18-foot skiffs: bet on 18-footers

18-foot skiffs: bet on 18-footers

by Frank Quealey May 10 21:25 PDT


The nature of the boats and the men who have sailed them over the past 130 years have always made 18ft racing unique in the world of sailing and yachting and one of the unique parts of the sport has been the game that went hand in hand. hand in sport since Mark Foy’s founding day in Sydney Harbor in 1892.

Gambling on the spectator ferries that follow the 18ft dates back to the early 1900s, and beyond, but was made illegal in 1906 when the then government introduced a ‘Gambling and Betting Act’ .

Despite the act, the bookies on the Sydney Flying Squadron ferries continued to ply their trade, even though there were occasional raids by the police.

Many spectators also watched the races from Bradley’s Head, leading ferry customers, who had paid to watch the races, to call it Scotchman’s Hill because they claimed those followers were too naughty to buy a ticket .

There was plenty of gambling action on Bradley’s Head with bookies mingling with the crowd. Unlike the bookies on the ferries, the Bradley’s Head bookies also had plenty of warnings if the police were seen by any of the punters.

In the early 1930s, attempts were made by the SFS to have the government legalize betting on 18s, but this fell on deaf ears.

According to Robin Elliott’s book ‘Galloping Ghosts’, “Less than a month after squadron officials met with the government official, police rammed the Kulgoa ferry, which was following the race. Undercover officers on board reported the culprits and twenty men were kidnapped and taken into custody.

While the game remained illegal, spectators and crews in Sydney continued to engage in the practice which flourished both on the official ferry and at the viewpoint at Bradley’s Head.

It was frequently reported that the game went beyond ferries and crowds on Bradley’s Head. Some of the biggest bets have been made privately among boat owners, and there have been allegations of race ‘fixing’ as well as rumors of skippers accepting money for leaving their boats “to kill oneself”.

When the NSW 18 Footers League (now known as the Australian 18 Footers League) was formed in 1934 and began racing on Sundays in 1935, the game of 18s was taken to another level.

Attendance was unprecedented with up to seven ferries hired each Sunday to accommodate the crowds.

The entrepreneurial skills of the League’s first president, James J. Giltinan, were evident early in the 1936–37 season when each crew carried a jockey in the boat. The move drew non-sailing punters onto the water and it was reported that “over 4,000 people watched the race”.

Clever marketing and the novelty of being able to follow an exciting sport on a Sunday was obviously a winning formula, but it also brought an added bonus in attracting the horse racing fraternity who wanted to have a bet on a day, which wasn’t previously available. for them.

The League’s incredible success is best summed up by League Chairman Horwitz’s statement at the start of the 1938-39 season: “There is no doubt that the 18-footer of the modern type appeals to the sporting instincts of every Australian , which is demonstrated by the fact that our customers increase in number every season. Two seasons ago, we were proud to be able to register 150,000 customers for the season. Last season (1937-38) we were just below the 200,000 mark.”

It was frequently reported that the game went beyond ferries and crowds on Bradley’s Head. Some of the biggest bets have been made privately among boat owners, and there have been allegations of race ‘fixing’ as well as rumors of skippers accepting money for leaving their boats “to kill oneself”.

In the 1930s, the League’s weekly program contained a warning that “betting and gambling are prohibited and anyone doing so will be expelled from the ferry and steps will be taken to prevent his future presence on the ferry”.

At the same time, the weekly schedule was meant to be a nautical version of a horse racing notebook, containing previous results, likely wind conditions and “everything the bettor needed to make a choice”.

As an 18-foot young supporter with a camera, I was aware of the “deals” that were made on the spectator ferry in the 1970s when a bettor could get a bet on any number of alternatives.

  1. You can bet on the entire race with all boats in the fleet included
  2. If there was a very low priced favorite you could bet on the race with that low priced boat excluded from the bet
  3. A bettor could place a bet on which boat would be first at the first mark, or another predetermined mark
  4. The bookmaker would have 2 or 3 “groups” which would each contain 5-6 pre-selected boats, in which you could bet which boat in the group would finish ahead of the other boats in the group
  5. As situations changed throughout the race, the bookmaker would offer ‘new’ prizes to anyone interested in making another bet on the outcome of each alternative.

Obviously, the bettor had every chance to maintain his interest throughout the race.

On Saturdays, the opportunity for ferry customers was even greater as horse races were held in Sydney and Melbourne alongside the sailing race.

Of course, the bookies also took the opportunity to cover horse racing and the calls “Sydney, Melbourne or the boaties” were heard almost nonstop as the sailing race was underway.

It always made me smile when I saw the bookmakers’ signs hung defiantly alongside and under official signage which warned “Gambling is strictly prohibited on this ferry. By order, Sydney Harbor Ferries”.

Along with fair play (even though it is officially illegal) on 18, there have been some unfortunate events and practices.

It was reported that a bookmaker in the early 1950s couldn’t pay off on a successful bet and decided to jump overboard to fix the problem.

Worse still, there were stories of attempts to influence the outcome of the race by a few bookmakers who were willing to pay agreeable skippers to ‘run a run’ (deliberately lose).

On a lighter note, in the 1970s, during a police ‘raid’, a bookie took the unusual action of hiding in the ferry’s ‘ladies’ toilet to avoid arrest. It was a successful tactic.

Despite everything that had happened in the previous 75 years, when a spectator ferry was ‘raided’ by police in the 1970s, Neville Wran, the New South Wales Premier of 1976 to 1986, openly claimed in a front-page newspaper article that playing on 18 was such a “tradition” in Sydney that it was part of Sydney Harbor heritage.

A journalist wrote in a newspaper article: “It’s a very civilized way to play. make it a naturally exciting sport for spectators and participants alike.”

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