This coming weekend, for the first time in 25 years, RSYS will challenge for the Sayonara Cup, an interstate match racing event in which the Squadron first participated in 1904 off Sydney Heads.
Back in 1904, the challenge was between two gaff-rigged 80-footers, Bona, representing the RSYS, and Sayonara which had sailed up from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria on Port Phillip. Sayonara, designed by the brilliant Scottish naval architect William Fife, won a hard-fought match against Bona, 2-1 and the Victorian yacht’s owner, Alfred Gollin, presented a perpetual trophy for future contests between ‘Royal’ clubs in Victoria and New South Wales, naming it the Sayonara Cup.
L David Giles and R Gordon Ingate
In contrast, the 2019 Sayonara Cup, a challenge between the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and the holders of the Cup, the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, will be sailed in International Dragon class yachts on the River Derwent at Hobart. RSYS member Matt Whitnall will skipper Gordon Ingate’s Prince Philip Cup winning Dragon Whimsical with a crew of David Chapman and David Giles against the RYCT’s Nick Rogers, sailing Karabos IX, his crew being Leigh Behrens and Oliver Burnell. Giles, a four-times Olympian and bronze medallist and world champion sailor in Stars, Etchells and Dragons, arrived at the RYCT with Whimsical on Tuesday. Whitnall and Chapman, an internationally recognised tactician, are due on Saturday morning. This will be Whitnall’s first tilt at the Sayonara Cup while Rogers has successfully challenged or defended the trophy seven times in Dragons. A very accomplished RSYS skipper who has sailed Dragons all over the world, including winning the Prince Philip Cup, Whitnall contested the 2019 Dragon Worlds in Perth and the 2018 Etchells Worlds in Brisbane.
It is also the Squadron’s first challenge in 25 years. In 1993 Mark Bethwaite, with Alwyn Jarman and Ian MacDiarmid as crew, regained the Cup from the RYCT, beating Nick Rogers in Karabos VIII, 4-3. However, Rogers regained the Cup the following year from the Squadron’s defender, Ellen J II (John Vickery). The former Dragon world champion has successfully defended or challenged for it several times since, the last being in 2009 when Karabos IX defeated the Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club defender Tatsu, skippered by Sean Kirkjian.
The Squadron won the Sayonara Cup for the first time in 1910 when Walter Marks’ Culwalla III defeated Sayonara 3-0 in a series that was not decided until six months after the event. The outcome hinged on a ruling from the Yacht Racing Association (YRA) in England with regards to the use of the handicap assigned to the smaller Culwalla III. The YRA found in favour of Culwalla III and the fine trophy ended up in the Kirribilli clubhouse, unchallenged, for the next 21 years.
The trophy at RYCT (for the time being...)
RYCT member and Dragon class aficionado Leigh Edwards has compiled a detailed record of Sayonara Cup Matches since 1904.
In his summary, Edwards says the Sayonara Cup contests can be divided into four phases:
The original event in 1904, called the Interstate Yacht Race Cup, was sailed from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron in 80-foot gaff cutters.
The period from 1904 to 1910 saw Sayonara from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria initially challenging, then defending the trophy against several RSYS yachts until it was defeated by Culwalla III.
A second phase in yachts about 60 feet overall raced from 1928. The RYCV challenged in Acrospire then Eun-na-Mara and finally won the Cup in 1932 by buying the unbeaten RSYS defender Vanessa and challenging in her.
The third phase began in 1950 when the RYCT proposed the Trustees accept challengers in Eight-Metre class yachts. The Deed of Gift was also amended to accept challengers from Tasmania. This phase once against brought considerable general public interest in the Sayonara Cup, with Squadron member Bill (Sir William) Northam importing the world’s fastest Eight-Metre, Saskia, from England. This phase saw great contests between Frances (RYCV), Erica J (RYCT) and Saskia (RSYS) over more than a decade.
The fourth phase began in 1984 when the challenges were sailed in International Dragon class yachts. The Cup had been successfully locked up in the trophy cabinet of the RSYS since 1932 and the Squadron again defended it with Kirribilli II, helmed by world champion Rob Porter. Kirribilli won 3-0 against challenges from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and the Royal Geelong Yacht Club. Since the Dragon was introduced, there have been 15 Challenge Matches, the last in 2009 when Nick Rogers won the Cup from Sean Kirkjian, sailing for the RPEYC.
Racing for the Sayonara Cup will be a best-of-seven match sailed on the River Derwent on Saturday, 16 March, with a scheduled starting time of 13:30 hours. If racing is necessary on Sunday, 17 March, competition will start from 10:30 hours.
Words: Peter Campbell
Photos: Nick Hutton, RYCT