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Letter from Mark Foy to the Medway Yacht Club

Date: 9 January 1900
Overall: 330 x 230 mm
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Mary Shaw
Object Name: Letter
Object No: ANMS0199[005]

User Terms

    In this letter written by Mark Foy to the Honorary Secretary of Medway Yacht Club, Chatham, Foy asked the committee to alter their rules to allow competition on open water where "...the elements of sailing and not the tideways decide the contest", rather than on the medway.

    The refusal of the committee to do so would mean " may on the greatest of certainties & with very little honour attached to it claim to have defeated us on the medway for all time as I am perfectly certain you will never again get a challenge to race".
    SignificanceThis letter relates to the Anglo-Australian Challenge - a series of races between Mark Foy of the Sydney Flying Squadron and the Wyllies of the Medway Yacht Club in 1898. The series reflects the patriotism and enthusiasm of Foy, who relentlessly petitioned the Medway Yacht Club for a rematch for nearly a decade, and finally claimed the shield in 1911.
    History"Who cares who wins when no-one knows? And the kernel of this sport is always wasted, not only to the spectators but to the competitor... who cares what the boats are doing when they sail out of sight?"

    In 1895, entrepreneur and founding Commodore of the Sydney Flying Squadron Mark Foy (1865-1950) wrote this about the manoeuvres of the big yachts in regattas. He preferred the potential of Sydney's smaller open boats. Open boats, or skiffs, were beamy boats with huge sails - and large crews of waterfront workers for ballast. Based on workboats from six to 24 feet (1.8 - 7.3m) long they were a spectacle on Sydney Harbour. Skiff racing was a tough working-mans sport.

    Foy introduced rules to make the sport more lively - coloured emblems for the sails, a short triangular course with handicapped stat, large prize money and spectator ferries with punters following the races. By the 1920s the open boats were standardised as 18-footers and were racing in Western Australia and Queensland.

    During lengthy business trips to England, Mark Foy boasted about the great speed and sail of Sydney's big open boats. Foy issued a challenge in 1898 with an old champion 22-footer IREX. William Wyllie, Commodore of the Medway Yacht Club, accepted, and they competed for the Anglo-Australian Challenge shield. Filled with patriotism Foy made no restrictions on hull shape, sail area, ballast, foredecking or crew of his opponent.

    Wyllie built a new boat of the same waterline length as IREX, named MAID OF KENT. The lighter, skimming-dish style boat carried half of the sail of Foy's IREX, and was skippered by Wyllie's wife Marion, an experienced sailor. In a series on the tidal Medway River, William and Marion Wyllie soundly bead Foy in every race. Foy was clearly outclassed.

    The series received a great deal of media attention in Australia. By the third race, it was clear that the IREX was not appropriate for the challenge:

    "The Irex is considered to be antiquated and unsuitable to English waters, and the hope is expressed that an Australian boat will be built especially for the next contest." (The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 23 September 1898, p 5)

    Foy promptly demanded a rematch in open water, and received a series of polite but firm refusals over the next five years of petitioning. In 1903 Foy had a 24 foot cutter-rigged vessel specially built by the Logans of Auckland for the tidal conditions of the river Medway. Foy named the vessel SOUTHERLY BUSTER 'because she is coming from the south to 'bust' them up' (The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 15 April 1910, p 6). In 1910, the Medway Yacht Club accepted a challenge from Foy to race on the Medway River under the original conditions of 1898. By July 1911 no competitor had come forward to challenge the SOUTHERLY BUSTER and the Anglo-Australian Shield was handed over to Foy.

    It would be 65 years before England and Australia were to race again.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Letter from Mark Foy to the Medway Yacht Club

    Primary title: Letter to the Medway Yacht Club from Mark Foy, 9th January 1900

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