Irene Pritchard, the first woman skipper on Sydney Harbour



Irene Pritchard and brother in Zephyr, 1899. Photo courtesy of Nedlands Library.


In late December 1898, Irene Pritchard became the first woman to skipper a skiff racing on Sydney Harbour. She was listed as the skipper of a new boat, Zephyr, registered to compete in the 8ft dingy class at Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club.

Irene won her first race on December 24, 1898. The Sunday Mail reported “As will be noticed, a lady piloted one of the dingies, and, as it turned, successfully. Not withstanding a heavy press of canvas, Miss Pritchard took her craft Zephyr to the front early in the race, and won, with 2 minutes to spare.” Eleven boats had been entered in the race, but not all started.

She was then elected to the Club.

Her boat, Zephyr, was built by her brother, H.C. (Harry) Pritchard. Her father, also H.C. and known as Charles, was a local boat builder.  Charles had started as a waterman – rowing people to their destinations – on Sydney Harbour in 1869. Charles  established a boat-building business, Messrs Pritchard and Company, at White Horse Point, Balmain, and later moved the business to Leichhardt, where the family lived.

Irene was born in 1875, the third of eight children, and the only girl. Harry was the eldest, born six years before Irene. The children were probably all born in Balmain, where their births were registered. At least two other brothers, Arthur and Frederick,  also became boat builders.

Arthur Swinfield, who had done his apprenticeship with Harry, recalled:  “While chatting with his father Charles Pritchard, who remarked whether the limit of beam of a sailing boat had been reached, H.C. Pritchard made a scale model which so pleased them both that they decided to build it. She was Zephyr, 8’ long [2.4 metres] and 8’ beam, which was eventually sailed by Irene Pritchard on tiller, H. Pritchard on mainsheet and Fred Pritchard on jib.

“At the Anniversary Regatta, after Zephyr’s win and the presentation of prizes at Hotel Australia, a gold medal was presented to Miss Irene Pritchard for being the only Lady Skipper on that day, and being successful in the 8’ x 8’ dingy Zephyr.” (From Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, Classic Small Boats)


Like all the skiffs of the day, Zephyr carried an enormous area of sail.

Swinfield said she had an 18’ (5.5m) mast, a 16’ (4.9m) boom, a 10’6” (3.2m) and a 10’ (3m) bowsprit.

Irene belonged to the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club, then one of the premier sailing clubs in Sydney, and the only active sailing club in Balmain. The Balmain Regatta continued, but Balmain Sailing Club was dormant.

In those days clubs did not have clubhouses: they met at various pubs –  in 1898 the Johnstone’s Bay Club was meeting in the Pacific Hotel, Stephen Street, Balmain – and boats raced with several clubs.

Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club held races for 22 foot, 18, 14, 10 and 8 foot classes.

Irene also raced with the Sydney Dingey (sic) Club, which catered “for all dingeys from 8ft to 14ft” and with the Port Jackson Dingy Club.

Although they sailed with several clubs, the Pritchards would not have been welcome at  every club on the Harbour. Some, like the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club excluded professionals, which they defined as: “all fishermen, oystermen, boat builders, sail makers, or persons gaining or having gained their living on the water, or any person who has received a monetary consideration for his professional knowledge”.

The Balmain Clubs welcomed all comers. Many Balmain residents in the 1890s earned their living working as boat builders, on the wharves, at Cockatoo or Mort Dock, or working with a ferry, tug or lighterage company and there were even still some watermen. To reject those who earned their living from boat and water-based industries would have severely limited club numbers.

The 8 footers were regularly referred to as midgets or mosquitoes, though in 1899 an even smaller boat, the 6 footer, was introduced. In addition to the classes raced at Johnstone Bay S.C. there were also 12, 15, 20 and 24 footers. The races were popular events, followed by several steamers where illegal gambling on the race took place. Prize money was very generous.

Irene’s first race was a handicap – she was on 5 minutes – with 11 scheduled to race, though not all started.

Her second race was with the Port Jackson Dingy Club, on January 7, 1899. The course went around Goat Island and Clark Island. Zephyr capsized, and one can only wonder how Irene Pritchard fared, in her lady-like attire, without a life-jacket, in a boat that could not be righted but had to be towed ashore.

The Anniversary Regatta is now known as the Australia Day Regatta was arguably the most prestigious Sydney sailing event. It has been held on January 26 since 1837.

In 1899 Irene Pritchard was the first woman to sail in it, and the first woman to win an Anniversary Day race. Zephyr won by 1 minute, 5 seconds, beating a fleet of 13.

Irene won £2, a significant sum when average weekly earnings were  £1.30.

The prize was presented 11 days later. The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “The large reading-room of the Hotel Australia was crowded, and there was considerable enthusiasm. The prizes were passed over to the several winners and placed boats, and to each the chairman paid well-deserved compliments, but when Miss Irene Pritchard, accompanied by her brother, came forward, there were loud applause and hearty cheers. Dr. Burne explained that this was the first time a lady had sailed a winner at Anniversary Regatta, or at any other regatta held in Sydney. In addition to the prize money the committee awarded a handsome gold medal to the young lady.” (Dr Alfred Burne was chairman of the Regatta committee between 1899 and 1907).

Irene Pritchard Carnaby, wearing her Anniversary Day medal. The top of the medal, which is in the shape of a Maltese cross, is a yacht.  Photo courtesy of Nedlands Library


Her next race was with the Sydney Dingey Club on February 4, 1899.

The course was from Goat Island, round Shark Island and back. It was a popular event. The Evening News reported: “The club has gone to considerable expense in chartering three steamers to follow the races. The Greyhound is to leave Circular Quay only at 3 o’clock sharp. The Lady Manning will leave Erskine-street at 2.30, calling at Pyrmont and Balmain, and the Lily will start from Hunter’s Hill at 2 o’clock, calling at Drummoyne and the West Balmain wharves en route to the starting point.” The steamers followed two races: the 10 footers and the 8 footers over their course from Goat Island, round Shark Island and back to Goat Island. Zephyr now started on scratch.

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “The now famous Zephyr, with her young lady skipper, Miss Pritchard, again distinguished herself, and sailing through the fleet was ahead of affairs before Shark Island was reached, and as she squared away for home the order; was : — Zephyr, Britannia, Inez, Bert, Our Boys, and Thistle. Very little alteration took place on the run back, Zephyr increasing her lead, the finishing times being : — Zephyr, 4h. 59m. 53s ; Britannia, 4h. 20m. ; Inez, 5h. 3m. 11s ; Our Boys, 5h. 5m. 3s. ; Bert, 5h. 7m. ; Thistle, 5h. 7m. 36s.” (Note: 4h refers to 4pm, 5h to 5pm). Zephyr, for first place won £1 10s.

The following Saturday, February 12, 1899, Irene raced with Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club. It was a big day, with four events: a general handicap for boats 18ft plus, 14 footers, 10 footers, and 8 footers. The course for the 8 footers was round Shark Island, from and to Goat Island. This time Britannia was victorious, with Zephyr coming second and winning £1. The Truth wrote: “This second place by Miss Pritchard in the Zephyr makes three firsts and a second in succession. Not a bad record for a lady in a dingy eight feet long and eight feet wide!” Perhaps she was only second because of the behaviour of the boat placed third, which was disqualified. This is described in The Yachtsman article later in this piece,

The next week racing with the Port Jackson Dingey Sailing Club, Zephyr again capsized.

Zephyr won the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club 8ft championship the following week, February 25, 1899, winning £2. The club held three races that day, for the 18-footers, 10 footers and 8 footers. The Evening News reported: “in the 8-footers’ contest, which was the ‘blue ribbon’ event of the ‘midgets’, Zephyr scored an easy victory. The champion 8-footer, which is 8ft broad as well, was again faultlessly handled by Miss Irene Pritchard, who may well be congratulated on her prowess.”

The Telegraph (based in Brisbane) also reported the race: “Six 8-footers started for the championship, and Zephyr (sailed by Miss Pritchard) immediately went to the front, and fairly walked away from her rivals on the beat to Shark Island. Zephyr won  ‘hard held’ by no less than 6 mins. Out of seven starts Zephyr has won five and capsized twice.”

Note the mythmaking beginning: the careful reader will note that out of her seven starts, Irene had actually won four – not five – races come second once and capsized twice.

Zephyr was featured in the Australian Town and Country Journal, published Saturday March 4, 1899. Under a photograph of her boat, the text read: “The Zephyr, the flyer of the 8-footers, is quiet (sic) a new departure in boat building, her dimensions being 8ft long by 8ft beam, making her as long as she is broad. Not the least interesting feature about her is that she is piloted by Miss Irene Pritchard, who is the first on the list to represent the gentle sex amongst the tiny squadron. In seven starts the Zephyr has gained no less than five victories, one second, and in the remaining event had the misfortune to “turn turtle.” This small craft was built by the well-known firm of Messrs. Pritchard and Company, boatbuilders, of Leichhardt.”


Australian Town and Country Journal, March 4, 1899. p. 24. From Trove, reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia


On March 22, 1899, the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club presented Irene Pritchard with the Champion Pennant of the 8-foot class.

Irene answered a request to sail in the Newcastle and Stockton Sailing Club’s handicap on March 25. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, said: “Miss Irene Pritchard is coming from Sydney with the boat the Zephyr. This lady is exceptionally skillful at the tiller, and her appearance here should attract a considerable amount of attention.” The newspaper later reported: “Miss Irene Pritchard, the champion lady ‘yachts man’ in her eight-footer, The Zephyr has kindly consented to take part in the carnival. This should alone be a big draw, especially for the ladies, to see one of their own sex at the tiller of her tiny craft.”

She was, according to the Brisbane-based Telegraph “accorded a great reception by the northern sailing men. Many hundreds of spectators lined the various wharves, and with those on board th steamers following the racing heartily cheered the fair skipper as she sailed by. The lack of wind prevented the races from finishing, but Zephyr had a strong lead, and would probably have won her race if the dingeys had been able to complete the course.”

Later that year, Irene presented the club “a large-framed enlargement photo of her 8-footer dingy, the Zephyr, in which the owner was depicted sailing her craft”.

Irene’s fame spread overseas. The London-based magazine, The Yachtsman, in an article in its March 16, 1899 edition, titled ‘Yachting in Sydney’, said: “The doings of an 8-footer Zephyr, with Miss Pritchard at the tiller, is the ‘dinghy’ topic in boating circles”.

The next month The Yachtsman not only printed a photo of Zephyr winning the Anniversary Regatta, it reproduced the plans for Zephyr, as well as an article on Irene, titled ‘One Beam to Length’:

“In our issue of March 16, we referred to the interest excited in Sydney by the winning performances of Miss Irene Pritchard in Zephyr in the 8-ft. dinghy matches. As we venture to think that the boat itself is not a little remarkable in several respects we therefore have the greater pleasure in being able to illustrate it to-day.

Zephyr was built recently by Mr. H.C. Pritchard of Leichhardt, Sydney, N.S.W., and is 8ft. long overall, 8ft. beam, and 2ft. extreme depth amidships, 7ft across transom; the mast is 18ft. long and 3¼in. thick; boom 16ft. long, 3in. at transom; gaff 10ft. 6in. by 2½in. thick; bowsprit 10ft. over bow. She has a deck of 13in. width, and usually carries three hands.

Zephyr is the only boat 8ft. long ever raced in Port Jackson and sailed by a lady. In six races, early in the season, Miss Irene Pritchard, with her two brothers as crew, won four first prizes and one second, the other event being ‘a swim’. In the race in which Zephyr took second prize, the third boat was disqualified for repeatedly bearing away to prevent Zephyr passing to leeward; when within half a mile from home Zephyr managed to secure a puff over the third boat’s sails and drew away, finishing 1 min. 5 secs. ahead. The boat has been equally successful in more recent matches, the latest of which we have advice being the championship of the Johnstone’s Bay S.C., sailed on February 25, in heavy water over the Shark’s Island course, when Zephyr and Miss Pritchard lead home by 6mins. 2secs., Inez being second. Miss Pritchard had her second ducking of the season in a match of the Port Jackson Dinghy Club on the previous Saturday, when the match was won by the scratch boat Our Boys.

Zephyr’s best point is reaching, when she is said to be almost as fast as the 10ft. class. She is said to be so stiff in the water that she can be moored out with the mainsail hoisted with perfect safety with no crew or ballast aboard; unlike the other boats of the class that are held upright while the crew are getting aboard. The exceptional speed shown by such a boat 8ft. by 8ft., and the fact of its successful handling by a young lady who had never before sailed in a racing boat, have, needless to say, excited considerable curiosity in that part of the world, and we should add that at the public distribution the prizes won at the recent Anniversary Regatta, Miss Irene Pritchard was presented with an additional and special gold medal for the skillful handling of the 8ft. dinghy Zephyr , and also for being ‘the first lady skipper in Australia’. The prizes were presented by the regatta committee at an evening meeting in the presence of a large and very enthusiastic audience.

“Our illustration shows Zephyr winning at the Anniversary Regatta. The drawings will in great measure speak for themselves, with the aid of previous remarks. The proportion of boat to sail area is an especially noticeable point”.  

This article, published in an English magazine, was the most detailed written about Irene, and the drawings, which were later reproduced in Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, Classic Small Boats, provide the most complete record of Zephyr.


From Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, reprinted from The Yachtsman, April 13, 1899


When commodore F.W.J. Donovan, read the ninth annual report to the

annual meeting of the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club, in August 1899, he dwelt at length on several special features, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “One of the most prominent was the fact that a lady skipper had successfully competed in the club.” Irene won the championship pennant for the 8 foot class. She had dominated the class.

Irene Pritchard entered seven races (not including the Newcastle Stockton race). She had four wins, one second placing and two capsizes. She won the Anniversary Day medal for 8 footers, and the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club 8 footer championship.


The next season she skippered the 10 footer, Procella, which was also built by her brother Harry.

According to Australian Wooden Boats, Sydney boat builder and naval architect, Arthur Swinfield, served his boat building apprenticeship with Pritchard Bros, as it became known, when it crossed the harbour to Careening Cove. He had a set of notes made by Harry Pritchard about the Zephyr that were given to him after Harry’s death.

The new boat, a 10 footer called Procella was described in Harry’s notes as “10’ beam and self sailing”. Others were less flattering.

The Evening News reported the opening of the sailing season of 1899/1900 for Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club: “The dingey ‘boys’ show signs of increased vitality this season, and there are several new craft amongst the ‘mosquito’ fleet, though when we note, such dingeys as  Zephyr, 8ft in length and 8ft in breadth, and the Procella, 10ft overall, beam or length, they seem rather large ‘mosquitoes.’ Both these curiosities are owned by H. C. Pritchard, Leichhardt, their builder. The 8-footer was very successful last season, being sailed by Miss Irene Pritchard who will also handle the new 10-footer.”

On October 3, 1899, ‘Bobstay’ writing in the Brisbane Courier observed:

“A new racing 10 footer of rather novel design has just been built by H. C. Pritchard, of Leichhardt, Sydney. A few particulars of this extraordinary little craft have been taken from an exchange. In the first place, though she is but 10ft in over-all length, her greatest beam is also 10ft and extreme depth but 22in. She measures 9ft across the tuck, and 9ft 6in at the mast. The Procella, as she is called, is cedar built like a wager-boat without stern or keel. Her timbers are spotted gum, and deck and linings are of diagonal planking of two quarter-inch thicknesses. She has a flush deck forward to the mast, and is lined from gunwale to waterline in a V section, underneath which she is airtight, and any water that comes aboard escapes through the centreboard-case. She has been fitted with a steel rudder, to which are attached two tillers, so that she may be more handily steered. She has also been fitted with an outrigger, 3ft over the tuck, to set her large mainsail, and the bobstay is affixed to the fore end of the centreboard-case underneath. The centreboard case measures 2ft 6m, and she will carry a board 2ft across, with a 6ft drop. She will have about 300ft of sail as against, say, 200ft carried by the ordinary 10ft dingeys. The mast is 21ft, mainsail 20ft, 13ft hoist, and 12ft gaff,  while the balloon jib carried will be 22ft on the foot with a hoist of 22ft also. The advent of Procella will be awaited with interest amongst the small fry. She is to be sailed by Miss Irene Pritchard (sister of the builder), who performed so handsomely in the 8ft x 8ft Zephyr last season.”


In October 1899 Irene was featured in an article in the Australian Town and Country Journal.   She was in esteemed company. Mr. F.W.J. Donovan was Chairman of the Sydney Sailing Council and commodore of the Johnstone’s Bay Sailing Club; Mr. C.B. Hunter was Vice Commodore of the Sydney Sailing Club;

Sam Hordern junior, in his half-rater Bronzewing VI, which was described as a “phenomenal little craft”, had a record in the previous season of eight first and three third places out of eighteen starts; and Mark Foy was the man who revolutionised

sailing on Sydney Harbour.

1.-Mr. F. W. J. Donovan, Chairman of the Sydney Sailing Council. 2.-Mr. C. B. Hunter, Vice-Commodore S.S. Club. 3.-Miss Pritchard, Skipper of the Champion 8ft dingey Zephyr. 4.-Champion 18-footer Australian. 5-Champion 22-footer Effie. 6.-Mr. Sam. Hordern, Jun. 7-Mr. Fred Doran. 8.-The half-rater Bronzewing. 9.-The one-rater Mercia. 10.-Mr. Mark Foy’s Southern Cross

Australian Town and Country Journal, October 21, 1899 p. 231


The article stated that open boat sailing and rater racing “have steadily gained ground during the past few years, and those who follow the sport with interest will note the changes that take place for the better year by year.”

The paragraph on Irene read:

“Miss Pritchard, daughter of Mr. H.C. Pritchard, of Leichhardt, is the skipper of the champion dingey Zephyr, whose splendid record bears testimony to this fair young yachtswoman’s skill and success. It is difficult to understand why yacht racing as a pastime for ladies has not become more popular here. In England, the fair sex largely own and sail their own boats, and some clubs even go so far as to have a ladies’ day. Women affect many things for which they are physically unsuited, and in which they have no possible chance to excel, or even equal, the average man, such as golf, bicycling, and other athletic exercises which afford them nothing in the way of success to compensate for the avidity and perseverance with which they pursue these exercises. But sailing is a pursuit most fascinating, varied, and exciting, in which they can become absolutely proficient, requiring no particular muscular effort or physical strength, only quickness of judgment, and a knowledge, which can be acquired by practice and the opportunity. So any woman wishing to shine in a delightful little world of her own would do well to emulate Miss Pritchard.”


Procella first raced on October 7, 1899, with the Port Jackson Dingy Club.

According to the SMH the opening event of the season for the club nearly proved a failure “owning to the scarcity of the wind”. Only two boats finished within the time limit. At the last buoy Procella was coming fifth in the fleet of seven.

The first 10-footer race held by Johnstone’s Bay S.C. was postponed due to lack of wind. When it was held on October 28, 1899, Procella did not place.  The Australian Town and Country Journal commented: “The 10-footer boys seem to be now quite content to meet the 10 by 10 Procella, judging by the entrants in the J.B. Club’s 10ft handicap last Saturday. I saw the monstrosity going down the harbor last Saturday, and in some of the squalls her big balloooner seemed to make her fly. But on a wind she does not seem to be a wonder.”

Irene Pritchard again made history when, on November 7, 1899, she was the first woman to compete in the Balmain Regatta, in Procella.

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “Ten footers entered in numbers, and it is remarkable how much sail they carry, and the speed and power they have. The new boat, Procella, is just the same in beam and length, a very wide tuck or stern, and sails which are about three times the length of the boat, besides being exceedingly lofty. This boat is sailed by Miss Irene Pritchard, who did so well with her 8-footer last season.” Procella did not place.

The fleet of 10 footers gathered for the Johnstone’s Bay SC 10ft championship on November 18, 1899.

The Referee reported: “As is usually the case among the little fellows, there was some wonderful close racing, as the finish, after a long beat up from Shark Island to Goat Island, will show, there being only a difference of 13sec between the first two boats to arrive home.  Miss Pritchard’s charge made a fine bid for the race on the run down the harbor, and was the first to haul wind round the buoy. But this oddity was no match for her big rivals on the thrash back, as one after another they displaced her.”

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser reported: “The midgets were despatched to an excellent start. Shortly after a heavy squall struck the fleet which caused a lot of trouble, and in which Crescent capsized. Procella went to the front at Kirribilli, the rest being in a bunch. At this time the breeze had moderated somewhat, and several set their ballooners square. Nearing Bradley’s, Procella took charge of her skipper and caused a deal of amusement.”

 Procella rounded the Shark Island pilelight first, just seconds ahead of her rivals.

But she was passed by the winners. “Procella lowered away”, according to the report, and she was not listed in the finishers.

And that appears to be Irene Pritchard’s last race.

By all accounts Procella was an unusual boat, and one that was difficult to handle: she carried 300ft of sail, compared with the 200ft carried by ordinary dingies. Later that year, the Evening News reported that Procella “was debarred last season [first half of 1899], but has been altered to comply with the rules”.  It is likely that debarring ended Irene’s sailing career.

The next season – after it presumably had been altered – Procella sailed in the Newcastle regatta in the new year, on January 2, 1900, with Harry Pritchard as skipper.  He was swamped and retired.  Harry also skippered Procella at the 1900 Anniversary Regatta, the scene of Irene’s triumph the year before, coming in third.

Procella enjoyed her first win under the hands of Irene’s younger brother, Victor. He won the Johnstone’s Bay S.C. 10 foot handicap on March 3,  1900.

Irene might have ended her sailing career, but her reputation grew, and she remained closely associated with sailing – and boat-building – for the rest of her life.

In 1928 The Australian Motor Boat and Yachting Monthly published an article titled ‘Way back in ’99 when Zephyr raced’.


The 1993 book, Australian Wooden Boats, ran a two page spread on Zephyr.

Arthur Swinfield, who had worked with Harry Pritchard, not only recalled conversations with Harry, but also had a set of notes from him. The article also quoted from The Yachtsman, which said that Irene was presented with a special gold medal for the Anniversary Regatta, for being the ‘first lady skipper in Australia’. But Harry differed, saying the award was for ‘the only lady skipper on that day’.  The article goes on to state: “Harry was probably more correct: in racing terms, Irene might have been the first lady skipper in Australia, but in general terms that title would have gone to a woman such as Mrs Anne Marsh, who owned and skippered a passage boat on the Parramatta River around 1803.”

Harry Pritchard’s notes said: “1893. When Zephyr first raced with 8 footers there were usually only 17 starters, but as time went on there were only three starters, so the Zephyr was sold and H. Pritchard designed a 10’. Procella was 10’ beam and self sailing. She was registered with the Johnstone Bay Sailing Club but after a few races the 10 footers would not enter against her. The Sydney Dingy Club members objected so strongly that she could not be accepted in the club. The last race with the Johnstone Bay Club was for youths under 16 years of age. Victor Pritchard sailed Procella (this being his first race). He won by 5 minutes and that proved our last race. Procella in leading was seldom passed by any open boats.”

[The newspaper records show there were eleven 8 footers scheduled to start in Zephyr’s first race, though not all did race. There were six in her final race.]

In 1904 Irene married boat builder Fred Carnaby.  According to the book Asteroids on the Swan, when Irene’s brother Arthur (who was also a boat builder) showed Fred Carnaby the photo of Irene wearing her gold medal, Fred said “She’s the girl for me!” Arthur replied, ‘She’s too old for you.” Fred was undeterred.

Irene and Fred moved to Nedlands, pioneering an area which was then on the southern outskirts of Perth, on the Swan River.

At the time Nedlands was virgin bush, but a tram line opened it up and Nedlands became a popular holiday destination for Perth residents, with the boats being a big attraction.

Irene and Fred first  they lived in a house boat while building their boat shed.  They then lived in the boat shed and built the family home behind it. Irene seemed destined to be surrounded by males: she had six sons; Eric, Ivan, Keith, Ceil, Colin and Trevor.

Carnaby’s boatshed, around 1911, Ivan, Eric, Irene, Keith and Fred Carnaby. Nedlands WA. Photo courtesy of Nedlands Library


Carnaby’s Boatshed thrived. Fred constructed motor launches, yachts, luggers, pearling schooners and at least one ferry. Fred was a foundation member of the Nedlands Motor and Yachting Club, later the Nedlands Yacht Club. He lent the club the use of his slip, as well as a store room, free of charge.

In 1921 the Star Yacht Club was formed. Fred family built 16 Star class yachts, 22 footers with open cockpits, built out of the local jarrah. He named them after asteroids and planets, hence the title of the book, Asteroids on the Swan. He rented them out, introducing many people to sailing on the Swan River. It was an era when most people could only access a yacht by renting it for several hours or a weekend.

Fred also sailed, but whether Irene sailed again is not known.

When Fred died in 1935, Eric, who had left school at 14 to join the boatshed, took it over. Ivan became a naturalist. Carnaby’s black cockatoo, Carnaby’s skink and Eucalyptus Carnabyi are all named after him, while three species of jewel beetles are named after Keith.

Irene Carnaby, nee Pritchard, died in Perth in 1953.

In 2016 Balmain Sailing Club established an award named after Irene Pritchard, given to the top woman skipper in the annual Balmain Regatta.


By Åsa Wahlquist, with additional research by Neil Bevan, Ian Smith and Bob Chapman.


Irene’s races in Zephyr


Race date Club Result
1. Dec. 24, 1898 Johnstone’s Bay S.C. 1
2. Jan. 7, 1899 Port Jackson Dingy C. capsized
3 Jan 26, 1899 Anniversary Day Regatta 1
4. Feb. 4, 1899 Sydney Dingey Club 1
5. Feb. 11, 1899 J.B.S.C. 2
6. Feb. 18, 1899 P.J.D.C. capsized
7. Feb. 22, 1899 J.B.S.C. championship 1
8. Mar. 25, 1899 Newcastle and Stockton S.C. No boat finished, lack of wind


Irene’s races in Procella


1. Oct. 7, 1899 Port Jackson Dingy Club DNF
2. Oct. 28, 1899 Johnstone’s Bay S.C. Did not place
3. Nov. 7, 1899 Balmain Regatta Did not place
4. Nov. 18, 1899 J.B.S.C. Did not place (perhaps did not finish)






Newspaper articles from Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

The Yachtsman articles supplied by the National Library of Scotland.

Australian Wooden Boats, Volume One, Classic Small Boats, edited by Trish Murphy, 1993, published by The Wooden Boat Association of New South Wales.

Asteroids on the Swan, volume one, Nedlands Park, by M.R. Clarke, 1993, Dux educational publishers, W.A.

With thanks to Gillian Simpson from the National Maritime Museum of Australia, and Anthea Harris from the Nedlands Library.



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