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CARINA under spinnaker in a north-east sea breeze on Sydney Harbour, possibly racing in a Forster Cup series late in the 1920s.

21 Foot Restricted Class

1907 - 2007

The 21 Foot Restricted Class is the first national development class for yacht racing to be formed in Australia. It also has notable significance with its close relationship to the design and construction of Victorian working craft, such as the Victorian Couta boat, and with this connection it becomes a truly Australian developed class.


The 21 Foot Restricted Class is the first development class rule for yachts created in Australia
The rule was revised as the class grew and some issues needed more clarification.
The final version is dated 1928 and this is an historic yachting document
The rule was created around the proportions and structure of two yachts designed by one of the nation's first Australian born yacht designers Charlie Peel
These two yachts connect the class to the Victorian workboats of Port Phillip and Bass Strait through the class's construction scantlings, which also share characteristics of the famous Couta Boats
The class is one of the longest surviving yacht classes in Australia, and probably the longest surviving class that has been sailed in all states
Many famous names were associated with the class as designers, builders, crew and owners
The states were very supportive of the class, with Tasmania, Qld, NSW and Victoria all designing and building a number of their own craft as true state representatives
The class racing was significant because of the fierce competition it generated between the states during The Forster Cup series


The class was created around two sister ships called NAMOI and IDLER. They were launched in 1909 and designed by Charlie Peel, IDLER was the first and its success led quickly to NAMOI being built as well.. The half-decked yachts were gaff rigged and 6.4 m (21 ft) on the waterline. Both shared all the characteristics of another class called 24 foot square-sterners that raced on Port Phillip at this time. Thses boats had been designed and built by John McKenzie, srating with IMOGEN at 26 fett length, then DOREEN and THETIS, all in the early 1900s. Using measurements and scantlings taken from IDLER and NAMOI the Victorian Yacht Racing Association created rules to form a new class in 1913. It was then called the V.Y.R.A. 21-25 foot Restricted Class.

The rule they created had a basic set of dimensions and scantlings to allow for variation in the design of the class yachts within a range of maximum and minimum values. The maximum waterline length was 21 feet, which gave the class its eventual name. Other values were put on length overall, beam, draft, freeboard, transom rake and ballast. The restrictions also included a girth difference taken at the midsection which to some extent put a control on the hull shape and avoided any 'skimming dish' designs that had caused problems in other classes and rules.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 stopped any immediate progress for the class, but shortly after the end of the war three new craft were built to the rule in Victoria. In general yachting was slow to re-establish in this post war period, and in an effort to boost interest the principal Sydney clubs, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club joined together to chose a new class that would be more affordable to build and could be used for interstate competition. With the enthusiasm of RSYS member Don Taylor and the Governor-General Lord Forster who had both seen the 21 Footers in Victoria, the three clubs chose the Victorian class, taking the decision at a meeting in September 1920. It was then called the 21ft 'Restricted' Class and rules were published in the October issue of 'Australian Coal, Shipping , Steel and the Harbour'.

The well known yachtsman Frank Albert provided the spark to begin the new class in NSW by announcing he would build a boat. A simple reference from 'Australian Coal, Shipping , Steel and the Harbour' December 1920 at the very bottom of page 45 marks the beginning of the class as national entity.

'Mr Frank Albert signified his intention of building to the new class, and there are several others who are contemplating building, but have not yet definitely stated their intentions.'

He was eventually joined by James Milson and Lord Forster and the three had identical boats built by Stewart Sandeman in Careening Cove, North Sydney to a Charlie Peel design. They were called BOOMERANG, E.O.J. and CORELLA and launched late in 1921. Three other NSW craft, INEZ, GUMLEAF and CHERRYTOO were designed and built separately and the fleet of six attracted immediate interest.

Lord Forster provided further impetus by donating a trophy for interstate completion called The Forster Cup and a regatta was proposed for early 1922. The only other state to take up this first challenge was Queensland, with their new boats LAKATOI and MAROONBAH.

The three-race series was a huge success with some of the most exciting racing seen on the Harbour. Media interest was very strong and the regatta was watched by many spectators on the harbour foreshores, on private craft or aboard ferries.

Headlines for the second race were full of praise for the racing, as shown by this report from the Sydney Morning Herald, February 10th 1922.

" It was the greatest yacht race ever seen on the Harbour. It was remarkable for its close finish, and the great number of times that the positions of the leading craft changed over the course of 12 miles"
These were the opinions expressed after yesterday's contest by yachtsman who have witnessed interstate and club races on Port Jackson for more than 50 years.'

GUMLEAF won the series from LAKATOI, but not without incident. LAKATOI was initially disqualified from that second race which it had won but later had the result reinstated. The protest relating to a crew member's alleged professional status was reversed after the intervention of Lord Forster in discussion with the other crews. GUMLEAF then borrowed a bigger sail for the following day to win the last heat and series, but while questions were raised as to whether this sail change contravened the official measurement of the boat, no protest was lodged.

The following week MAROONBAH won the Albert Cup, after CHERRYTOO had crossed the line first but was disqualified for a starting infringement. The Albert Cup was donated by Frank Albert as a single race event to be held at the same time as The Forster Cup.

From that start The Forster Cup and Albert Cup became the most intensely fought events for interstate yacht racing up to World War II. Regattas were held each year, rotating amongst the states and many events had at least four states represented. The Tasmanians became the dominant state with their three boats TASSIE, TASSIE II and TASSIE III taking The Forster Cup at sixteen of the regattas. Queensland was the unlucky state with only one win and many second placings.

Over 70 craft were built, showcasing the talents of designers and builders such as Charlie Peel, Walter Reeks, 'Skipper' Batt, the Hayes family, the Savage Brothers, Whearet, Norman Wright, even William Fife from Scotland and Charles Nicholson for the UK. The yachts were fast, handy and demanding. It started out as a knockabout sailing yacht, but the evolution that appeared over the eight boats built for the first series in 1922 showed how quickly it became a dedicated racing machine. Many design variants were created and the class continued to develop through to the late 1940s with new craft.

A special feature of the class was that it was often supported by owners acting as benefactors, or supported by club fundraising activities. In this way the craft were owned by a club or well known identity, but actually crewed and skippered by the best available sailors from the state. The class supported and encouraged many talented sailors who otherwise could not afford to own a yacht of this type. This happened in all of the states and was vital to the class being able to continue through the Depression, and a principal reason why it fostered skippers and crews who otherwise would not have gained the yacht racing experience the class provided.

Late in the 1940s after World War II the racing resumed, but only a handful of the fleet joined in the series, and only a couple of new craft were built. The final three series in 1953 to 1955 were won convincingly by NERANA from South Australia. The class then disbanded as newer International and Olympic classes from outside of Australia were adopted. The yachts found new homes in various states, in particular Melbourne where they formed a training class and were re-rigged with Dragon class sail plans.

In the 1980s about five of the craft began to race again at Goolwa in South Australia, and for a period they also raced against some of the boats in Victoria at Ballarat and Albert Park.

In 2006 the fleet in Goolwa had expanded to include nearly ten boats racing regularly as a class, including NERANA, NAUTILUS, DOLPHIN, TERN, ENDEAVOUR, BRIGHT'UN, MILSONIA and ALTAIR . All have modern Bermudan rigs and masthead spinnakers, and many have their aging hulls reinforced with fibreglass laminates. The class has been officially reformed at state level (South Australia) and rules established. These rules are a combination of the 1928 document with revisions and additions to accommodate new materials and details not considered when the rules were first drafted. During 2008 and 2009 they were joined by the first of two new 21 Foot Restricted Class yachts to have been designed and built since the late 1940s, GALATEA (2) and MARCIA.

Other extant 21s include GALATEA (1) (ex QUONDONG), TASSIE TOO, JESSAMINE, GYMEA and THE FAN. The original IDLER has fallen on hard times. It is in the care of Seaworks in Williamstown, who have taken it under cover and are considering how best to stabilize and perhaps restore what remains of this famous craft. The hull has collapsed outwards from the keel and transom, so its more a skeleton than a structure, but even in this state you can see the basic scantlings that were adopted by the class, and the early Peel hull shape.


The Forster Cup was an interstate competition that began in 1922 and was raced for by the 21 Foot Restricted Class until 1955. At its peak it was the most important national sailing event with all of the states represented, nominating their best sailors for the series.


The Forster Cup was the first interstate series open to all states and raced for in a locally designed class of yacht, which was the 21 foot Restricted Class
The Forster Cup was also the class championship for the 21 foot Restricted Class, a significant historic class in its own right
The Forster Cup was promoted by Lord Forster "the sailing Governor-General" who was a keen sailor. He owned and sailed yachts while in Australia and visited almost all the states in relation to sailing
The Deed of Gift for The Forster Cup is an historic document in Australia's yachting history
The racing saw fierce competition, and managed to survive through the Depression and World War I
Many famous Australian sailors competed for the cup


Lord Forster was a keen sailor and continued to race yachts during his tenure as the Governor-General in Australia. He saw the 21 Foot Restricted Class and The Forster Cup series as a means of promoting yachting after the end of the First World War, when the sport was affected by the terrible loss of young men in the war. Lord Forster had lost his sons in the First World War.

The final Deed of Gift for The Forster Cup and rules for the 21 Foot Restricted Class were reached by consensus at a meeting of 14 representatives from four of the six states, held in Sydney in October 1922 and chaired by Lord Forster. There was a spirit of co-operation at the meeting which saw consideration given to the position of those states unable to attend, and every motion was carried unanimously, often after lengthy debate.

At its conclusion, Andrew Wilson (a NSW representative) finished proceedings with the following generous praise:

'Seldom, if ever, in the history of yachting, has such a representative gathering been held, as that which has met last evening and tonight. I think I am correct in saying, that never in the history of yachting in Australia, have we had a Governor-General sitting as Chairman of a conference. May we express our sense of appreciation of the deep interest you have taken in this matter, and may we express our personal appreciation of your sportsmanship. It has been a pleasure to every one of us to sit under your Governorship, and I thank you very much on behalf of Sydney yachtsmen.'

James Clark, from Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron gave a vote of thanks, and remarked how the Governor-General had encouraged his state and himself.

'You have come along to our state and resurrected our club there - and given me a lot of trouble- but it has been pleasant trouble, finding myself in a little boat again; this would not have happened if you had not come along and infused new life into us'

The little boat he referred to was LAKATOI, his own 21 which he sailed in the first race of the 1922 series ( finishing 2nd) before handing it over to his son Colin who won the next race and had his wife aboard as one of the crew.

The Deed of Gift opens with the statement that the donor ( Lord Forster) is '…desirous of encouraging the sport of Yachting in Australian waters…' This is a reference to his concern which was shared by many that yachting needed to encourage younger men into the sport and to give them opportunities to gain experience. By promoting a series and a class at the same time, Lord Forster was taking a bold step, but one that had considerable support around the nation.

The Deed of Gift gives property of the trophy to the RSYS as a trustee, but possession of the trophy goes to the winner each year. Changes to the Deed of Gift can only be made by agreement between the major clubs in each state, and if more than one club or state objects, the change cannot be made.

There were two other significant interstate trophies also in existence at the time, the Sayonara Cup and Northcote Cup. Both had a different format using match races between two or three yachts only. The Sayonara Cup had handicaps applied to the finishing times to determine the winner for some of the events, but it was open to Australian designed and built yachts. The Northcote Cup used yachts built to the International Rule at the 6 metre rating band.

Racing for The Forster Cup series was often watched by major crowds at the events where spectators could easily follow from the shoreline. There was strong interest from the media as well, with reports sent interstate immediately after each race finished. For one event Tasmanians waited in the street for the results to be telegraphed through from the mainland, heralding another win to their heroes in the TASSIE boats.

Winning The Forster Cup was a significant achievement that was recognized widely within the winning state as a significant sporting achievement. This recognition became the foundation for the series' continued success through difficult times such as the Depression era, and helped ensure clubs and sailors remained keen to be involved and put in the effort needed to fund and crew their yachts.

Prepared from articles and material in:
Australian Motor Boat and Yachting Monthly
Australian Coal, Shipping, Steel and the Harbour
The Sydney Morning Herald
A copy of the Deed of Gift for The Forster Cup, dated 1949
Material sourced by Bert Ferris, historian for the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron