HCPress, a famous name in Australian 18ft sailing • Live Sail Die
One of the most famous names in Australian 18ft history is HCPress, which is to represent a world and Australian record, for the continuous navigation of 16 boats bearing the same name and the “two red horizontal bars” logo, during a period of 45 years on Sydney Port.
The story of the man, Henry Christian Press, whose boats are named after, and the generations of the Press family who have played such an important role in the history of 18-footers, is every bit as incredible as the record.
Henry Christian Press arrived in Australia as a cabin boy on a ship from Denmark in 1874 and found his way to the Palmer Goldfields in 1875 where he successfully found gold worth 350 pounds.
He returned to Sydney in 1876 and soon purchased his first boathouse, containing 13 rowing craft, on the east side of Woolloomooloo Bay in Sydney Harbour. He rented the rowboats as well as 22-24 sailboats and hired a boat builder who taught him how to build boats himself.
Henry married Annie in 1884 and had six children, including three boys Carl, George (Ned) and Syd.
The government had plans to redevelop the area and the boathouse site at Press was to be taken over, so it submitted an application requesting a site on the west side of the bay. He then moved the company onto a 30-by-60-foot pontoon and it was towed to the side of the estate.
He operated his floating boathouse business for many years and then opened his third boathouse business on the Cooks River in Tempe. A fourth was later established on the east side of the railway near the Como railway bridge.
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A fifth boathouse, along the weir in Audley National Park, has been purchased. The ever-alert press noticed an increase in people coming to the park, so he expanded the boathouse to accommodate more rowboats.
The additional skiffs were built at Audley and also at the estate’s boathouse. The Domain skiffs were towed from there, by sea, to the Port Hacking River.
Another boathouse was built on the salt water side at Audley, but it was only used to store 54 rowing boats. There were 300 rowboats between the two Audley sheds.
Henry Christian Press died in Audley on July 25, 1925.
Henry Press encouraged his son George (also known as Ned) to take sailing seriously, and with the help of his family George built two 16-footers before deciding he wanted to compete against the top races of open boats, and built the first 18-foot HCPress, which began his racing career in 1913.
George built a total of 12 18-foot HCPress between 1913 and 1955, ten of which won championship races. He chose the “two red horizontal bars” logo (his father’s racing colors), which remained the colors on each of the 18ft HCPress and sailed his HCPress boats with family members on the crew.
The 1921 follow-up to George HCPress II was the most successful boat race in Australian waters during the 1920s and was the most successful of all his creations. According to Sydney Flying Squadron (SFS) records, “As owner his boats won 27 Club, Northern Rivers, Port Macquarie, State and Australian championships. As owner-builder he also won 15 cups and various other trophies.
The Mark Foy Challenge Cup
During the 1922-23 season, George Press persuaded Chris Webb to come out of his self-imposed exile, at the time, to race a few races in HCPress II. Webb then returned full time in 1923-24 and won the 1923-24 and 1924-25 Mark Foy Challenge Cup in HCPress II.
When Webb brought the HCPress II back to victory in 1926-27, it marked Webb’s fourth victory in the Mark Foy Challenge Cup (Webb had previously won with Australian III in 1913-14) and Mark Foy insisted that the trophy is given to the owner of the boat. –George Press.
Foy’s original intention was that it had to be won five times before it was won, but he realized that would be too difficult for a single boat to achieve in its competitive lifespan.
Rising costs and the difficulty for boat owners to maintain large numbers of crews in the early 1930s saw the introduction of the 7-foot beam-type boat with a crew of seven, compared to the 12- 13 of the “big boats”.
George Press thought the smaller 7ft beam-type boat would be faster, but when the SFS refused to register these boats, George took his new boat HCPress IV (1933), along with other owners who wanted also race the new-style boat, at the brand new NSW 18-Footers’ Sailing League.
George Press took the new boat, HCPress IV, to Brisbane for the 1933-34 Australian Championship and won the first race but finished second to Aberdare in the overall series. When the League held its first championship in March 1935, HCPress IV became the first League champion by defeating The Mistake and Scot.
When the SFS finally scrapped its rules, George Press returned to the club in 1939. He brought HCPress II out of retirement to race in SFS while running HCPress IV with the League.
In 1941 George Press launched a new boat, HCPress VI, but its big breakthrough came in 1944 when it launched HCPress VII, the first of the modern 6ft searchlights. Once again, according to Press, cost was a factor in switching to this new style of boat, which he claimed he could build for half the price of a larger 18ft.
The new style of boat met with the usual criticism from opponents of smaller sails, as they had in the 1930s when the first evolution came with the 7ft beamers.
Despite performing moderately well in the early seasons, her crew gradually became familiar with the boat and she won several SFS championships in 1947.
Queensland became interested and early in the 1947-48 season several new boats were launched in Sydney, giving the SFS fourteen 6ft beam boats in a fleet of nineteen boats.
George built twelve HCPress 18s and was skipper for most of the first ten (Chris Webb skippered much of HCPress II & III). His nephew, Harry, became a skipper in the mid-1950s and captained the last six boats bearing the HCPress name.
During George’s time as skipper there were usually other members of the Press family on the crew.
Harry Press sailed HCPress boats at SFS and won the NSW Championship in HCPress IX in 1962-63 before his son, Murray, took over and won the Club Scores and Club Championships. He arrived at HCPress XVI before Harry, Murray and Nick all moved to various sponsored 18s.
Despite the rising costs of the 18-year-old’s campaign in the 1960s, Harry Press refused offers of sponsorship help ‘rather than leave the famous HCPress name behind’
The new 18ft Australian Championship Trophy
Unfortunately, the original Mark Foy Challenge Cup, donated to George Press in the late 1920s, was lost in a fire at the family home in Middle Harbor in 1968.
Several years later, historian John Steamer Stanley was speaking with Keith Press about the loss of the trophy when Keith showed him the remains and said “you may as well take it”.
Steamer immediately contacted John (Woody) Winning, who decided to create a new trophy, which would become the Australian Championship Trophy, and ensured that each winner’s name was engraved.
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All metal components of the new trophy are 925 sterling silver. The three side plates and the base plate are silver, refined from the original Mark Foy Challenge Cup. The base, holding the boat’s laurel supports, was the only element to survive from the original. The sterling silver badges on the back, featuring pictures, are replicas of the original badges on the Galloping Ghost Trophy.
The name of the Press continues in skiffs
Although no member of the ‘Press family’ currently races in the Sydney 18ft fleet, the Press name is very strongly represented via the 12ft single sculls, where Nick Press has an incredible success record and where his father, Murray, still runs with the “two red horizontal bars logo of HCPress on the main part.
While Nick is a “living legend” in the 12 with nine Interdominion Championship wins to his name, he also captained seven seasons in the 18-footer.
Smeg was his main skiff, and Nick recalls, “I was lucky enough to campaign with and learn from two 18ft skiff legends, Daniel Phillips and Dave Ewings, and we managed to get season points, a few league wins. . We also had a 2nd place at the Australian Championship and a 5th at JJ Giltinan, which were our best results.
“I loved my time racing the 18ft, not only being able to enjoy the best single sculls races in the world, but knowing that I was carrying on a tradition that is such an important part of my family made it even more special for me. Although no press names currently race in the 18ft, the name is still going strong in the 12ft single sculls and will no doubt reappear in the 18s soon.
According to Nick, “The 12s are an innovation class with a real challenge to the handling of the boat, which makes them very rewarding and enjoyable to sail. The 12s and 18s also have strong ties to many former Interdominion 12 champions who enjoyed successful 18ft careers, showcasing their 12ft boat handling.
Nick started his career in 12ft single sculls as a 16-year-old crewman for his father, Murray, and later took on the challenge of skipper.
Since winning his first Interdominion 12ft Single Sculls Championship, with Brad Yabsley, in 2005, Nick has amassed an incredible record of nine Interdominion Championship wins between 2005 and 2020. Three with Brad Yabsley, three with Andrew Stevenson and three with current teammate Andrew Hay. .
The Australian 18-footer class has a wonderful reputation for family involvement over its 130-year history, but none come close to the five generations and 110 years (minimum) of the Press family.
Credits: Nick Press and Murray Press, “Galloping Ghosts” by Robin Elliott and John Steamer Stanley