BLAIRGOWRIE YACHT SQUADRON
The Club throughout the years
1952: The club is established with the first clubhouse – the original Scotts’ Shed.
1956: Plans drawn up for a 25-metre by 8-metre upper deck over an unenclosed ground floor to be built by volunteers.
1957: 9th November 1957 the new building, at a cost of approximately £4000 was unveiled.
1964: Club Membership reaches 500.
1966: An eastern extension to the building was completed by volunteers in just 16 weeks, opening just in time for the new season.
1976: The annual Sleigh/Petersville regatta in the Xmas / New Year week launches.
1977: The westward extension is completed.
1980’s: Junior sail training, a cornerstone of the Club, is established.
1982: Membership reaches 1,100.
1984: The original clubhouse is replaced by the new Scotts’ Shed.
1986: New race control and radio room opens.
1987: New ground floor foyer unveiled.
1989: Memberships reach 1,800 by decades’ end.
1990: Club granted a liquor licence.
1994: Recession hits Club with membership falling to 861.
1996: Extension to the deck area completed. Custom developed race management /results software introduced.
1990’s: The decade came to a close with the club hosting the biggest OTB regatta in its history with the simultaneous running of the world Hobie cat and the Olympic Tornado class championships. Some 178 Hobie cats in 4 different sizes and 10 Tornados took part with over 100 separate races being conducted over the week.
2001: The biggest project in the club’s history, the construction of the $7million. 170 berth safe boat harbour is completed.
2001: Junior sail training booms with over 127 junior members and their Minnows taking part early.
2001: The club hosted the national championships with 100 Sabres in,
2004: The club hosted the World Titles of the Disabled Sailing Association with 22 competitors from 6 countries taking part.
2005: Club hosts the Lightweight Sharpies championships.
2005: A Sailability program to provide sailing opportunities for disabled sailors is launched.
2006: The committee outlined its vision for an all new $7m clubhouse.
2008: Club celebrates a 300-strong Laser fleet and several massive 150 boat Minnow nationals.
2009: $14m extension to the Marina and Hardstand launched.
2009: The first Easter Art Show launches – and it’s still growing every year.
2014. The biggest on-land building project in decades, replacing the main clubhouse with the current building is started.
2015: Construction commences on the harbour extension project. The new Club House opens with 50% more floor area than the old clubhouse.
2020: Club membership grows to 2,200 by decades’ end.
The 1950’S. The now-demolished clubhouse at Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron grew from humble beginnings. When the club was first established in 1952, Louisa and Bert Scott, the owners of Blairgowrie House, then operating as a guest house, allowed the first members to use their slipway, jetty and boat shed.
The first Clubhouse – the original Scotts’ Shed was a tin shed 3.7 metres x 12.2 metres with no water, no electricity and a sandy floor.
Working bees painted the roof, installed water and electricity, and concreted the floor. A request to the State Lands Department and the Sorrento Foreshore Park Trust for the use of 25 metres of land east of the boat shed to store boats was granted.
The need for a ‘proper’ clubhouse was first raised at the 1953 annual meeting, and a building fund was established, which had reached £277 by mid-1956. Approval was given for an additional 60 metres of land on which to build ‘club premises to provide suitable accommodation for the members of the club and their guests’. (French, p.46)
Not all members agreed. Enthusiastic young sailors wanted all the resources to go to the sailing program with generous trophies, while some older members had a vision of a kind of ‘aquatic Bohemia – a country club on the beach’. (p.47)
As ever, compromises were made, and in 1956 Commodore Des Rowley asked a mate to draw up plans for a 25-metre by 8-metre upper deck over an unenclosed ground floor. A builder quoted £2500, but this seemed a lot to the 169 members. Interest-free loans were asked for, and £500 was raised, but the committee decided to use the voluntary labour of members, ‘a move which was to uncover before the year was out a remarkable store of talent and good will’. (p.49)
Approvals from the Council and the Foreshore Committee took some time, and plans were altered to enclose the ground floor and add an ablutions block. Preliminary work in clearing and preparing the site went ahead under the direction of member Ron Williams, later to be the sixth Commodore, 1961-2.
The building permit was finally issued on 28 May 1957. The deadline for completion was 9 November. Work could only be done at weekends. When it finished each Sunday those members with special duties met at Pemberton’s boat shed … for refreshments. Williams and McGee used these occasions to plan the next weekend’s work. McGee … spent each Monday telephoning around to ensure that everything should be on site for work to begin at 8 am the following Saturday.
Friday evenings he and his wife would be at Williams’s place loading gear and materials onto their trailer for transport to Blairgowrie, unloading being completed as late as 2 am Saturdays.
The greatest strains were often on bone and muscle and a new meaning was given to the term ‘working wives’ as Nancy Dore, Jean Griffiths, Nance Pizzey, Mary Le Soeuf, Dorothy Tapson and Jean Thomas made the bricks for the walls. Young stalwarts kept a couple of cement mixing machines turning while Winifred McGee poured in the sand, cement and screenings… 300 to 400 bricks were turned out to dry each weekend; they were laid the following weekend…’ (French, p.50)
‘On the last weekend … work went on for 16 hours both days. Fifty working days had elapsed since the turning of the first sod, each day fine throughout, no accidents occurring apart from a solitary brick and a hammer falling on two workers, though without serious consequences, and the job was done.’ (p.53)
The reason for the rush was that Bernard Dowd, a club member and the owner of the Hickory garment company had asked to use the new clubhouse to welcome winners of the Miss Australia quest of which his firm was the sponsor.
‘The night of 9 November 1957 was one to remember. Every ticket …was sold well in advance… There were streamers and balloons in the club colours … and repeated dashes of red and white among the flowers and ferns with which Dowd embowered the whole building…Commodore George Pizzey spoke graciously in welcome but could not forbear to mention that by dint of members’ “superhuman efforts” at the “consistently attended working bees” … the Squadron had reached its “shining hour”.’ (p.54)
There had been a lot of favourable comment in the local papers about the huge volunteer effort, using the theme of self-help on the Peninsula, and many new helpers and members had joined in. But the committee still had financial worries. Despite materials and equipment being sourced as cheaply as possible, the cost was probably about £4000 ($8000) and donations and interest-free loans from members did not cover all expenses. A loan from the Council and an overdraft from the bank enabled bills to be paid, and the increasing membership (388 in 1959) meant that loans could eventually be repaid.
The 1960’s. Membership had reached 500 by ‘64 and there was a proposal to extend the clubhouse eastwards by 12 metres and northward at the eastern end by 15 metres. But the plans were rejected by the Council, and were sent backwards and forwards between the Foreshore Committee and the State Lands Department. These were frustrating delays, and moves were made, albeit unsuccessfully, to solve the problems by limiting the number of members.
In 1965 the new Commodore Allan Pizzey (son of former commodore George) asked the Development Committee to revise and resubmit the plans. The application “dwelt on the Squadron”s improved standing in yachting circles, its facilities for cruising yachts unique to the southern shore, its value to the Blairgowrie business district, and its enlarged membership for which the existing ablutions block, storage areas, entertainment space and racing control area were no longer adequate.”(p 88)
Plans were approved by December but there were further delays and problems with health and building regulations. So the building permit was not finalised until August 6th 1966, just 16 weeks before the season’s Opening Day on November 26th. But with his youthful enthusiasm and management expertise Commodore Pizzey was determined that the extension which was of similar size to the original building would be completed in 2/3 of the previous time, using volunteer labour for most tasks as before.
It was a “preposterous timetable” (p 94) but Commodore Pizzey and his team were extremely efficient in their management of volunteers, of tradesmen and of the logistics of the project. “The sound of the last hammer could be heard as the Social Committee arrived to prepare for the Opening Day celebrations, but the job was done.” (p 95).
The 1970’s. In the early days nearly all race control was from the clubhouse – starts were with a real shotgun for many years. Race management and radio operators shared a room, and on busy days the noise and the interruptions were stressful to all concerned. A separate radio room was proposed in 1971, in a second-floor addition such as later existed, but this was thought to be too expensive so a new radio room was included in the plans to extend the clubhouse to the west. Temporarily the radios were moved to a section of the balcony that had been glazed in.
Plans were approved in 1974, but progress was slow because of competing needs for funds for jetty repairs and new patrol boats. However, in 1977, the 4-metre westward extension was completed, with a new entry and stairs as well as a new kitchen and starters’ room. In 1978, races were controlled off-shore for many events, and improvements were made to the radio room and committee room.
The need for a higher location for the radio room and race management was made clear in January 1981 when a 50-knot southerly capsized all but 10 in a 79-boat fleet in the Sabre National Championships. Many yachts and sailors were swept north towards the channel. It was four hours before all were safely accounted for. Club officials felt they had coped as well as possible, but that a better view from a higher position would have been beneficial. Planning was begun, but it was not until 1986 that the new tower was opened with two fully-equipped rooms for starters and radio operators on part of a third floor of the clubhouse, each with a sweeping view of 180 degrees from Swan Bay to Martha Point.
Another project that was many years in the planning was the demolition and rebuilding of Scotts’ Shed, the original 1952 clubhouse. A more substantial building was needed, to be erected further to the west to make more space available in the yard. After a mainly volunteer effort the new Scotts’ Shed was opened in 1984 by Dr Edgar French, the author of the BYS history of its first thirty years, The Miracle at Scotts’ Shed published in 1983. This detailed and authoritative work is the source of much of the information for this clubhouse history. At the opening, Commodore Cosgriff said that ‘the new Scotts’ Shed will last forever’. Perhaps it will, in its renovated and extended form.
Throughout its life the clubhouse has had frequent renovations, alterations and improvements. A new committee room was built at the western end in the early 1980s. In 1987, a new foyer was fashioned on the ground floor, also at the west end. The final structural development was the extension of the deck area in 1996 from a narrow walkway to the large well-used space of recent years. Two items, long deferred and much needed, were the thorough refurbishing of the ablutions block, and the ceiling of the ultra-resonant upstairs lounge. They received their due in 1997 and 1998. (2002 Booklet, E.L. French).
The 1980’s. BYS entered the 80’s as now the largest sailing club on Port Philip with over 1100 members in 1982. OTB sailing in particular continued to surf the wave of popularity that had started in the 1960’s as a generation had discovered the affordability, freedom and excitement of dinghy sailing. The 70’s designed Minnows and Sabres had quickly grown to be the club’s largest fleets with 60 and 50 boats respectively. There were also 40 Mirrors, 31 Lasers. And smaller fleets of 125’s, Paper Tigers A Class cats. The club continued to display its attractiveness as a host of large national championships with 1980 seeing 79 Sabres, followed by 112 Lasers in 1985 and 65 A Class cats in the 1987 World championships.
The club made significant improvements to the clubhouse and facilities during the decade. The club’s original clubhouse Scotts’ Shed was demolished and rebuilt in brick in 1984 with much work contributed by a dedicated group of members. A new race control tower and radio room was added in 1986, and a new building entrance from the car-park was added.
The 80’s were the decade when junior sail training was formalized at BYS. Bryan McCarthy was the lead force in creating what would go on to be one of the absolute corner-stones of the club. In early years there were 20-40 juniors taking part. Jim Kerrison and Tom Callender took over the running of training, and in turn Peter Bates and Brian Jennings brought increased structure and qualifications to the program.
Having been started in 1976, the annual Sleigh/Petersville regatta in the Xmas / New Year week had grown to be the club’s biggest event and social highlight of the year. By the mid 80’s up to 650 people were eating at the club after racing.
By the 80’s the club’s working bees were epitomizing the ‘can-do’ spirit of the club. During the whole weekend events, members can be seen undertaking major repairs to the gantry and slipway, doing annual maintenance on patrol boats, the jetty and mark buoys, improving the canteen, plus the ever present painting and gardening.
The latter years of the 80’s saw a decline in sailing numbers – particularly in OTB sailing where sailing was being challenged by the emergence of new recreational activities and busier lifestyles. The club’s busy social side however remained as strong as ever led by a very effective social committee. And overall – the club’s membership levels were at the highest in its history with over 1800 members.
The 1990’s. All good things must pass ! The ‘recession we had to have’ hit BYS and Victoria hard. Record high interest rates, and a crash in asset values meant that 1990 ended very differently to how it started, and this continued right through 1991 and into 1992. The club lost over half its membership, falling to just 861 by 1994.
After the growth and advances of the 80’s – the 90’s were a decade of ‘re-building’ and consolidating – particularly membership. In terms of actual building – the largest project for the decade was the replacement of the old narrow balcony in 1996 with a huge new deck extending well out from the senior lounge.
In terms of ‘changing with the times’, the 90’s saw 4 areas that all signaled change for the club. The first was in 1990 when the club first gained a liquor license. (A contentious decision at the time, but something we now just take for granted). In 1994, BYS appointed its first Club Manager, being the highly respected and liked Geoff Watson. In 1996 the club introduced custom developed race management /results software designed by Trevor Casey. And then in 1998 the club launched its first website – the fore-runner of today’s ‘electronic communication’ model for the club.
On the water, our Minnow numbers remained huge with over 100 boats stored on the racks. The Sabres remained the largest adult OTB class, and the A Class cats preserved the long history of catamarans at BYS. In the keel boats – the Etchells class – introduced in the 80’s – maxed out with 18 of these beautiful craft in the fleet. The decade came to a close with the club hosting the biggest OTB regatta in its history with the simultaneous running of the world Hobie cat and the Olympic Tornado class championships. Some 178 Hobie cats in 4 different sizes and 10 Tornados took part with over 100 separate races being conducted over the week.
The most significant activity of BYS’s decade of consolidation however was all about the planning for the transformation that would unfold early in the next decade.
In 1994, the Victorian government identified the need for safer boat harbours in the southern end of Port Philip. As a result, BYS created a Safe Boat Harbour sub-committee in June 1994 to explore possibilities for BYS. Things really started moving in 1998 with members approving a feasibility study. Later that year a planning permit application was submitted to the shire, and expressions of interest were sought from members regarding future berth licenses. in a short space of time, 57 berths had been pre-sold and non-refundable deposits paid to fund engineering and planning costs. A planning permit was eventually granted by the government in November 1999 and an Indigenous Land Use Agreement in September 2000. Club members approved the project in January 2001.
The 2000’s.The new century saw the club undertake the biggest project in the club’s history with the construction of the $7million, 170 berth safe boat harbour. Bellinghams were contracted to install the floating parts of the structure, and K.V. Johnson constructed the jetty, sea wall and drove the piles into the sea-bed. Construction commenced in February 2001 and was completed in Spring 2001 with the first boats moving-in in December. The project saw the former wooden jetty demolished and replaced with a concrete public jetty as well as the construction of a 3 finger marina and outer concrete wall. The project was fully financed by the sale of 21 year berth leases with the club not being required to use its financial resources to fund the project. One feature of the new harbour was the building of a floating concrete-encased foam wave attenuator at the western end of the outer wall. The roughly 50m structure was imposed by the government on the club instead of the favoured wall extension as the means of protecting the harbour from the strong prevailing winter North-westerly wind and waves. Used overseas, the engineers had to create a design without having sufficient data of wave heights in the area – and the club’s 15 year nightmare with the attenuator was sown.
Many members had been anxious as to the potential impact on the character or workings of the club. And yet in many respects – it was ‘business as usual’. Racing and training and social events and drinks on the deck all continued as before and the club’s special culture remained. What did appear though was an important more solid footing for the club which for example permitted BYS to employ a General Manager in mid 2001. A number of other staff positions followed as the decade unfolded.
It was a big decade on the water. Junior sail training was booming with over 127 junior members and their Minnows taking part early in 2001/2. Brian Jennings continued to head the beginner red group, with Ken Douglas and Wayne Mercer looking after the more experienced kids. The baton passed to Felicia Brown in 2005.
The club continued its tradition of hosting big national championships with 100 Sabres in 2003, the Lightweight Sharpies in 2005, a 300-strong Laser fleet in 2008 and several massive 150 boat Minnow nationals. The presentation dinners for these events invariably stretched the senior lounge with numbers over 250 on a number of occasions. In 2004, the club hosted the World Titles of the Disabled Sailing Association with 22 competitors from 6 countries taking part. This was a large logistical exercise for the club – including the installation of a temporary lift from the ground up to the deck.
The club continued to invest heavily in its patrol boat fleet, with soft-sides ‘RIB’ craft replacing former solid boats – Patrols 3, 4, 8 and 10 all arrived as well as the amazing dual engined Patrol 9. The classic timber Placid was also donated to the club to provide us with a second start boat. The club continued the automation of another critical part of its race management in 2005 with the introduction of a sophisticated custom race rostering system designed again by Trevor Casey. BYS also launched the Sailability program under the leadership of Geoff & Eilly Watson which saw a fleet of 8 Access dinghies acquired to provide sailing opportunities for disabled sailors. The BYS Foundation was also created in 2003, funded by a levy on membership fees. The Foundation has funded a variety of on and off water assets for the club in the period since then, and is destined to play a much bigger role in decades ahead.
In 2009, the club held its first Easter Art Show – beginning a succession of annual events that have only grown each year. It has provided a means to both showcase local artists as well as a means of raising funds for the club’s patrol boat program.
In October 2009 – the troubled harbour attenuator finally hit the self-destruct button when a number of the concrete blocks broke apart presenting the harbour with a substantial clean-up bill. Repair works including attaching the sides of shipping containers were made to tide the structure over until it’s removal in 2015.
In the second half of part of the decade, the club was turning its attention to potential large transformative projects, and a major projects sub-committee had been formed. A huge turnout had occurred in a club meeting in 2004 to demonstrate the absence of support for an extension to the harbour to the east (ie in front of the club). And with the water depth rapidly getting deeper to the north – that left westward as a key option…
At the April 2006 general meeting, the committee outlined its vision for a pair of potential major projects to take BYS forward. One would be an all new $7m clubhouse – and diagrams of a potential design were shown at the meeting. Funding for this would partly come from an 80 berth extension to the existing marina.
Over the next 3 years, the project committee worked on a design and liaised heavily with the state government to build support for an extension. By April 2009 the Commodore advised members that the club was now in a position to launch the project by seeking non-refundable deposits from those interested in a berth. These deposits would be used to fund planning and engineering costs. By now the proposal had grown to 101 new berths – of which 10 would be retained by the club and 4 would replace existing berths. In addition a hardstand and travel lift were contemplated. All up, a project cost of $14m for the harbour and hardstand was foreseen. An offer was formally launched in July. Over 90 applications were received – allowing a healthy waiting list as well – and the project was underway.
The 2010’s. A world class redevelopment. The new decade would bring the biggest changes to BYS in its 60 year history.
In 2010, the committee was turning its attention to how to fund a new clubhouse. It combined the challenge with an equally difficult one, which was to decide what would happen when the existing 170 berth-lessees reached the end of their existing lease terms in 2022. The idea was hatched of making these lessees an offer of an extension to their lease period at a discounted rate relative to that which would apply to new berths.
In Mid 2012, the club undertook it’s biggest on-land building project in decades with the expansion of Scotts’ Shed. Having expanded facilities in Scotts shed would be an essential precursor to the later project of replacing the main clubhouse so as to provide limited club facilities during construction.
Scotts’ Shed construction began in May and saw the addition of a second story running the full length of the building. The new space would provide a marina office at the north end, and a large room in the main area which would become the McCarthy training centre and a much needed additional meeting room. At the northern end, a third story was added which would become the control tower and new home for the Southern Peninsula Rescue Service. At the south end, a second story was built over the winch room which housed bath-room and laundry facilities for marina users. The main building had a lift, and the roof featured solar panels. The original ground floor retained 4 different areas which would become important storage and operations working areas. The other feature of the project was the requirement to dismantle the large white gantry that had been such a feature of the BYS skyline for many decades.
The process of obtaining government approval for the harbour lengthened considerably. Early expectations of a 2012 build were pushed out as the club dealt with the broad range of complex planning issues. But by 2014, under the leadership of Commodore Brian Smith -planning for both the new clubhouse and harbour extension were significantly enough advanced that the decision was taken to undertake both projects simultaneously.
September 2014 finally saw the demolition of the old clubhouse , after a final farewell event in July. By November, builders Maben started pouring the large amount of concrete for the foundations and by Christmas the slab for the floor of the main first floor had been poured.
The club went through its most unusual summer season since its initial days in 2014/15. A full sailing season was conducted, and the club operated by using a mobile site office for the office staff, the new Scotts’ shed for limited meeting area, and the new Southern Peninsula tower for the club racing control tower. Portable toilet and shower facilities were set up in the car-park, and a marquee erected on the lawn. A bar was set up in the ground floor of Scotts’ shed. Many members found the whole experience to represent their most memorable and enjoyable summer ever at Blairgowrie !
In February 2015, construction work commenced on the harbour project by the firm of Fitzgeralds Constructions, starting with construction of a new, parallel jetty to the left of the existing jetty. A large building compound was created between the car-park and the beach, including the installation of a large concrete pad that would serve as the base for on-site pouring and casting of the large panels for the new marina.
By the time the harbour project was built, it had grown to represent 118 new full berths plus 36 ‘visitor’ berths, Additionally there was a 30 boat hardstand, the new jetty, and a travel lift. Of these new berths, over 30 were to be retained by the club.
In September 2015 , the new Club House was opened. It had 50% more floor area than the old clubhouse, featuring a huge new main room (named the Southern Waters Room) , plus a smaller Racing Lounge. Much expanded office accommodation and an inviting reception area were provided, together with upstairs bathrooms, a walkway showcasing key club honor boards and photos, and a much expanded race control room and ‘Commodore’s room’. A full commercial kitchen provided the means by which the club would offer a year-round bistro style dining option to members. This bistro opened at the same time as the clubhouse opened – creating many initial financial and operational challenges.
The new club facilities acted as a magnet for new members, with the club building its membership from around 1300 up to 2200 by the end of the decade. The club adopted the phrase ‘Family, Friendship, Sailing’ as its motto to reflect a continuation of the core values of the club. It also saw more growth in permanent staff numbers with these reaching 15 by the end of the decade.
The decade was a big one on the water. The expanded marina with its greater numbers of berths of 15m and longer opened up opportunities for members wanting to upgrade to bigger boats, and this progressively saw a number of shiny new racing boats enter the fleet. In the OTB fleet, the Contender became a major new class for the club with over 20 boats by the 2020. Laser 4.7’s had also exploded in number as a key youth training class. The Sabres remained strong with 40 boats but catamarans had completely disappeared. Minnow numbers had dropped away significantly though, likely reflecting demographic changes on the Peninsula. The club had also invested in the sailing ‘department’ with permanent roles created for both the administration and operational aspects.
The club continued its tradition of hosting major and important regattas, and these saw a record 130 Sabres in 2012, a 67 boat Taser national s in 2014, the Musto Skiff world championship in 2018 and the 29er nationals in January 2020. The club also re-launched the iconic Petersville regatta in December 2015 – an event that has grown each year to the present day.
In 2011 the club acquired 15 Ozi-Opti dinghies to allow launch of the highly successful Tackers learn-to-sail program. This complemented the Junior Sail Training Program and the revamped Youth Sail Training. The club also bought 3 Elliot 5.9’s in 2016/17 to allow a launch of Adult sail training for the first time. By the end of the decade these had made way for the J70 class, and the club had also launched the very popular SheSails program to encourage greater participation of female sailors. By the end of the decade, the club had largely bedded down its new facilities. The projects were fully paid off, the club owned berths were fully let, year round dining and events were taking place, and a new Executive committee structure had been put in place.
References 1950-1980: French, Edgar, The Miracle at Scotts’ Shed (Georgian House, 1983) Chalkley, B, Cooper, R., Conning and Cunningham: Scotts’ Shed: The Second Story (BYS 2013). Alison Jones, December 2014
History of the Club 1980 – 2020 written by Andrew Graham.