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The Tasman Seabirds  SAFARI, CHERANA  and RONITA rafted up together near Kettering Tasmania in 1996.

Alan Payne

1921 - 1995

Alan Payne was born in London, England in 1921, but moved to Australia in 1925 where he spent his childhood in Brisbane and then Sydney. His father Sidney Payne had a ship's masters ticket, but after a period at sea he moved to shore based activities and then emigrated with the family to Brisbane to work for Dalgety's on the Brisbane waterfront. When they moved to Sydney where he attended Sydney Grammar School and Alan sailed small craft with his brother Bill and friends, including Bryce Mortlock, later to become a well known architect.
He married twice, his first marriage was relatively short and ended in the early 1970s, but later that decade he married Wendy Hay, and they had twin daughters, Rosetta and Sarah. Zetty carries on the career of her father having graduated as a naval architect from the University of NSW with a Ph D.

Design background

Alan Payne worked at Cockatoo Dock during the 2nd World War and trained as a naval architect at Sydney Technical College at the same time, becoming their first graduate in 1945 with a diploma, the highest level available at that time.

He set up private practice immediately after the war, initially designing yachts and launches, then later some fishing trawlers. Payne was a crew member on HORIZON in the first Sydney to Hobart race, and subsequent early events.

At different times Payne worked alone or with just one employee, and even returned to Cockatoo Dockyard for a period in the 1950's. From about 1957 onwards he had a firm under his name and a varying number of employees. In the mid 1960s he left yacht design to work as an engineer for client Russell Slade at his Bonds clothing plant, but eventually returned to his first profession. He formed a partnership with Howard Peachey in the late 1980s, and was also attached for a short period to the English naval architects Burness Corlett when they established an office in Sydney in the 1970s.

Alan Payne was very highly respected by his peers in Australia and internationally. In 1993, Alan's contribution to Australian yachting was recognized with the award of an Order of Australia medal. Alan Payne died on June 20 1995 aged 73.

Significant designs

His first designs were done often in collaboration with Bryce Mortlock, and his brother Bill. Together they began designing and building their own craft, initially for the Restricted 12-foot skiff class. The famous Payne Mortlock sailing canoe was their major work, and it helped bring Alan to the sailing worlds attention.
Payne's first design that sailed in the Sydney to Hobart race was NOCTURNE, a 35 foot long raised deck wooden cutter originally planned as a harbour race, but adapted to ocean racing by the owner Bob Bull and with the designer's input. It won a light weather Sydney to Hobart race on line honours in 1952, a remarkable feat. NOCTURNE was a light weight yacht with a spade rudder, and the tough conditions usually encountered in ocean racing convinced Payne that it was better to design strong and seaworthy ocean racing and cruising yachts. The long keeled steel SOLO in 1953, the steel multi chine KOONYA, and the wooden Tasman Seabird Class designs in 1959 are boats with these qualities. In 1959 the newly launched Tasman Seabird CHERANA won the Sydney to Hobart race, sister ship KALEENA was fifth and SOLO took line honours.

Frank Packer commissioned Payne to design Australia's first America's Cup challenger for the 1962 event, the 12 metre GRETEL. The champion American design VIM was brought to Australia and studied closely. Payne and his small team then designed and tested many models, and also designed most of the fittings and mechanical features for the new challenger. A number of the items had advanced or new features such as cross-linking the main winches to double the number of crew who could operate a winch. Many observers felt GRETEL was as good as or better than the defender. The same was said of his second 12 metre design, GRETEL II in 1970 and by then he had international recognition as a leading yacht designer. His third design for 1983, the aluminium Advance was hampered by a lack of funds and a decision to orientate the boat to light weather conditions.

Alan Payne continued with cruising yacht design, mainly deep keeled steel yachts. His nephew Geoff Payne built one of these, the SKOOKUM, which earned a reputation through Cruising World magazine as a tough and adventurous boat.

In partnership with 1945 graduate and colleague Keith Lawson at Seawork Pty Ltd he developed the design for the first catamaran ferries on Sydney Harbour, known as the First Fleet class. He also engineered the means by which the flag at the new federal parliament house was raised and lowered on its flag staff.

Whilst yachts tended to be the major output of his design work he also prepared plans for launches and motorboats, dinghies, a small number of commercial fishing trawlers and as a consultant advised on many rig changes and other details.

His designs were always well proportioned with a classic style that was often admired. Few stand out as unorthodox or unusual. All designs were based on good engineering and shipwright practices, and any different features were carefully considered in the design process. Plans by him or his draughtsmen were usually exceptionally well detailed and presented. These plans remain extant, and a large number of his designs that were built are known to exist in 2005.


Davis, Murray 1967, Australian Ocean Racing, Angus and Robertson
Stephensen P.R. 1962, Sydney Sails, Angus and Robertson
Knight, Lucia 2005, Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers, Norton
Wooden Boat Magazine, December 2004, article by Adrian Herbert,
Seacraft magazine (1945 onwards has a number of feature articles about individual designs)
Personal recollections and notes from David Payne, nephew and employee of the Australian National Maritime Museum.