The man behind the name

18ft skiff pioneer aimed to popularise sailing...100 years ago

Wednesday June 1st 2011, Author: Frank Quealey, Location: Australia

With the Mark Foy Trophy regatta to be sailed at Sonderborg, Denmark from 6-11 June, many followers may wonder at the name behind the trophy to be contested by 26 teams from seven countries.

Mark Foy’s deeds are at the heart of 18ft Skiff Racing and his philosophy is still as valid today as it was in Australia 120 years ago.

The Foy philosophy is printed below and it’s amazing how similar it is to the popular Extreme Sailing ‘package’ of today.

Foy, regarded as 'the father of 18 Footer racing', was born in Victoria (Australia) in February 1865 and moved to Sydney in 1884 where he began business under the name ‘Mark Foy’ (which became one of the largest department stores in Sydney for 100 years).

His hobby was sailing but he soon became disappointed that, despite the beauty and location of Sydney Harbour, there was practically no public interest in sailing.

He came to the conclusion it was because yachtsmen did not cater for the public.

The courses meant that the fleet was out of sight for more than an hour and there was no attempt to entertain spectators while the competitors were out of view. Adding to this was a complicated handicap system which caused further delay while the winner was being determined.

As an entrepreneur, he was determined to popularise yacht racing and came up with specific aims to achieve his target.

The Foy method was:
- Boats must be more colourful and more easily identified than by a number,
- Racing must be exciting and faster,
- Wins should be decided on a first-pass-the-post basis.

The major problem was producing a faster racer but Foy solved this with the first of the 18 Footers.

He catered for the enthusiast who liked to follow the racing by introducing coloured emblems on the mainsails, and a triangular course of about three miles which was in full view of the public for the entire race.

He chartered every available ferry to carry spectators to Clarke Island on Sydney Harbour, which was a natural grandstand to view the course. He hired bands to entertain the crowds and whipped up enthusiasm with high-pressure publicity.

On the Australia Day Regatta day in 1892, Clarke Island was packed to capacity, moored ferries were crowded as was every major vantage point along the harbor foreshore.

The crowd was unprecedented in Australian yacht racing yet most of the spectators knew little about the sport. The vast majority of the crowd was there to thrill to the excitement that Foy had promised, but by evening they were the forefathers of the 18 Footer enthusiasts, competitors and spectators of today.

Foy had demonstrated that 18 Footer racing was the most exciting competitor and spectator sport ever seen on Sydney Harbour - a status it still holds on the harbor to the present day.

Through the efforts of the Australian 18 Footers League, the sport has been promoted to USA, UK and Europe and the 2011 Mark Foy Trophy regatta is just the latest step in the development of the class as a world sailing class.

More than 20 countries have contested the Giltinan Championship since 1938 and the Mark Foy Trophy will no doubt extend the number over the coming years as it travels to different continents each year.

The 2011 Mark Foy Trophy will have TV coverage, live tracking and full media coverage, including video, photo graphics and race reports.

2011 Mark Foy Trophy Entries:
18ft Skiffracing Bodensee (Germany)
Asko Appliances (Australia)
Bodotex (Denmark)
Breeze (Hungary)
CST Composites (USA)
CT Sailbattens (New Zealand)
EuroLink (Germany)
Gleitzeit (Germany)
Hyde Sails (UK)
Investec (UK)
Liberty Sailing Team (Hungary)
Maersk Line (New Zealand)
Magic Marine (Germany)
Mosquito (Germany)
Original Chia (Denmark)
Panasonic (Australia)
Pica (UK)
Raiffeisen (Hungary)
Remember the Days (Germany)
SLAM (Australia)
TMF (UK)
WSCW/ProRainer (Germany)
Yamaha (New Zealand)
Yandoo (Australia)

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