The earliest days, by Asa Wahlquist
The Sabot was the first plywood boat built in Australia. There is some uncertainty as to the exact date, but the first was built by Major H. T. Shaw of Beaumaris, on Port Philip Bay, in the 1940s.
Shaw, who sailed at Black Rock Yacht Club, teamed up with Gerry Benson to form the boat building company Benson & Shaw. They went on to build 250 Sabots for both sailing and use as tenders or dinghies used by larger boats.
Barrie Cole, who was then the National Secretary of the Australian National Sabot Council, wrote in his 1988 history of the Sabot that Benson and Shaw built the first Sabot in 1946. “They built the first plywood boat in the Commonwealth and we are proud to mention that it was the Sabot.” (1)
Ron Allatt joined the duo in 1946. He thinks they built their first Sabot “a couple of years before 1947”, and it was very likely it was the first plywood boat built in the Commonwealth. Allatt recalls building his first boat, a Sabot called Comanche in 1947. “I built it at Benson and Shaw’s place on the jig they had. I bought the material, I built the boat, I made the mast and set it up and it cost me £13/9/-. Today a Sabot made of fibreglass is $9000.” (2)
The history of Black Rock Yacht Club suggests an earlier date. “Major Shaw of Beaumaris and Ray Glass each built a sailing Sabot late in the war. They used a jig on which Shaw had built a Sabot for a tender in the early 1930s. The plans came from the American Rudder magazine which Shaw had started reading in 1904. Another six boats followed in 1945 as soon as the firm of Benson and Shaw was established at the end of the war.” (3)
It was not possible that Shaw could build a Sabot in the early 30s: it was not designed until 1939, but the 1945 date stands up.
7.1 Ron Allatt sailing his Sabot at Black Rock. Photo from Ron Allatt
The Sabot owes its existence to the development of marine plywood in the post-war years, which revolutionised boat building.
Major Shaw was a certified aircraft engineer, who had served with the Royal Flying Corps. By WW11, plywood was being used to construct aircraft. Major Shaw saw the possibilities for boat building: “I was an aircraft engineer and used ideas I had in the construction of aircraft”.
Over on the north-east coast of the US, boat designer Charles G. MacGregor had reached a similar conclusion. He produced a series titled “Plywood for Boats” for the prestigeous Rudder Magazine. The Sabot was number two, published in April 1939. It was the smallest and arguably his best-known design. (4)
Figure 7.1. The Rudder, April 1939 p.62. Image courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Museum of America and the Sea
Figure 7.2 The Rudder, April 1939m p. 63. Image courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Museum of America and the Sea
MacGregor was a very experienced boat designer. All up, he published 58 boat designs in Rudder Magazine between December 1906 and February 1949. He became interested in using plywood in the late 1930s, his most prolific period.
The first Sabot differed from the boats sailed in Australia in three key ways: it had a sliding gunter or gaff rig; leeboards rather than a centreboard; and a steering oar instead of a rudder and tiller. But it had a form very familiar to today’s Sabot sailors: the pram (or blunt-nosed) dinghy shape in the same dimensions.
In the article published in conjunction with the plan, MacGregor explained why he opted for the pram dinghy:
[The pram dinghy] has been very popular in Europe for a great many years and in all probability the type originated in Scandinavia. The pram is rapidly becoming very popular in this country [USA].
Experienced yachtsmen have been quick to see and appreciate its many good qualities and are willing to overlook its odd appearance. As a yacht tender it is ideal, because of its unexcelled carrying capacity, short length, and light weight – an important item if the dink has to be carried on deck or on top of the deckhouse; and most important of all, it tows exceptionally well.
With the advent of resin-bonded plywood we are able to overcome weight objections and have gained other worthwhile advantages.
He opted for the vee-bottom, rather than a flat bottom, because “it is superior to the latter, especially for sailing and towing”. MacGregor asserted the Sabot was inexpensive to build, strong, watertight and required little upkeep. He said it was fast under sail and rowed well.
MacGregor said the leeboards, or “lugsail rig”, and the steering oar were all suggested because of their simplicity and low cost.
Later plans included a centreboard, a cat or one-mast rig, and a rudder and tiller. (5)
These changes must have happened swiftly: the Museum of America and the Sea in Connecticut, USA, lists a Sabot, Little Toot, in the small craft collection. It was built in Rocky River, Ohio in 1940, the year after publication of the Sabot plan. But it, unlike the plan, is cat rigged, with a centreboard. (6)
Major Shaw was an avid reader of Rudder, but he was not a trained boat builder. Luckily, the Sabot was designed for the non-professional. Shaw sailed with Gerald Benson at Black Rock Yacht Club, and the two built Sabots in Shaw’s garage. The first Australian Sabots were sailed by adults, one-up.
Both Gerry Benson and I sailed at Black Rock. I only weighed nine stone wringing wet, so was suited to Sabots. When we sold out we had built over 3000 boats, some 250 being Sabots. We built them as dinghies as well as for sailing. They were portable and very handy. My boat weighed 46lbs, just the ply hull. We sailed them without rigging. When you’re overpowered, the sail can blow ahead of you like a flag. I recall seeing one capsize close to shore. When he found he was only in three feet of water, he held the Sabot over his head to empty it, got in and sailed on. I built a special Sabot as a motor boat which did 28mph with a 14hp motor. Our work was condemned for being too light but today 80% of builders have copied our ideas. (7)
In February 1948, the Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, reported the ‘frostbiters’ of the Royal
Brighton Yacht Club held a race on the Yarra River “As a rule these ‘frostbiters’ which are 8ft dinghies with the yachting class name of Sabot, race in the shelter of the Middle Brighton breakwater”. (8)
By 1948 Benson & Shaw were advertising Sabots for sale. An advertisement in The Argus, in February 1948 read: “New 8ft Dinghy, weigh only 60lb, popular “Sabot” type, £22/10/- Benson & Shaw, 391 Beach Rd, Ricketts Point.” (9)
Barrie Cole wrote: “Basically they kept to McGregor’s design, but because of the added strength in plywood it was considered unnecessary to use frames and heavy thwarts in the Sabot, which the designer intended. Thus the Sabot is made on a building jig and ultimately making the finished hull lighter in weight. “
7.2 Gerry Benson and Major Shaw discuss their Sabot building program. Photo courtesy of John Lamble
Ron Allatt joined Benson and Shaw to bring some wood-working expertise to the company.
Before the advent of plywood, boats were built from planks. Allatt found building the plywood boats much easier.
They had a jig to build the Sabot on upside down and when the boat was formed it was taken out, and a spreader was put in to hold it apart, because it tried to close up, and then all the other parts were added to it.
I was working with another fellow after about 12 months or so, and we used to turn out about seven shells of the Sabot a day. They would all be sitting there with their spreader in across the middle to stop them from collapsing and a couple of other blokes would then do all the rest of it.
Allatt recalled the Sabots did not have any buoyancy. “Up near the little foredeck was a fitting that you put the mast it, it didn’t have any shrouds, it was just a straight mast.”
Benson & Shaw, at its largest, had six workers. “It was a very small business, it started off in a garage beside Major Shaw’s house,” Allatt said. “They were also running a fowl pen, they had chooks everywhere and fowl pens, and we took over one of the pens and started building boats in the pens, too.”
Allatt learned to sail on a Sabot. “It was excellent.”
He said that at first a small group organised their own Sabot races. “We would carry our boat down from my house in Harold Street and then come back and get the buoys. We laid the buoys by boat – a course around the Cerberus. There were about seven of us – Miss Richmond, Bob Grubb, Gerry Benson, Major Shaw, Len Davies and myself. Lindsay Gardiner, John O’Hanlon and Frank Daniels came later,” Allatt said.
7.3 The Sabot Fleet sailing inside the reef at Black Rock. Photo from Ron Allatt
Allatt said: “I reckon Sabots would be the top training boat – cheap, simple and easy to sail. Benson and Shaw built Sabots without frames to save weight and cost. Today’s boats have shrouds and bulkheads. Sabots started at Black Rock in 1945 with Rober Grubb’s Mohawk. He added a bow and shrouds to his boat but we let him race with us. He later built a genuine Sabot. I won two Victorian titles with Comanche, Lindsay Gardiner got a second with Little Whelp. We had been sailing for two seasons when Daniels and Gardiner built boats to compete in winter racing.” (10)
By 1949 Sabots were holding races at Black Rock Yacht Club, and by 1950 there were about 14 Sabots and interest was spreading. They challenged the St Kilda 8-footers. “We reckoned the Sabots were the best boats in the Bay but the St Kilda 8’s were faster,” Allatt said. “We also had races on Albert Park Lake when the weather was too bad at Black Rock. Any local boats would join in.”
Meanwhile Allatt was studying boat building. He built a plank boat for his father, then one for his friend, Stan Lenepveu in 1950. “Benson and Shaw said ‘I can see you are no longer interested in plywood boats, you’ll have to find another job’, so they got rid of me.”
But Allatt’s story has a happy ending. Ron Allatt and Stan Lenepveu together borrowed £500 and put up a boat building factory. They joined their first names to form Ronstan Marine Equipment. Along with the boatbuilding they established a boat fitting business. When they sold out in 1972 they were exporting to 29 countries and Ronstan was a name well known to all Australian sailors.
Perhaps the first report of a Sabot race in Australia was run in the Melbourne newspaper, The Argus in July 1950 under the title ‘Hard test for yachtsmen’:
Thirty of Melbourne’s hardiest yachtsmen will sail tiny 8-foot yachts single-handed in the first winter championship of the Sabot Dinghy class during the next three weekends, at Brighton, Albert Park and Black Rock.
The series will be the first of its kind ever held in Melbourne, and will be sailed in five heats.
The first two races will be sailed off Middle Brighton pier on Saturday and Sunday over a 4 1/2-mile triangular course. Thirty boats will start in each heat.
During this winter several Brighton yachtsmen formed a Sabot Sailing Squadron, and they have built 11 boats under a co-operative scheme. There are 13 boats in the Black Rock fleet and another three are sailing on Albert Park Lake.
The three fleets will come together to contest the championship.
Most favoured for the title are boats owned and sailed by G. Benson and Major T. Shaw of Black Rock, but strong opposition will be provided by new boats Dauntless and Taiping 11 owned by Brighton skippers P. Levy and J. Buell. (11)
Hard test is an inadequate description of the race: Port Philip Bay is a cold place in mid winter in a small open boat.
Sabots had been sailed by adults – Shaw at this stage was in his sixties – but younger people were getting interested. An article in The Australian Women’s Weekly, published in March 1951, reported:
“This season the blue seas of Port Philip Bay, Victoria, are dotted with tiny yellow sailing craft.
They are called ‘Sabots’ and they look for all the world like their namesakes – Dutch clogs – with sails on them.”
The article goes on to describe how a group of teenage boys from Brighton made a community effort to build their own Sabots. “Their leader is dark-haired John Dick, who persuaded his parents to let him take over the family garage and turn it into a boat-building shed. Working on a roster system, John and nine of his friends were able to build one Sabot every three weeks at the cost of £17 for each craft. Professionally made Sabots would have cost £49 a piece”. (12)
The democratisation of sailing
While sailing in the United Kingdom had long been the province of the upper classes, in Australia working men sailed, too. Carlin de Montfort writes that the early nineteenth-century sailing races in Sydney were an extension of working maritime practices. But, he writes, the real democratisation of sailing came in the years after World War 11.
The suburban garage replaced the harbourside boatshed, new technologies such as marine plywood and waterproof glues made amateur boatbuilding accessible to the masses. Some new classes of sailing dinghy were designed specifically to fit on the roof of a car, linking new suburbs to sailing clubs. From the 1950s, new sailing clubs were formed throughout Sydney.
Sailing clubs became suburban family organisations and both boys and girls were encouraged to sail. Most of the new clubs supported ‘class sailing’ with a proliferation of new designs of dinghies and small sailboats. Some of these classes such as the Manly Junior and Northbridge senior were associated with specific Sydney clubs and locations. Other popular class dinghies, including the English Heron and Mirror dinghies, were imported designs, however most that were sailing in Sydney were home-built. (13)
De Montfort was writing about Sydney, but there were similar developments around the country, as
sailing clubs wondered how to encourage youngsters to take up the sport.
Tony Dingle, in an article titled ‘I’d rather be sailing’, makes a similar point: that in the post-war years “for the first time men on modest incomes participated as boat owners and women and children joined them in what became a family recreational activity.”
He believes that opportunity came about due to a rising standard of living in Australia, new materials and innovative boat builders.
Marine plywood was the new material which could overcome all of these disadvantages if used in the right way. Waterproof glues were being developed in Germany, the US and Britain just before the war. Probably A. Elmendorf was the first to patent an urea-formaldehyde bonded plywood in 1937. The light and immensely strong composite wood was used in planes and small torpedo and gunboats by both sides during the war. The ways in which it was developed for recreational use can best be seen through the work of John Lapworth “Jack” Holt.
The yachting journals were worried after the war that the escalating price of yachts, which resulted partly from the increased price of the high quality timber suitable for boat building but also the rising cost of highly-skilled labour, would inhibit the growth of the sport. A way out of this was to use plywood, which was potentially far easier to use than traditional planking, and persuade people that they could build their own simple boats. E. F. Haylock, editor of Yachting World, approached Holt who already had a reputation as an innovative designer and builder of fast dinghies and had used plywood during the war to design a children’s training boat. Children to this time had not been involved in sailing in any constructive way because there had not been a suitable boat.
As the son of a working man and not affluent himself, Holt added another requirement to the specification, it must be a cheap boat. (14)
Holt designed the Cadet, which played a similar role to the Sabot: cheap; easy to make at home; and designed to be sailed by children under 17. Holt also designed the Heron in 1951, which was small and light enough to be sailed by women, something his wife Iris Holt took credit for.
Getting them young in Queensland
Claude Darwen, commodore of Port Denison Sailing Club from 1952 to 1976, writes in the
Port Denison Sailing Club Story, that at the Easter Regatta held in Bowen in 1950 H. R (Dutchy) Miller said to him: “You are not getting them young enough. You have no cradle”.
Darwen wrote: “For years past Northern Clubs had worked hard to encourage teenagers into sailing and for a period each club would have a healthy register of junior boats and a season later half the fleet would stay on the racks. The late ‘Dutchy’ Miller, having grown up with the writer [Darwen] and fooled around in boats since boyhood days, pointed out that almost every senior sailing skipper present at the regatta had been sailing since boyhood.”
Miller thought that introducing teenagers to sailing “particularly on a rough day in a trainee dinghy, was never very successful, particularly when he spent his first few Sundays in the ‘drink’. Most of them soon drifted away to the beaches and were lost to the game.”
The first Sabot in Northern Queensland was launched in June 1953 at Port Denison Club.
Darwen christened the Sabot Billy Dee after its owner, three and a half year old Bill Darwen. The privilege of first skippering the boat went to Darwen’s godson, 13-year-old David Sheen, while his crew was Darwen’s nephew Phillip Kirk. Both came from families with long associations with sailing.
The local paper reported a Mr Ern Johnson observed the boat, and commented: “This may be the answer to my problem, I have a 13-year-old boy at a loose end and this may interest him”. It took Mr Johnson just three weeks to build Goofy for his son Arthur, and join the Port Denison club.
The first Sabot race at Port Denison took place on September 20, 1953. Goofy won.
By Easter 1964 there were six Sabots in Bowen, and a similar number in Mackay. The first unofficial NQ Sabot Championship was won by Tonizone, sailed by Phillip Kirk.
Despite the presence of the Sabot fleet at the Easter Regatta, the NQYA conference declined to adopt the class. Darwen reported: “The visit to Townsville Easter Regatta in 1955 of 12 Sabots from Bowen and Mackay created so much interest that dozens of kids lined up for a ride with the visitors.” The club generously provided 24 trophies, so everyone went home with one. Club Commodore, Bill Caldwell, who presented the trophies said that he had officiated at a lot of presentations and had seen all shapes and sizes of skippers, but never had he seen them so small!
The Townsville and Cairns clubs saw that Bowen and Mackay had a big pool of youngsters sailing so in 1956 the NQYA finally adopted the class.
In 1959 Claude Darwen went to Brisbane for the Australian 16ft skiff championships. There he found “the same problem facing the various skiff clubs down there and urged each club to introduce the Sabot. The most interested person was Bill Tetzloff of Sandgate Skiff Club who asked that the plans be sent to him and through his efforts Sandgate Skiff Club built six Sabots to introduce this mighty little trainer to the Brisbane area.” (15)
North Queensland held the first recorded State Championship in Mackay in 1958.
In the lead up to the National Sabot title being held in Townsville in 1968/69, Phil Cave wrote:
Immediately after the Sabot was adopted in 1955, a NQYA sub committee set about standardising the class and six months later a set of restrictions was introduced. Until recently these were still being used. They were not too restrictive for the amateur as 95 per cent of NQ boats were amateur built. The “Rudder” shape was strictly adhered to with tolerances allowed for workmanship.
Crews and officials found that side decking was unneccessary but experience has proved the fixed buoyancy to be essential in NQ. It means that the craft can be righted immediately after a capsize and bailed free of water in a matter of minutes with both lads (sic) in the boat.
Due to the well known shark and stinger hazards which always exist in the north, officials are reluctant to leave juniors unattended in the water even for the time it takes a boat to come to their assistance. It is a well-established fact that the safe nature of the Sabot contributes more than any other factor to the increasing popularity of the class in North Queensland. (16)
But not all states insisted on such buoyancy, and it remained one of the issues to be sorted out when the national association was set up.
In the south of the State, Sandgate 16ft skiff club adopted Sabots in 1959, largely at the instigation of Ken McLeod. In an article in Seacraft titled ‘Youngsters are his concern’ Roger Neilson wrote that, in the mid 1950s, Mr McLeod observed the only opportunity for his young son David to learn to sail on the fine waters of Moreton Bay “consisted of an afternoon in the ‘well’ of a 16ft skiff as a bailer boy.”
“Determined and sincerely dedicated toward helping youngsters break into the sport, he studied junior dinghy classes available and in 1957 chose the Holdfast Trainer, a modified version of the Sabot. This 8ft dinghy was selected because of its complete simplicity, its ease of handling by children eight years and over, and its ‘on the water’ cost of that time of about £22/10/0.
“As Ken was heard to say many times: ‘The class chosen must be so inexpensive that no youngster would be prevented from competing’.”
The Holdfast Trainer, named after the Adelaide Club that developed it, is essentially a Sabot with a jib. By the time the Sandgate Club adopted the boat it had lost the jib, and reverted to the Sabot.
The Club started with four Sabots, and McLeod developed a training scheme that “consisted of lectures on the bank covering topics such as general sportsmanship, rigging, ropes, knots and splicing, techniques of sailing on all points of the breeze and rules. Each instruction session was followed by a practical workout on the water, where under close supervision youngsters applied the particular points learned on the bank.
“The scheme found immediate success and elated club officials found that in the following season no less than 30 Sabots were receiving instruction on the protected waters of Cabbage Tree Creek.”
Neilson writes that although McLeod encountered some opposition from other small dinghy classes, he won the case by pointing out “that the Sabot catered for an age group never previously contemplated in the state, youngsters from 8 to 12 years old. No other class stood to lose followers because of the introduction of the Sabot trainer.”
In 1960 the Queensland Yachting Association adopted a resolution recognising the Sabot as an approved training craft. Sabots were sponsored by the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron and in
1961 the South Queensland Sabot Association was formed with Alf Huybers as patron and Ken McLeod President. (17)
The Association has held races since 1961: the longest run, the Bay Titles – Winner Scratch, for senior 1 ups – is aptly named the Ken McLeod Shield.
Sabots come to Vaucluse via New Zealand
Vaucluse 12ft Sailing Club was the first NSW club to introduce Sabots in 1958. In a history of the club T.C. Martin, states:
Vaucluse Amateur 12ft Sailing Club introduced the Sabot dinghy into NSW in 1958 and there are now hundreds racing all over Australia. Sabots had been built on a limited scale in Melbourne two or three years earlier, but our inspiration came from New Zealand when Don Brooke who came over with the first interdominion team in 1956, told us about the successful training boat used in Auckland, the American-designed Sabot, and supplied the club with a set of plans.
Club members made a mould and the first five Sabots were built in the Clubhouse under the guidance of Rob Stephenson, to the dismay of the fire insurers who were convinced that a fire would start amongst the wood shavings.
On 5th November 1958 five sabots, Imp (R. Stephenson), Trio (R. Stephenson Jnr), Quarto (I. Sparrows), Noddy (P. Shipway) and Comet (R. Marr) sailed the first race, which was won by Noddy. (18)
Noddy was in fact skippered by Peter Shipway’s father, Lionel Shipway. Peter Shipway recalls “Dad was on the helm and I was crew as an 8-year-old”.
Lionel Shipway became known as the ‘Father of the Sabots’, at least in NSW. His granddaughter, Grace, continued the family tradition, sailing Sabots at Vaucluse, and competing in the 2010/11 National Sabot Championship and Sabot Week.
Don Brooke’s father, J.B. Brooke, in a letter to Seacraft in June 1975, claimed to be “the villain who introduced the Sabot to New Zealand”, and concluded by stating: “Incidentally, my son introduced the Sabot to Sydney”. (19)
The subject of Brooke’s letter was buoyancy, and whether Sabots can be righted by their crew after capsize, a contentious issue in the early days.
MacGregor’s plan was an open, sturdy dinghy with no buoyancy. Some clubs, like Snails Bay, kept the open, unrightable, structure; one that fitted their tradition of open boat sailing. This also meant the children in the capsized boat were totally dependent on support vessels.
Janet Calver, now Clayton, recalled one race held in the early 1960s at Gosford. Janet and her sister Cathy, in Bluebottle, were first across the start line, on a handicap of 20. A fierce wind sprang up, and the race was cancelled before the scratch boat even started. The early starters, out on Brisbane Water, all went over. There were not enough support boats and the Calver sisters were in the water for what Janet recalls as at least half an hour. Janet’s heavy cotton-covered life jacket was causing her discomfort; Cathy, who was not wearing a life jacket, recalls the waterlogged jacket starting to drag Janet under. But the girls had been trained to stay with the boat, and hang onto it, which they did. The one rescue boat to approach them suffered engine trouble, and couldn’t effect the rescue.
In frustration the girls started swimming towards the shore, dragging their Sabot with them. Cathy said their mother Jean, onshore, was desperately searching for them, while Janet recalls her father, Ralph, trying to reach them and cutting his feet on the oysters.
Not surprisingly, those who already had buoyancy insisted on retaining it.
Brooke’s letter to Seacraft was in response to an article published in that magazine in October 1974, ‘Sailing Made Easy’, by Vaughan Jackson, in which he stated: “In my opinion Sabots should never be sailed unsupervised because in the event of a capsize they cannot be righted.” (20)
In reply, Seacraft’s Mail Barrel carried two letters under the headline ‘Sabots Strike Back’. One was from Brooke Senior and the other was from J.R. Simpson, Secretary, NSW Sabot Sailing Club, Northern Zone.
Mr Simpson wrote the statement, that Sabots cannot be righted after a capsize “is untrue – the photo used is of an older boat with little buoyancy. The 1972-style boat now has a large amount of buoyancy which is built-in both bow and stern. The boat now has also a self-draining venturi and a 1.1 litre, (2 pint) hand bailer. When Sabots capsize they are righted and a small amount of water is bailed out. By then being sailed they can be drained by the venturis and rescue is needed only when gear has been broken.”
Mr Simpson concluded by saying he had been involved in Sabot training for 11 years, “and have found them to be an excellent single sail boat for training children”. (21)
Today’s Sabot is required to have two buoyancy tanks, one in the front, 666 to 766mm deep, and one in the rear that is about 303mm deep. (22) Thus equipped, the Sabot floats high in the water when it capsizes and can easily be righted.
The cost is very low
MacGregor’s first criterion was the Sabot should be inexpensive to build. He wrote: “Plywood lends itself admirably to the manufacture of boats in quantity, and there is little waste and less labor even in building one boat. This boat should cost between $12 and $15; sail, leeboard and spars extra”. (Note: he was talking US dollars in 1939) (23)
One of the selling points of the early Sabot in Australia was just how inexpensive they were.
In September 1961 Ken Williams, from the Victorian Sabot Association, wrote an article published in Seacraft titled ‘Sabots make sailors!’. “Many clubs find these craft an ideal trainer for the youngsters, and particularly with group building schemes the cost is very low, between £30 – £40 complete.”
Williams said the object of the Sabot class was “to provide an economical open boat for competitive sailing and training” and any of the fancier devices fitted to more luxurious craft are banned. “Construction is extremely simple, the hull of plywood (usually 3/16 in) being fastened and glued to keel, chine and gunwhale stringers and to the two transoms, construction being carried out on three mould frames. Commercial finish-yourself hulls are now being advertised by local boat builders, surely a sign of great confidence in the future of the class.”
Sabots were increasing in popularity in Victoria. The year before, the Victorian Sabot Championship was held at Mornington Yacht club under the direction of the Victorian Sabot Sailing Association. The open event attracted 32 starters, while 21 seniors and 11 juniors contested the divisional series.
By the 1961/62 season Williams estimated there were more than 100 Sabots in Victoria, and the class was becoming organised:
The design was originated more than 20 years ago, and odd boats have been built from published plans for some time, but in the past two or three years interest in these very cheap and simple trainers has increased greatly. Dimensional tolerances have been laid down by the Victorian Sabot Sailing Association to ensure that local boats form a true one design class. Thirty six boats took part in last season’s Victorian Sabot Championships held at Mornington.
Racing in sabots is controlled by the association and at the championships placed boats were rigidly inspected by officials to ensure compliance with dimensional and other standards.
One of the requirements is that each boat must have a positive submerged buoyancy of 50lb, another that life jackets must be carried at all times. Both provisions proved their worth at the championships when there were many capsizes in the stiff breeze during the third heat.”
Satisfying a real need for a learner’s boat, there seems no doubt that this season will see some really keen competition in these Sabots. If the proud skippers graduate to larger boats, at least they have the yacht’s dinghy to start with. (24)
By November 1958, the Sabot was becoming well known. The first advertisement for building plans for a Sabot were advertised in Seacraft that month, by Boat Plans Pty Ltd, of George Street Sydney. They could be obtained for 22/6 (twenty two shillings and sixpence), postage 1/6 extra. (25)
In August 1962, Seacraft reported: “The popular cat-rigged sailing dinghy, the Sabot, is now being produced commercially on a large scale. This trainer has been adopted by several large clubs and junior clubs for teaching. The plywood commercial model, built by Prot-craft of Parramatta Road Croydon, [NSW] and distributed by Nock and Kirby’s Marineland, Sydney and retails for £95 including sail.” (26)
Drummoyne Marine Centre advertised “quality sabots for £87/10/- complete and ready to sail.” (27)
The paragraph about Sabots in the brochure for the Sydney Waratah Festival Sailing Regatta October 3, 1965, was headed ‘Cheap Sabot’.
The cheapest competitive racing boat afloat – that’s the claim made for the versatile Sabot.
It is a pram-type dinghy, eight-feet long, which can be built easily from waterproof plywood by a handyman using simple tools. Home-built hulls go into the water for £30 to £35. The Sabot’s one sail costs from £10 to £18.
Provision is made for rowlocks and the boat can be used as a yacht tender or fishing dinghy. Competitive sailing is available for children up to 16 years of age. Starting age is usually eight. There are more than 800 Sabots sailing on Australia’s East Coast. In NSW they sail on Sydney Harbour, Brisbane Water and Lake Macquarie. (28)
Many, perhaps most, Sabots were home built. They were built in sheds, in lounge rooms and kitchens. In many clubs, intending boat builders got together.
The Snail, the newsheet of Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club, carried the following report in December 1965:
The activity at the rear of the boatshed is the start of the sabot building programme. By the time you read this, one boat hull will be almost complete. Members working on this scheme are Mrs Byrt, Arthur Jones, Philip Emanuel, Peter Young, Frank Kelly and Brian Loughlin.
An accurate tab is being kept of the costs on the first boat, which has cost £14/16/- ($29.40) so far for all framing and ply, screws and nails. A special deal has been made with a leading sail-maker to provide a bulk order of sails at little more than £10 ($20) each. Construction of the boats has been simplified so they can be built speedily and cheaply. If you can drive a nail and use a plane, you too can build a sabot. Main instruction period is 9am every Saturday. Work proceeds for the rest of the weekend. (29)
Many boys and girls learned useful carpentry skills assisting their parents build their Sabots, and had the chance to spend what these days is called quality time with their fathers.
By 1962 State championships had been held in North Queensland, South Queensland and Victoria, but not yet in NSW, although Sabot numbers just kept growing. In Sydney, they were sailing at Vaucluse, Abbotsford, Connells Point, Lane Cove, Snails Bay and Georges River, while just north of Sydney the Gosford club embraced the Sabot.
In March 1963, an inter-club race in Sydney attracted 133 entries. Bill Shortridge wrote the race occurred in what he described as the “week of the deluge”.
Torrential rain fell throughout the preceding night and continued as the youngsters, some from as far away as Gosford, rigged for the start. Yet 85 boats crossed the line.
Down on the Lane Cover River in Sydney the weekly Sabot race would warm the heart of anyone interested in the sport of sailing. The club has 43 registered Sabots and most of them turn out regularly, two youngsters to each craft.
The Sabot is the training class of the Lane Cove 12 foot sailing skiff club. Boys and girls are taught the basic principles of sailing and the rules of racing, shown how to rig and handle the boats and started on their nautical careers. When training classes on Friday nights were started, attendance had to be limited to 80 because of accommodation.
The Sabot movement and the club’s encouragement to young people – 60% of its members are juniors – are regarded in the district as a valuable contribution to youth welfare. This opinion is shared by Lane Cove Council, which consequently gives substantial encouragement and support. (30)
A National Association and a national Sabot design
In 1963 discussions had begun on a national association, and importantly, a national Sabot design.
The following letter, written by Gil Wahlquist, describing the progress in the lead up to the first meeting, was published in Seacraft in December 1963:
The Australian Sabot Association is underway. The old issue of japara v synthetic sails seems to have vanished. The issue of for’ard decking has had it, too. Those with decks have found that they were no help. Delegates have one strong reservation at present. They don’t want to take on Australia-wide competition. It is too much of a business, particularly with kids. It’s easier to shift a 12 interstate than it is to look after a Sabot, child crew, doting parents and the rest.
Important things will be that within a couple of years all Sabots will be standard and dads will be able to buy them, build them and race them anywhere on equal terms. The association is against the emergence of a racing machine in the Sabot department. People with ideas about planing boards, fancy rigs and weight-saving can try themselves out in classes which cater to the experimenter. We want the Sabot to be a training class which holds its value, allows children to compete on equal terms, and is sturdy enough to have a future as a yacht tender or cartop fishing dinghy.
Important difference between the Victorian and NSW craft will be the Victorian Sabot’s larger centreboard and weight-saving concessions. Sabots in NSW will be sailed two-up. In Victoria they are a one-man vessel. Lines are being prepared of the design, and following a (we hope) successful meeting on December 5, plans will be available.
Design, incidentally, is defined as the one introduced to Australia from New Zealand by the Vaucluse 12ft Sailing Club. (31)
There were only three foundation states: Tasmania, North Queensland and Victoria. New South Wales joined in 1965, but it split into two zones, Northern and Southern NSW in 1974. Southern Queensland joined in 1967.
The first national Sabot championship was held at Frankston, on Port Phillip Bay, in December 1964/January 1965. The range of Sabots was admirable: all conformed pretty much to MacGregor’s basic measurements, but that was it. The Victorians had buoyancy and small foredecks, larger centreboards and weight-saving concessions. At the other extreme were the Snails Bay boats, sturdy and completely open and without any buoyancy devices.
The ‘championship’ was open, at least for interstaters, to those prepared to make the journey. Sabots from four states attended: Victoria, Tasmania, NSW and Queensland.
My father, Gil Wahlquist, decided to take our club champion, David Thorpe, who sailed Pastime with my brother Roland as his sheethand, down to the championship. I went too, with my boat Cygnet. My sister, Janet, was my sheethand. Greg and Shawn Henderson sailed in Peanut, and Len Walpole, from Gosford, took his son Philip and daughter Julie.
We had always sailed two-up, but we discovered the Victorians sailed one-up after 12 years old. We changed plans: both David and I sailed in the championship one-up.
7.4 Pastime, David Thorpe, First National Sabot Championship, Frankston Victoria, 1965
On the last day, after the championships, we swapped boats. Victorian Greg Chisholm lent me his Sabot, Bounty. He sailed my boat, Cygnet, which was built on Snails Bay lines, strongly and with a 10 centimetre little keel or skeg (that leaned, slightly, to starboard!) In contrast Bounty was light and keelless and it seemed to leap exhilaratingly from wave to wave. I can’t recall what Greg thought of Cygnet, but I think I might have even beaten some of the Victorians at the helm of Bounty.
The following article about the Championships was published in the local Balmain paper, The Link under the title ‘Snails Bay Sabots learn in Melbourne’:
Three Snails Bay boats were in the team of six which represented NSW at the first Australian sabot championships sailed at Frankston, Victoria from December 28 to January 5.
The boats were Cygnet (Miss Karin Wahlquist), Pastime (David Thorpe) and Peanut (Greg and Shawn Henderson).
Twenty-four boats from four States competed.
Victorian boats filled the first five places.
From the point of view of the visitors, they came, they saw, they were conquered, but they learned plenty in the process.
At the welcome at Frankston, on Port Phillip, 25 miles from Melbourne, NSW visitors looked out of the clubhouse window to see four-foot-high waves sweeping in from 100 yards out.
“Lousy day”, said one of the locals, “not enough wind.”
At the invitation race next day, skippers soon found out how to sneak out through the breakers by sailing along the troughs.
Officials of Frankston club, under commodore Lee Gloury, ran all races setting a six-mile Olympic course which started from Frankston jetty.
Each race started with a dead windward work, a reach and a run, to complete a triangle.
Next was a work from the start to the furthest windward mark and a run back to the start, then another triangle to finish.
Our boats entered each of the four heats and the two invitation races, sailing a total of 36 miles over eight days (they had two rest days).
Fourteen-year-old Tim Sutcliffe of Mornington (Vic.) Yacht Club was first with 4142 points. Second was Peter Tardrew (Vic.) a 16-year-old with 3012, and third was Greg Chisholm, aged 14, who sails most of the year on Albert Lake Park with 3012 points.
Our best rep. was Pastime, skippered by David Thorpe of Phoebe Street, Balmain, with 1244 points in 14th place.
All heats were sailed in moderate to fresh breezes and a short chop.
Boats other than those from NSW had a substantial fore decking. This was a great aid in working to windward, enabling the better boats to dig the quarter under occasionally without filling up.
Finish of the first heat was one of the most thrilling events of the carnival.
Taboo (John Platt) which fought to the front against Villain, capsized in a squall 50 yards from the finish. As the skipper vainly tried to swim and pull his boat over the line, Villain finished, followed by Imp from North Queensland, except that Imp thought he had crossed the line and headed for shore. He missed by a couple of yards.
That put the next boat, Jester, into second place and Kathleen, another North Queensland boat, came in third.
Unfortunately for Kathleen, he had collected Sea Chick, of Tasmania, near the start, breaching the port and starboard rule. Although Sea Chick had long since capsized, he protested and Kathleen was disqualified, putting the next boat, Jinks, of Tasmania, in third place.
We don’t have too many finishes like that at Snails Bay.
All boats, other than the two from North Queensland and NSW’s Peanut sailed with skipper only.
Victoria has produced many champions over the years by allowing boys to finish their sabot years sailing solo. When training, they sail two-up as we do.
Frankston, where the championships are held, sails all sabots two-up.
At the first conference of the Australian Sabot Council held during the championships, Tasmania proposed that at future championships, juniors under 12 should sail two-up, and seniors (age limit 16) should sail one-up.
Dedicated Victorian sabot secretary John O’Hanlon was made the Australian Sabot Council’s first life member.
Association president, Lex Chisholm, kindly loaned his OK Dinghy to visiting fathers, and member Jack Armstrong gave open house hospitality.
Snails Bay skippers returned with pennants, badges and a lot of experience.
At the Grove last Sunday, the third heat of the Snails Bay club championship was sailed.
In the first three places were the boats which went to Melbourne.
– Shackle. (Gil Wahlquist) (32)
The first meeting of the Australian Sabot Council was held at Frankston in January. It accepted a National Sabot Plan. The Victorians and Queenslanders won the day: the plan included “a 16 inch [40cm] foredeck, optional thwarts. Existing boats are not affected”. (33)
In the lead up to the National Titles being held in Townsville, in 1968/69, an article in Seacraft gave the North Queensland perspective on the National Sabot plan:
In December 1964, on the invitation of the Victorian Sabot Sailing Association, North Queensland Sabots were represented at the first Australian Sabot Championship and acquitted themselves with distinction. The North Queensland Yachting Association was represented at the foundation meeting of the Australian Sabot Council, a body formed to standardise and control the class throughout Australia.
The North Queensland Yachting Association formed the Queensland Sabot Council…to study the specifications adopted by the Australian Sabot Council.
One point of issue was the amount of built-in buoyancy. The Victorian Association maintained buoyancy should be limited to 50lb [22.6kg] as opposed to the fixed bulkhead type of the North Queensland Sabot.
The Queensland Sabot Council felt very strongly that the safety feature of the North Queensland Sabot should not be sacrified to conform to the national specification and opposed the moves by the Victorian Association. The continued support of the North Queensland clubs for the Australian Sabot Council hinged on this.
To conform to the constitution of the Australian Sabot Council, the name of the North Queensland body was changed to the North Queensland Sabot Association. This is now run by Sabot owners and parents. The anomalies in the plan and addendum were pointed out and finally, in recent months, a standardised national Sabot plan was adopted, the only variation being that the positive fixed buoyancy is allowed in Queensland Sabots.
The Australian Sabot Council altered the constitution to include northern and southern regions in Queensland.” (34)
By 1966 a national Sabot plan was agreed. The first Sabot built to the new plan was built by Gil Wahlquist, and sailed by Roland Wahlquist. The boat, Cormorant, had the number 300 because other, non-certified Sabots, had already taken the lower numbers.
By the end of 1971 the NSW Sabot sailing Association had 350 registered sabots in NSW, which Seacraft Magazine reported “must be a near record for a training class,” while there were more than 100 Sabots in Brisbane.
7.5 Currawong, Roland Wahlquist, Drummoyne Bay, 1966 (Full page)
In 1988 Australian National Sabot Council Secretary, Barrie Cole, wrote ‘History of the Sabot Class Dinghies in Australia: 25 years of Soldiering On.’
Cole lamented in his introduction that “the historical records that remain of the Australian National Sabot Council are very depleted; for example, try as I may I do not have or have I been able to trace a copy of the First Annual Conference Minutes which was held in 1964”.
But Cole did manage to put together thumbnail sketches of the early years.
The first year, 1964/65, remained shrouded in mystery. Who organised the first meeting, how was it determined that only a Senior Championship was to be contested? Cole suggested “this could have been because Victoria was only sponsoring single handed boats at that time”.
The second year, 1965/66, there was a long discussion about tolerances, timber sizes, fittings and buoyancy. In the third year 1966/67 the meeting began with the method of measuring the Sabot “dead locked”. It eventually adopted Keith MacDonald’s method “of datum line measuring as per straight edge”.
In 1967/68 there was a “reasonable amount of letters refer[ring] to safety measures, such as buoyancy, which was vital to Queensland”.
By the fifth year, 1968/69, the Council appeared to be consolidating “with a very optimistic President’s [J. Kohane from Victoria] report detailing the progress made”. A draft building guide had been developed by NSW.
In the following years, meetings dealt with the minutiae of running an association: age eligibility, the number of entrants, trophies and so on.
In 1972/73 they dealt with the vexed issue of capsizing. All were agreed that a boat that capsized was disqualified, to ensure states with more buoyancy were not advantaged. But just when was a boat deigned to have capsized? The answer was when the mast head hit the water.
In 1973/74 NSW was entitled to two separate zones. In 1975/76 it was also resolved that, in future, the sails, spars, centre plate and rudder blade would all be measured and the hull weighed.
Consistency in measurement continued to be a theme at annual conference, but by 1980/81 the metric plan was finally complete.
At the 1981/82 meeting the need to maintain “a reasonable cost of building a Sabot” was raised. It was suggested that council accept “stitch and glue” construction, “provided they comply with the plans and specifications and measurements with the exception of scantling sizes”. The measurer’s meeting also suggested an aluminium mast remain optional “it was noted that there were four different types being used in championships” , and that the minimum weight be 25 kgs.
Cole wrote that in 1982/83:
The main concern of the delegates at this particular conference appears to have been the escalating cost of the Sabot and the hope the new method of construction, that being the ‘stitch and glue’, would help to enable the class to be competitive as far as costs were concerned.
This was captured in the President, Fran Ives’ report when he stated that “Victoria certainly has an attractive sales range with three types of craft – glass fibre, stitch and glue and normal construction. ‘I don’t blame the economics completely; I feel if the children are enticed to the beach with Club-owned Sabots, the battle is half won’.”
It was resolved that all Sabots built after January 1982 “must be built with full buoyancy tanks as shown on plans approved at National Conference 1979/80”.
Measurements were a recurrent theme at the annual conventions: but in 1988/89 it was resolved to freeze the plans and appendices of the ANSC as from 1 July 1988 for a period of three years, to be reviewed by the Measurers periodically. “It can almost be seen that the delegates would have sighed with relief,” Cole wrote, “that perhaps this may stop the movement being held to ransom by those who were described by Bob Jones once as ‘bush lawyers’.”
John Fisher also caught the spirit of the movement when, in his [President’s] report, he noted: “The Sabot is a training boat and once you come to terms with any deficiencies, you must agree it is a beauty. There are other small training boats that would perhaps suit just as well, but the difference between these and the Sabot is this association. Those early workers who laid the foundation did a good job. We keep the nuts and bolts tight and the whole concept has lasted 25 years. May it flourish.” (35)