The Re-appearance of Model Skiffs

At an Australian 10 Ft Skiff Championships, held at Sunshine over the Easter weekend in 2013, a pair of 2-foot model skiffs came out to play on the morning of the third heat. These beautiful model boats were put in the lake with a chase boat as they made their way around the bay.

It’s also been heard that Lake Macquarie’s “Alf” is working on resurrecting a 3-foot model which is over 100 years old.

From: Australian National Maritime Museum Blog
During the first half of the century model racing skiffs were regularly seen sailing across Sydney Harbour in winter. They were often raced by people who in summer were busy racing full-sized skiffs. Although this practice ended around 1954, model racing skiffs are making a comeback across Australia, which the Australian Maritime Museum is keen to encourage.

Model skiffs shared things in common with their full-sized cousins the 18-foot skiffs, and many were built by skippers or their crew. They were much smaller, had over-sized rigs and improbable hull proportions.  Being models, the skiffs couldn’t be crewed so their skipper would follow them in rowboats. These boats had another person to row the boat who was usually the skipper’s colleague or family member – many were women; sisters, cousins or girlfriends.

The rower would manoeuvre the dinghy along-side the skiff so the skipper could make adjustments to his boat during the race.  While the skipper and rower had their independent tasks, they also worked together on tactics and shared observations on the conditions and their rival’s position.

Model racing skiffs started making a comeback in the 1980s and featured names such as Fred Thomas from Sans Souci and the McGooghans of Balmain – people who had been part of model racing in the 1940s and 1950s.They were joined by the late Nick Masterman, a dedicated heritage shipwright and enthusiast for Sydney Harbour’s maritime past. Masterman encouraged people to restore the old craft, as well as highlight the models’ story in local media and boat shows.

Since then others have come aboard – people with their dad’s or uncle’s old skiff, or one they picked up elsewhere like in an antique shop or garage sale.

This once dormant art is stirring back to life as more new craft are being constructed.  Already, enthusiasts in Brisbane, Tasmania and up the NSW coast have built their own models. Last year the Australian National Museum organised an event on Sydney Harbour for enthusiasts to sail their craft.

Courtesy of David Payne, a yacht designer and curator at the Australian National Museum.