“He was a colourful character remembered for his efforts to take the sport interstate, nationally and internationally. He changed the face of sailing with the formation of the Sydney Flying Squadron in 1891. Through innovative rules and coloured sail emblems he put skiff sailing firmly in the public eye and made it a hit with both sailors and spectators alike. His legacy lives on.”
Without any doubt, Mark Foy’s legacy makes him one of the most significant historical figures in the sport of sailing in Australia.
Mark Foy (1865-1950) was an innovator, a visionary, and an early adopter. After jointly managing the successful Mark Foy’s store in Sydney with his brother Francis since its opening in 1885, Foy turned his attention to changing the way Sydney Harbour looked, both on the water and on the shore.
Unimpressed by the conservatism of sailing, in the early 1890s, Foy convened a meeting in the Rainsford’s Cambridge Club Hotel in Sydney to establish new rules for open boat racing. These rules, adapted from horse racing, gave boats easily identifiable coloured sails and emblems and applied handicaps at the race start to ensure a close finish, around a triangular course. Foy’s intention was to make the race exciting for spectators, and the men were prepared to ignore the established yacht club rules to set up their own competition. The result was the foundation of the Sydney Flying Squadron.
The yachting establishment, the owners who raced the larger yachts, did not think much of Foy’s endeavours and banned the squadron’s boats from the 1892 National Regatta. They claimed that the emblems encouraged gambling and spoiled the aesthetics of the white sails on Sydney Harbour. In response, Foy organised an opposition regatta that he financed himself and advertised as a spectacle which could be enjoyed by all regardless of their social background.
Each Saturday crowds crammed the shoreline and ferries to support their favourite crews. By the 1920s the open boats were standardised as 18-footers, with interstate competitions in Western Australia and Queensland.
But there was another reason for the popularity. Aboard the ferries, illegal bookies would take bets on the races on who would finish first, who would capsize and who would be first around the next mark.
Foy championed open boat competition with enthusiasm and substantial financial support. During lengthy business trips to England, Mark Foy boasted to one-and-all about the great speed and sail of Sydney’s big open boats.
In 1898, as Commodore of the Yacht Club, he took the 22-footer Irex to England to participate in Australia’s first International Race. Although he did not win, the race was a ground-breaking event as the first Australian entrant in an international sailing competition.
Ever the entrepreneur, Foy opened the iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains New South Wales in July 1904. The stunning hotel still stands today, a monument to the man whose ambition and legacy is marked on both the waters and the landscapes around Australia.