On Sunday April 28th, fifty Six Metre devotees gathered at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club to celebrate the history of this famous class. This was the third in a series of four Heritage Luncheons in honour of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, and this event focused on that amazing period in the late 1940s to the early 1960s when the Six Metre was the premier racing yacht on Lake Ontario, and when nine of these exceptionally beautiful boats sailed out of RHYC.
Rob Mazza, master of ceremonies for this Heritage Luncheon, explained that unlike one-design and handicap racing, Six Metres were designed to a development formula known as the International Rule, so that each boat rated at 6 Metres in rated length, and could therefore race together on a “boat for boat” basis, even though each Six Metre was unique, and no two were alike. The 6 was the most popular of the International Rule classes which includes the larger 8 Metres and 12 Metres, with the latter being best known for racing for the America’s Cup for many years. The Six Metre was an Olympic class from 1908 to 1952, and was the vessel of choice for all international sailing contests from the early 20s to the mid-50s, including the One Ton Cup, Seawanhaka Cup, Scandinavian Gold Cup, British-American Team Racing, the George Cup, and the Richardson Cup.
The names of the Sixes which formed the RHYC fleet in the late 50s and early 60s are legendary and included Merenneito owned by Cliff Lunt from 1951 to 1976, Gallant brought to the Club by Bob Morison, and then acquired by Denny Draper then John Essery, Johan of Rhu brought to RHYC by Donny Allan, then sailed for many years with great success by Dick Scott and his sons Larry and Ryan, Totem owned and sailed by the memorable Howard Fairclough, Stork, purchased by Hugh Brown directly from Jerry Castle in Rochester (retaining her US sail numbers for her duration in Canada), Star Wagon owned by ”Kelpy” Cavanaugh also retaining her US sail number, Titia owned and sailed by Roger Gardner, Circe owned by John Holden (Grandfather of RHYC Events Manager Carleigh Holden), and later Bibis, probably the most race winning Six at RHYC owned and sailed by Bob Morison, purchased from Jim Crang of RCYC after Bob sold Gallant to Denny Draper.
However, this was more than a mere celebration of boats. It was also an enjoyable reunion of the people who sailed these magnificent craft. George Cuthbertson in particular told of not only his early days sailing out of RCYC in Merenneito, Totem and Circe, but his acquisition of Buzzy II and Gallant in Europe and their importation to Canada as part of his first company, Canadian Northern, in partnership with Peter Davidson. Paul Henderson told stories of his first introduction to “the Sixes“ as a 16 year old and his memories of the high jinks and sheer fun that the class exhibited, with recollections of bicycles being ridden off the diving board into the RCYC pool, and similar antics in Rochester. Jim Taylor, Hugh Brown, Pat Hare, Burke and Michael Penny, Ryan and Larry Scott, John Draper, Duncan Green, Mike Vollmer, and many others who sailed these magnificent boats also shared stories of their fondest memories. Of particular note was the showing of Harry Penny’s home movies of sailing Sixes at RHYC in the early 60s, transferred to DVD by Burke Penny, and made available to the past members of the fleet.
Mazza quoted Harry Penny who said; “As a 6-metre sailor during their heyday in the 1960’s, the writer cannot claim to be objective about the merits of this class; he only knows that he was spoiled for any other kind of racing. Afterward, all other boats seemed graceless, sluggish, and unresponsive.” There was a general nostalgic sigh of agreement from the audience. Even though these glorious craft may no longer be part of RHYC and Lake Ontario racing, all present were relieved that new and wealthier converts are discovering the class, and many of these old boats are being restored to their former glory and continue to race in Europe, Newport, and the Seattle/Vancouver area.