Ask those at Manly Skiffs the original motivation behind seeking an amalgamation with the famous old St George Sailing Club and money and profit is never at the forefront of discussion.
Invariably, the talk turns to the propagation of 16ft skiff sailing and the other classes St George have fostered for close on 125 years.
With every new split in the floor panelling and flake of paint peeling off the walls of the dilapidated club, sailing in the area was headed into its own state of disrepair. Manly felt it could not stand by and do nothing, first investigating a merger way back in 2010.
“Of course, we had to look at the financials when we first started discussing getting involved at St George, but much of the talk was about doing something to ensure sailing remained alive in a crucial part of Sydney,” Manly president, Rolf Cohen explained.
“It was great Manly was in a position of strength, but what about the overall strength and depth in skiff sailing?
“Did we want get to the point where we started running out of rivals, or did we want to take a more holistic approach and support the movement overall,” we asked.
“I’m proud to say – 12 years down the track – we’ve managed to revive the St George Sailing Club both on and off the water. We’ve been true to our word. This area has this fantastic new facility for the whole community to enjoy, while sailing will also prosper,” Cohen ended.
St George life member, Paul Donovan, volunteer president during the $15m rebuild, has seen the rebirth from start to finish and admitted to some trepidation at the beginning.
“Initially, no one really wanted Manly to come in,” he said. “I sold the concept to the class organisers that Manly would keep the sailing going at St George Sailing Club and we slowly got the sailors on board on the back of that.
“Some might have not thought this was the best idea back then, but the relationship with Manly is great now. Sailors are very happy with the result of the new club.”
The St George sailing program was on its knees during the rebuild, but Manly saw its commitment through, to keep all classes going for at least five years, as long as there was a minimum of five starters. This agreement has extended well past that date and there’s been a strong effort to grow all classes by both entities, but it will take time, especially in the 16s.
Donovan said: “We probably need to concentrate on juniors first and feed up through the classes. Luring people over from the other classes is also possible. Hopefully with the financial support for 16s, the class will re-emerge. Time will tell. We know one thing – there is no better place to watch sailing than from our club.”
The build, Manly’s first venture outside its traditional base, cost $15M and took three years to complete, as Covid and bad weather intervened to stall progress.
St George Sailing Club has quickly become one of the hottest venues in Sydney’s south, mirroring Manly’s success in the north. Both clubs share the same operating blueprint, sharing staff, expertise and a desire to promote sailing.
Cohen commented, “I get overwhelmed by the number of people who come up and thank Manly, but it wouldn’t have worked without the cooperation of both parties and our mutual love for sailing. It was a long time coming but I think all would agree it’s been a win-win.”