Offshore Yachting : June July 2008
B ook R eview offshore | 75 From Ratbags to Respectability At last, the inextricably linked histories of the CYCA and the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race have been told in one volume By Alexander Gilly T he CYCA was founded sixty-eight years ago, in 1944. In less than an average human lifespan, the club founded by a couple of Corinthians who “didn’t want to spend their Saturday afternoons racing around buoys” has, ironically, become the organising club of one of the world’s great ocean races. How that came to pass is not one but two stories: the first is the history of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race – its boats and crews, competition and drama, triumphs and tragedies – and the second, the story of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and its members. Author David Colfelt has placed these two stories alongside one another and at the centre of his new history of the club, From Ratbags to Respectability. Colfelt, a former editor of this magazine and of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Program, joined the CYCA in 1972 and is a member of the club’s Archives Committee. He is perfectly placed to write this book, which is very much written from an insider’s perspective, relating as it does not just the main facts of the club and race’s evolution, but also colourful anecdotes about respectable members – who, one assumes, were once the ‘ratbags’ of the title. It’s not an unfair appellation. For example, younger readers may be surprised to learn on page 89 that Rupert Murdoch, once a keen Sydney Hobart competitor, was not past pulling a practical joke on the Hobart docks; or that the now respectable CYCA, whose finances used to “teeter on a knife edge”, once made a buck selling liquor illegally (page 41); or that a number of its members once pulled a prank on the club secretary in Hobart Town Hall that involved a crew member’s girlfriend, a dress- maker’s mannequin and a lot of liquor (page 95). These tales and many more are corroborated by a vast array of photographic evidence. Colfelt has sourced an amazing variety and quantity of pictures, not just of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, which was always well-covered by the media, but also of the club’s many characters, of its various clubhouses, and of key events in its history. Browsing through these photos is one of the great pleasures offered by the book. From Ratbags to Respectability can be read from cover to cover, but the work is also structured as an authoritative reference volume. Searching for an arcane fact about the early years of the club, or an obscure result from one of the early Sydney Hobarts? Not only will you find it in this book, you’ll find it easily. There’s a helpful, eight-page index. Furthermore, the author has ended each of the five chapters with a summary of key events that occurred during the period covered within the chapter (each chapter covers roughly a decade, except the last one, which covers two). It’s a great way to survey the club and race’s histories and a fun way to learn everything from the marvellously arcane (“23 December 1948 – Film night and reception for Jack Earl, RMYC”) to the legendary (26 December 2005 – ... canting keel maxi yacht Wild Oats XI... wins both IRC handicap and line honours and sets a new course record.”) From Ratbags to Respectability is essential reading not just for members of the CYCA, but for anyone who wants a thoroughly researched insider’s history of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and its club.
April May 2008
August September 2008