CLASSIC SAILING DINGHY CELEBRATES 50TH ANNIVERSARY

OVER the past 50 years, hundreds of Hobart families have taken to the water in the Heron class.  Whilst the history of the class in Hobart is littered with National Champions, the real story of the class is the number of families who have either been introduced to a lifelong love of sailing, or have returned to the sport as adults so that their children can share the experience.

Whilst over the half century the class has raced out of clubs at Kingston, Montrose, Sandy Bay and Spring Bay, the Lindisfarne Sailing Club has been the home of this 11 foot dinghy since its introduction to Australia in the late 1950s.  In many ways, the fortunes of the class have been mirrored in the overall success of LSC. 

Designed by Englishman Jack Holt, the Heron was the winner of a design competition run by “Yachting World” magazine.  The basic aim of the design was to provide a safe, stable family sailing dinghy that could be built by the home handyman in ply and which could be raced or used for recreational purposes such as day sailing, rowing or under outboard power.  The two piece gunter rig allowed for the easy storage of the entire rig inside the boat and enabled owners to transport the boat without an overhanging mast.

In Australia, the class quickly became a successful racing class, with several thousand boats having been built over the 50 years.  Strict adherence to “one design” principles has allowed the Heron to be almost unique amongst dinghy classes because older boats have remained competitive.  A shining example of this was at the recent 49th National Championship held in Hobart last summer.  Whilst first and second places went to local skippers, sister and brother Elise and Rowan Clark, sailing the recently constructed home built boats “Familt Ties” and “Nan”, third place went to Queenslander John Nobbs in 1971 National Champion boat “Sobraon”.  The fact that a boat of this vintage can still compete at the highest level is a great advertisement for the longevity of the class.  The Heron is easy to sail and ideal for beginners, being difficult to capsize and relatively undercanvassed, however the Heron is a challenge to sail well, offering the expert the opportunity to tune the boat for extra speed. 

The class has moved with the times with regard to construction methods.  Today, a variety of methods are available.  Home builders can choose between traditional ply over frame construction, or the popular stitch and glue method.  Professional builders can produce boats using either of the above methods as well as having the option of fibreglass construction.  Results at National Championship level indicate that no particular method of construction is at an advantage and that crew ability is the overwhelming factor deciding finishing position.

In Hobart, fleet numbers peaked during the 1970s when it was not unusual for 25 Herons to contest club races.  Current numbers are on the rise, with 10 – 15 boats expected to contest the upcoming season. Current Heron sailors cover the entire spectrum of ability levels, from parents and children learning to sail together, pairs of teenagers and adult experts with young crew.  The class in Hobart has a strong tradition of excellence, with locals regularly competing strongly on the national stage.  The National Championship has been won by LSC members on 5 separate occasions since 1971.

Class officials are keen to expand the local fleet.  Several potential owners are on the lookout for boats in almost any condition.  The Association is attempting to put potential owners in touch with sellers.  Tasmanian Heron Association President Clinton Crook has issued a plea to Heron owners who no longer have a use for their boats to put them up for sale so that other families might experience the joy of Heron sailing. To this end, the local Heron Association is compiling a list of available boats. Prices of boats currently for sale start from $400.

A perfect example of the ability of the Heron to bring families to sailing is the Mitchelmore family.  11 year old Ellena Mitchelmore began sailing lessons at LSC last season.  Her first experience of racing was as a crew for a mainland visitor at the recent National Championship.  As a result, Ellena and her father Andrew are now Heron owners.  Whilst Andrew had never sailed competitively before, he has quickly developed enough skills to get the pair around the course competitively.

“It’s been great to be able to participate in a sport with my daughter.” Andrew commented.  “Being able to learn together is a wonderful opportunity to do something that will stay in our memories forever.  The local Heroners have been incredibly welcoming, offering advice and encouragement regularly.  We’ve been working on the boat over the winter and can’t wait for the season to come round.”

Association President Clinton Crook observed:

“We’re planning a big season to celebrate the 50th anniversary.  We would love others to come and experience the joy of sailing a Heron. There must be upwards of 50 Herons gathering dust in Hobart garages.  We need to get these boats back in circulation.  It’s frustrating to have new class enthusiasts wanting to get on the water, only to find that boats are hard to source. I urge owners to contact us if they wish to sell.  Equally, we would love to see current owners returning to the class or passing their boats on to other family members so that the boat can be used.  If you haven’t sailed your Heron for some time, why not come to LSC and join us?” 


Those wanting either more information, or to register their boat for sale with the Heron Association or those who would like to become Heron owners can contact class Publicity officer Mark Rasmussen for more information by emailing:

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Mark Rasmussen


“We’re planning a big season to celebrate the 50th anniversary.  We would love others to come and experience the joy of sailing a Heron. There must be upwards of 50 Herons gathering dust in Hobart garages.  We need to get these boats back in circulation.  It’s frustrating to have new class enthusiasts wanting to get on the water, only to find that boats are hard to source. I urge owners to contact us if they wish to sell.  Equally, we would love to see current owners returning to the class or passing their boats on to other family members so that the boat can be used.  If you haven’t sailed your Heron for some time, why not come to LSC and join us?”