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Photograph of Michel François (Frank) Albert and his son, Alexis Albert
Photographer: Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection Reproduced courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum

Sir Alexis François Albert

1904-1996

Alexis François Albert was born on 15 October 1904 to Frank and Minna Albert. Described by the 'Australian Motor Boat and Yachting Monthly' (AMBYM) as a ‘young skipper’ with a ‘bright future’, Alexis took to sailing as if it was in his blood.

From a very young age, Alexis was consistently exposed to both the workings of his father's business, J Albert and Son, and to the world of sailing. Following their father’s lead, Alexis and his elder brother Otto were involved with Sydney’s Royal Motor Yacht Club and were regular competitors in handicaps at Rose Bay on board their little launch BABY REVONAH. After Otto died of meningitis in 1914 aged just 14, Frank and Minna became very protective of their only surviving child (Jane Albert, 'House of Hits', p 60).

In 1918, Alexis joined the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, was posted at the navy base HMAS RUSCHCUTTER and eventually served as commanding officer of the coastal minesweeper HMAS PATERSON. In May 1925, the 'AMBYM' noticed the ‘young skipper’ as a rising star. In the same year, Alexis joined the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (RSYS), a club he remained committed to, becoming rear commodore in 1959, vice commodore in 1968 and commodore in 1971.

In 1927, he purchased the Norwegian eight-metre yacht NORN from Lord Henry Forster, the ex-Governor-General of Australia. Originally named VARG, it had been built by Anker and Jensen in 1924. Lord Forster raced it for two seasons and was successful at Cowes Week in the Isle of Wight, England before he sold it to Alexis. The yacht was placed on board SS PORT NICHOLSON for the long journey from England to Australia. It arrived in November and within a couple of months, Alexis won Australian yachting’s ‘premier trophy’ – the Sayonara Cup. His proud father gushed to the 'AMBYM' saying, ‘my son’s yacht has succeeded, winning the coveted Sayonara Cup and I feel very proud of him’. A cable was also received from Lord Forster which simply read, ‘Warmest congratulations. Bravo Norn.’

Alexis competed in the 21-foot yacht BOOMERANG and NORN from season to season, and on one occasion during the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club’s Handicap yacht race in November 1928, Alexis raced NORN against his father in RAWHITI. Combined with his success on the water, J Albert and Son also flourished as he assumed the mantle of managing director in 1931, aged 27.

Over the next few years up to the 1950s, Alexis continued his success in NORN winning many championships including the Basin Cup, Schooner Windward Plate, Gascoyne Cup, Alfred Milson Memorial Cup and Fairfax Cup. From around 1959, he also raced in the Dragon class yacht NORN II, enjoying further success on the water.

Though Alexis opted for a more private life, one area he failed to keep silent on was sailing. In November 1930, 'AMBYM' published Alexis’ observations of the most famous race in the sport, that ‘coveted piece of silverware’ known as the America’s Cup. He had travelled to the United States with his parents to witness yachts compete for what is now the oldest active trophy in sport. Most notably, Alexis shared his thoughts on why the cup had ‘been adorning a shelf in the New York Yacht Club for the past seventy-nine years’:

'The only hope that Great Britain or any other country has of lifting the Cup is … to follow America’s example and get a number of wealthy syndicates to build yachts, and select the best one as Challenger. Or, an alternative would be to alter the rules and make restrictions so that both challenger and defender would be practically one design, both in hull, sails, rigging and mechanical appliances.'

Alexis’ estimations were correct. It would be another 53 years before that prized cup would be awarded to a non-American syndicate. The 132-year American dominance finally ended in 1983, with Ben Lexcen’s AUSTRALIA II.

Alexis died five days short of his 92nd birthday on 10 October 1996. The RSYS Logbook described him as:

'... a very private person but beneath his reserve was a man of warmth and charm. Dedicated to protocol and correctness, he was nevertheless always approachable and good company. He was the personification of that tradition of the squadron that all members are equal in the club.'

Alexis' only surviving son Robert continues the NORN tradition today, racing his own Beneteau 305. The family business also continues today as Australia’s oldest independent music publishing house. One hundred and twenty eight years after Jacques Albert established his first shop in Newtown, Alberts is still operated by the family, with Robert as Chairman and Robert’s son David as CEO.

[Taken from Nicole Cama, 'Sailing and Song: The Albert story continued', ANMM Blog, 24 May 2013, accessed June 2013].

Sources:

Jane Albert, House of Hits: The great untold story of Australia’s first family of music, Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books, 2010.

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