70th Anniversary of the Inaugural Maria Island Race

In the collection of the Maritime Museum of Tasmania, there is a very special vessel – the yacht “Westward”. Her home is now in Constitution Dock, not too far from where she was built back in 1947 at Jock Muir’s boatyard in Battery Point. While thousands of people would pass her on a daily basis, many would not be aware of her important place in Tasmanian maritime history.

Westward’s main claim to fame is she is the only Tasmanian yacht to have won the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on handicap, TWICE, in 1947 and 1948. Muir designed and built Westward for Hobart yachtsman George Gibson and was sailing master for her Sydney-Hobart Race wins. Westward had been designed and built as a fishing cruiser. As a racing yacht, she sailed with the fishing-well sealed over and propeller removed. Jock Muir once noted that “…she must be the only yacht with a fish-well to win the big race.”

As a precursor to her first Sydney to Hobart race, Westward participated in the Inaugural Maria Island Race. This was conceived by the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania as a 174 mile race from Hobart, around Maria Island and back to Hobart. It was considered a good preparation for the Sydney to Hobart. The race started on 1st November 1947. Gibson entered Westward even though she had been launched only a few weeks earlier.

Of the seven starters, only four yachts finished. Line honours went to Winston Churchill, skippered by Percy Coverdale, which had finished third in the inaugural Sydney to Hobart race in 1945. Westward was third home, winning on handicap.

In 2010, Westward’s owner for the past 55 years, Mr Stan Field, gifted her to the Maritime Museum of Tasmania. Mr Field had sailed the yacht extensively, including a 15 year cruise, mainly in the Pacific, but also visiting the Panama Canal. She is still kept in sailing condition by the keen volunteers of the Museum and recently participated in the sail-past for the start of the Yachting season.

The 70th Maria Island Race will start this year on 17 November, sponsored by TasPorts.

The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania are also commemorating the first Maria Island Race with a dinner to be held on Friday 10th November 2017. The guest speaker will be David Kellett AM, a past Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Tasmania. The public are invited to attend. Bookings must be made with the RYCT on 6223 4599.
John Wadsley | Maritime Heritage Coordinator Maritime NMuseum of Tasmania