A skipper shepherds his model skiff between Point Piper and Shark Island.

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 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 row boats. 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 museum organised an event on Sydney Harbour for enthusiasts to sail their craft. View pictures.

The museum is keen to encourage this revival and has published plans to build a traditional 12 inch model skiff. This class is quite manageable to build, store, transport and sail, and provides all the qualities and satisfaction of the big two-foot class. View images of a traditional 12 inch model skiff.

If you do build a model skiff racer, we would love to hear from you so please post your experiences in the comments section below. Eventually, if there are enough interested people a club for the model skiffs might be formed again to organise occasional events. If you are interested please email us to let us know. We would love to see photos of your craft too.

More information

Download and view instructions of how to build a model racing skiff – remember the key to a successful skiff is to keep the hull light.

– View images of a traditional 12 inch model skiff.

– Story contributed by By David Payne, a yacht designer and curator at the museum. View David’s website.

Posted in: Model skiffs