The story of Tasars in northern Australia

Sailing is different in the Northern Territory. Most adventures here begin with a table or esky full of drinks; be it a crewing partnership, a plan to win or at least attend the world championships, or a midnight sail to the pub across the harbour.

Nobody up here keeps proper details or records, but everyone keeps a few good memories.

Like when a cyclone tried to stop Ben Nicholas and Thomas Winter from winning the 1998/99 national championships in Perth.

They were caught out between two rivers on a humid, stormy wet season night somewhere in Western Australia, when they were awoken by water creeping in the doors of the car.

For some unknown reason, the air-conditioning had drained the car battery.

Short of sailing out of a the predicament, the lads got a tow and then used the foam toe strap padding to build a snorkel for the car's air intake, and got through the floodway.

They must have left the engine attached to the toestraps when they went back in the boat, because after winning that nationals, the lads went on to Japan the following year to become the youngest Tasar world champions aged 24 and 19 years old.

Taking a more sensible route to get to the same nationals, Tom's mother Jenny decided on an alternative route to avoid flooding, via Alice Springs.

Along with John Simondson, they were punctured in the Red Centre with an unusual sized wheel.

The resourceful Territorians made a successful raid on Alice Springs dump on Boxing Day, and found a new tyre that brought them only to the gates of Mounts Bay Saililng Club before retyring forever and collapsing in the dinghy park.

Thomas' mother Jenny is responsible for a lot of the antics of the NT Tasar Class - she bought one of the first of the new-fangled Tasars in 1978 having just returned from finishing 16th in the IYRU Women's Sailing World Championship in Holland.

Her Tasar, number 764 and named Nijinski, was the first along with Lawson Beattie's 763, and Chris Done's 765 - which was shipped off to the new town of Kunnunurra in WA, only to return to Darwin under another ownership.

Lawson sewed the seed for the NT Tasar class after going for a sail in one with Tasar designer Frank Bethwaite in Northbridge earlier that year.

Jenny, John, and Tom still regularly sail thier Tasar, number 2072 Bogey Boat, in Darwin.

Bogey Boat got her name from regular class sunset cruises around the harbour, complete with a glass of something from the cockpit-sized esky, a smoked salmon canapé, or a honey sandwich for the kids. The mess in the bilges always looked a bit 'bogey' by the end of the evening.

The start of the season rigging day cocktail party was always a good excuse to get the boat down to the club early in the year.

Sailors traditionally concocted a cocktail named after their boat; people would cringe at the thought of sampling the Bogey cocktail, which was always very green, but could rest assured that there was always a lot of vodka in the Nijinski. A lot of people were led astray with John Plummer's Retarded cocktail though, which turned out to be just plain old water.

There were usually many sore heads the next day, unless people had stuck to the Retarded cocktails.

The cocktail tasting notes, and the next day's racing results, were a subject of much amusement.

On the subject of cocktails, the hospitable manager of the Mandorah Beach Hotel, which is 4km away by water, was always welcoming of a few Tasars who had outstayed their welcome in the sailing club bar.

After greeting them by torchlight, he would offer a warming glass of gluhwein on the beach and a refreshing swim in the pool.

The younger hands were given leave to return to their Tasar cockpit quarters on the return journey to Fannie Bay.

Younger hands were useful for underweight boats, especially that of 14-year-olds Amy Nicholas and Claire Wharton at the 1993 Darwin nationals, who were 30kg below the minimum required crew weight.

Rather than fill their boat with lead, the girls plucked 10-year-old Victoria Winter as a third crewmember aboard Tasar number 1047 Crystal Ship.

At the other end of the weighing scale, Peter Chilman and Jenny Simondson were probably the heaviest crew at the 2003 Port Lincoln nationals, at a quarter tonne.

Despite the laid-back attitude to sailing, the Top End has produced its share of competitive sailors, boasting world and national champions, including two female national champions in Jenny Simondson (Darwin 1993) and Fiona McManus (Sydney 2011).

Despite the distance, Darwin sailors will always make an effort to represent the Territory at national and international events, in large or small numbers.

As a tune up to hosting the 2005 world championships in Darwin, seven crews made their way across the desert, mostly in convoy, the 2800km to Mission Beach for the 2004 nationals.

Where most would see the drive as a chore, the NT crowd made it into a four-day party.

The Top End sailors brought their magic with them and persuaded a standing record turnout of 131 boats at the Darwin worlds the following year.

Competitors came from Japan, Holland, UK, USA and Canada, and a massive 22 local boats also launched from Darwin.

There was a rush on Tasar ownership in Darwin preceding the Worlds and boats were begged, borrowed and bribed out of back sheds for a quick polish before the regatta.

Travelling 800km or so to the nearest neighbouring Tasar fleet in Kununurra, WA, for the Green Season Regatta was an annual Easter outing for Top End boats, and two or three Sandgroper crews returned the favour to compete in the NT Champs every year.

The Argyle regatta was ressurected in 2013, and a handful of Tasars have travelled each Easter since.

The Kununurra squad has dwindled in recent years to two boats, number 1921 is owned by the club, and Guinnevere 1671 owned by stalwart Torben Sass-Neilson, but they are hopeful the recently-rejuvenated club will produce Tasar sailors in years to come.

Darwin Tasar sailors competed for the Royal Brunei Yacht Club/Darwin Sailing Club Team Racing Challenge Cup, held in alternate years in Brunei and Darwin in the early 1980s.

The event stopped for one reason or another, but the bar flies are talking of a resurrection.

1978 IYRU Woman's world champion Lyndall Coxon-Patterson once led the Darwin squad of twelve to the Asian event.

Tasars were used when competing in Darwin and Laser 2s were used in Brunei.

There has been no science to Tasar turnouts at local club racing.

There was 8-12 Tasars racing regularly in Fannie Bay During the early 1980s right through to early 2000s, and this sometimes increased to 15-18 Tasars on the start line for the NT Championships.

Tasar designer Frank Bethwaite also competed in one of the early NT Tasar Championships, sailed with Ginny Chadderton (we think), and was getting some good results.

NT class founder Lawson Beattie recalled that competitor Ray Richardson lodged a protest against Frank because he was not a Territorian and not eligible to win a prize.

Frank got the last dig however; as he was quoted in a subsequent Australian Sailing article stating that the NT still sailed under some draconian rules.

We also had some draconian sailing methods; Andrew 'Hardhat' Hartley was so named because he always wore a construction site hard hat while sailing after too many encounters with the boom.

The laid-back lifestyle of the Territory is reflected in its sailors.

Fundraising to host a championship or send a few sailors somewhere was sometimes more a social event than an effective method of gathering money.

Bottling home-made wine never seemed to make much profit but was a lot of fun.

There were months were spent flogging raffle tickets at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets and Parap Markets for a Minnow dinghy that Ian Battenburg built and donated, and there were also frequent Saturdays spent sweltering in the Bunnings car park barbequing endless amounts of sausages.

In July of every year it also became tradition to hold the Annual Tasar Christmas Party.

July is the coolest time of the year up here and just the right weather to tuck into the traditional baked turkey and plum pudding.

For many years this was held on the beach near the sailing club.

As soon as the festively-decorated tables and chairs started sinking into the incoming tide the party would creep up the beach.

On some occasions it was even cold enough to build bonfires to warm the wet toes.

Darwin hosts the national championship every half-dozen years, most recently in 2012 and in 2018.