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HC Press and the Mark Foy Trophy

HC Press family

The HC Press family has contributed a great deal to the Sydney and nearby region's boating history over at least four generations. The name is best known in the 18-Foot skiff class with a series of boats using the name HC PRESS, and they won many races over a couple of decades. However, an equally important aspect of their activities was the many boatsheds they operated over almost a century hiring craft out to the public. This business ended in the 1960s.

HC Press the patriarch was born Henrich Christian Prefs in Denmark in 1850. His sea life started in 1864 as a cabin boy on sailing ships. In 1874 he arrived in Sydney, and stayed on to go to the Palmer goldfields in 1875. By early 1786 he had made a considerable sum, understood to be 350 pounds. He returned to Sydney and bought a boatshed on the eastern shore of Woolloomooloo Bay from Mr. Ackeroy. It came with 13 rowing skiffs which he increased in number by hiring a boatbuilder, and learning the trade from him as well. He also built and hired out 22 and 24 foot sailing open boats.

HC Press as he was then known married Annie Adelaide Kenny, daughter of a ship's captain in 1884, and the couple had six children. The boys, Carl, Ned and Sidney all joined their father in the business when they were old enough.

In 1885 HC Press moved to the western side of Woolloomooloo Bay after the government resumed the eastern side for wharves. He built a new shed on top of a 10 m x 20 m pontoon, floated it across the bay and moored it on the Domain side as a floating boatshed. From there he and his sons continued to operate the hire business, stored boats and carried out boat building.

HC Press expanded the hire business with additional boatsheds at The Spit on Middle Harbour, the Cooks River at Tempe, another near the Como railway bridge, a large establishment at Audley in the National Park, and picnic grounds on the shores of Sugarloaf Bay, Castle Cove in Middle Harbour. This was known as the Palmer Picnic Grounds for many years, and then later renamed HC Pres Park. Further Press boatsheds were operated in Toukley and on the Narrabeen Lakes, and the Audley one was moved from within the park after a disagreement on conditions with the local council.

Boat hire to the public was a substantial activity for decades. The public flocked to the harbour and other waterways for recreation, and for many this was the only boating experience they could afford. Picnic grounds were located in many areas and the weekends in summer had huge activity on some sites, with the public coming by ferry or train to spend a day by and on the water. Numerous clinker skiffs were made, often with two rowing thwarts and room for passengers aft. They were robust, safe and ideal for their task, with features not unlike a waterman's skiff. The Press family made large numbers of them, often at the Domain shed. They were even towed down to Audley by one of their launches, making the passage off the Sydney coastline.

The HC Press family also made launches and sailing skiffs, and the HC PRESS series of thirteen 18-foot skiffs were legendary performers. Twelve were built by the family, and HC Press was involved with the first two. Chris Webb skippered some the early ones, then Ned became the helmsman and continued with many race wins. The most famous HC PRESS race win was the outright win over consecutive races of the flamboyant Mark Foy Trophy by HC PRESS II. Sadly this trophy was all but destroyed in a house fire in 1968, and only parts remain as a reminder of the 1920s skiff era. Their launches were used to follow the 18-foot skiff fleet, the public coming aboard as paying passengers, another source of income.

They built skiffs for other skippers such as the famous ALRUTH for Alf Beashel, and all the Press family sailed. At one point the Press 'aunties' demanded an HC PRESS skiff be crewed only by Press family members, so they joined together in a mixture of men and boys, related as fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and cousins.

The decline of the family's major involvement in both skiffs and hire boats took place largely after World War II and by the mid 1960s the boatsheds had closed. Palmer Grounds is now known as HC Press Reserve, and has reverted to bushland. The current Press generations still sail in the skiffs, and Nic Press is the 2011 Interdominion 12-Foot Skiff Class champion, while his father was 2010 Australian Champion in the same skiffs.