and the boat feels so perfectly trimmed when they are onboard she simply feels like she is flying. At peace. The off-white cross laminate sails chosen for Defiance skilfully tread between the old world and the new, being appropriate for her style and era whilst bringing new technology for performance without stressing the timbers. Ian Short is in unquestionably a man who is in love with his sails. Its a deep Celtic thing.
Garry is regarded as a master among marine painters, having studied under the best. He has like all masters in their field his own special system and is happiest with a paint brush in his hand. His passion for his craft is infectious.
Rob Wall of Wall & Co Custom Upholstery, established in 1932 in Pittwater, was chosen for his expert skills in upholstery.
The owner imported a humble workman-like denim canvas from the US chosen for the saloon cushions, made with double seam compatible with the period. Local leather hides in butterscotch compatible with the warmth of the kauri were made for cockpit entertaining.
Few boats were officially measured pre-war. Apart from the practical difficulties of doing so in the day, it was also an an additional expense which no doubt Ernest Digby did not need in tough pre-war, post-depression conditions of 1935.
To ensure Defiance was in fact Australia’s first 8 metre, pre-eminent offical measurer of 8 and 12 metres, Ken McAlpine was bought over from Perth to commence the complex measuring process, assisted in the final stages by naval architect Andy Dovell.
McAlpine has recently been welcomed into the American Sailing Hall of Fame, an amazing honour for an Australian. His work with naval architect Andy Dovell towards measuring has been invaluable.
Defiance returned to racing with convincing wins in the Classics at the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club with Irish legend Harold Cudmore on the helm; won her first series in the Combined Classic 2017 Winter Series with champion sailor David Giles, Aimee Walsh and Squadron members training for the 8 Metre World Cup in Norway; the inaugural metre boat division of the SASC 2017 Gaffers Day, the penultimate gathering of classic yachts on the yachting calendar with Carl Ryves on helm — Divison 1 spinnakers of the Australia Day Regatta 2015, the 2017 SASC Winter Series Classic Division Brother s Trophy and 2018 and most recently in the Great Veteran’s Race for Sydney to Hobart boats — beating Fidelis, Love & War, Josephine, Mister Christian, Syonara and Mercedes 111 to 3rd overall.
The 8 Metre is a very attractive yacht to top level sailors who have sailed many modern boats. They say it’s like a Stradivarius or a Rolls Royce, or a beautiful piece of furniture — a privilege to sail.
Colin Beashel says she is ‘sweet in the water’, Harold Cudmore describes her as ‘very well-balanced’ and Bill Gale, whose father Cliff Gale designed the Ranger class, says “she is the most exciting boat I have ever sailed. You listen and she tells you what to do!”
First over the line by a mile, resolutely last on handicap. Such is the fate of a very fast boat. Happy on the smooth, gorgeous waters of Pittwater, Defiance nevertheless had a picture perfect sail with some of the greats. Such moments are a sweet privilege that remind you of what it’s all about — good people.
THE CLASSIC SCENE
Classic boating is on the increase in Australia with many boat lovers becoming interested in the history, preservation and style of classic yachts, including a growing appreciation of metre boats.
The British 8 Metre fleet has grown in the past few years, encouraged by British Classic Week, Panerai Classic Week and the Madeline Bulkeley Trophy raced for in between.
The camraderie among classic owners is well known on the European circuit. Enjoying the scene are Australian 8 Metres both vintage, in the beautiful huon-pine built Erica J,now known simply as Erica; and the modern 2012 Juanita commisioned by Graham Wood and designed by Queensland by Garry Midgard and built of huon pine with celery top frames by Keith Dobson Boat Builders of Sydney.
Everyday is perfect day on Frances, no matter what the Melbourne weather can throw at it. Digby’s splendid pedigree second 8 Metre holds her own as she has done since her launch in 1947, a year after Defiance set sail for Sydney, new owners and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Frances is simply spectacular, a racing weapon waiting for her next race.
Cygnet, Tasmania is home to the exquisite Varg built from the fragment of a keel up by Craig Carlstrom and Carolyn Mason. Costing nearly a reputed million dollars to re-build, this last boat of the famous Wilson Brothers is a masterpiece of Tasmananian crafstmanship — a one of a kind hymn to the 8 Metre. She recently journeyed to race in the World Cup in Norway and was much feted and admired as the 8 Metre that had made the longest journey to attend a World Cup, coing all the way from the souther hemisphere. The crew wore matching cream pullovers of merino wool.
Avia Willement of the Hamble is the Queen of the 8’s, having restored and created several 8 Metres and won the World Cup twice. An extraordinary woman, sailor and friend the the class. In the spirit of Australian/British relations, Avia has extended all possible assistance to Defiance were she to make the journey to compete in the UK, a most generous,gracious gesture.
The increased level of interest in and awareness of the classics is demonstrated by the number of entrants at events — Melbourne’s Cup Regatta and Couta Boat Regatta (where 80 boats will gather for a single regatta and recently 24 for the Couta Boat Regatta at the RPEYC in Sydney); the enduring popularity of the traditional 18 Footers; Australia Day and Gaffers Day at the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club; and the Wooden Boat Festivals in Tasmania and at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney this coming April, 2018.
THE CLASSIC SCENE
Classic boats are a vital part of Australian heritage, sailing culture and harbour life.
Sailing is an essential part of Australian culture. The Australian National Maritime Museum was in fact built to house Australia 11, the famous Ben Lexcen-designed 8 metre after she and her famous crew broke the 123-year long sports record held by America when they won the America’s Cup in 1983. This was a defining moments in Australian history, for the ingeunity of the design, the vision of backer Alan Bond and the sheer talent of her sailors.
Each day an Australian sails we relive this moment and demonstrate our prowess on waterways everywhere. Racing sailing is much more than competition — in itself a noble activity. It is a primal connection to the water, the harnessing of the wind, a team sport of the higest calibre and a sacred communion with nature that is fundamental to the Ausralian soul.
All sailing, and particularly racing sailing is a crystallisation of many desires and disciplines, as thrilling to watch as it is to experience. Ultimately it is the most democractic of sports, as anyone with an interest or talent is welcomed and encouraged in the true Australian spirit.
The Australia Day Regatta, reinvigorated by a race between 12 metre rivals Iain Murray and Dennis Conner in 2000, is the oldest continuous sailing regatta in the world, with sailors competing since 1837. There is keen competition, with the trophies and medals presented at the Sydney Town Hall. Winners are known to keep their medals close to hand.“ Out of everything I win,” whispered one recipient feverishly, “this is the one that means the most.”
Defiance has won Divison 1 spinnakers twice — against boats of any age —in 2015 — with famous helmsman Gordon Ingate, John ‘Flanno’ Flannery, Nick Burridge, David Giles, the late Roger ‘Hicko’ Hickman — and in 2018 with Harold Cudmore on the helm, Carl Ryves and Andrew Cutler.
Timber boats are a class of their own, providing an increasing source of pleasure to legions of budding boat restorers with time on their hands. Ancient logs of huon from beneath the dams of Tasmania are finding their way into the hands of careful shipwrights and appreciation of precious boats made from prized timbers is renewed.
While the felling of past forests is controversial, new well-managed forests are underway to provide an essential source of material for the apprentices of the future. Whenever a tree must fall, then let it be made into a beautiful classic boat.
John Lammerts Van Beuren of Touchwood, supplier of premium Alaskan spruce has selected out the finest spruce for Defiance, to a design by Juliane Hempel, the world’s leading mast designer for 8 metre masts, to be made at Collars of Oxford, the UK’s finest mast maker.
In August 2018, Defiance featured on the cover of Classic Boat UK, in a wonderful particle by visiting British maritime writer and yachstmen Nigel Sharpe. This is a great honour and a fitting tribute to the wonderful endeavours of everyone, but especially Ernest Digby whose energy continues to inspire such endeavours as the recent resurrection of the Sayonara Cup.
Recent varnishing and restoration of the cabin top after hail damage has been completed by ship wright Lars Runow, second generation shipwright out of the CYCA.
Lars is now producing a copy of Digby’s original tiller of curved black butt, with bronze cheeks. This project was undertaken with the support and encouragement of Digby enthusiast Greg Blunt of C Blunt Boatbilder’s of Williamstown, Victoria.
The ongoing maintenance program of Defiance is currently co-ordinated by Nic Doig of Boating Solutions, Rushcutter’s Bay whose attention to detail is second to none. Once done right a classic boat can continue on sailing for many years. As with any vessel regular maintenance is critical and less costly in the long run. Defiance may be approaching her 85th birthday but she is strong and dry and without issue.
The obligation to Defiance is to nurture her longevity rather than to push her hard and spend one of her lives in extreme breeze. Her days of the Sydney to Hobart may be behind her but she frequently surprises with typical metre-boat agility, digging down and extending water line length and speed with ease and taking breaths away. Even with her glamourous overhangs, she is the epitome of a deco yacht, she is still a racing weapon and no even more so in lighter airs due to her corrected weight.
Having resumed her place in the fleet, she gives pleasure to the harbour and is seen to be gracing Sydney’s wonderful yacht club ponds —at the Royal Yacht Squadron, Kirribilli, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay and at the home of the classics, the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club in Mosman Bay.
Supporting Trades and Recommended Services for Defiance
Colin Beashel Marine — firstname.lastname@example.org
D & R Shipwrights Repair & Restoration — Lars Runow — 0412032130
Ian Short Sails — ianshortsails.com.au
Wall & Co Custom Upholstery, Mona Vale —Rob Wall on 0414468434
Hutton Arco bespoke winches — email@example.com
Garry Comloquoy marine painter/varnisher —0468537942
Nic Doig Boating Solutions — firstname.lastname@example.org
Sturrock’s Chandlery, Rushcutters Bay
Club Marine Insurance
8 Metre Mast designer — Hempel Design — Juliane Hempel — email@example.com
Premium spruce supplier — John Lammerts Van Bueren of Touchwood BV — john@sitka spruce.nl
Recommended organisations and reading
Classic Yacht Association of Australia, www.classic-yacht.asn.au
British Classic Yacht Club, britishclassicyachtclub.org
International Eight Metre Association IEMA, www.8mr.org
British Eight Metre Association BEMA, www.8mr.org.uk
Classic Boat UK, www.classicboat.co.uk
Australian National Maritime Museum,www.anmm.gov.au
Maritime Museum of Tasmania, maritimetas.org
Model Boats — www.floataboat.com.au
Sydney Amateur Sailing Club; Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron; Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club; Royal Yacht Club of Victoria; Hobsons Bay Yacht Club; Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania