Origins of the Small Boat Club of SA

Port River, Basin No. 3, circa 1960

It all began in 1962 when the Harbours Board told the boaties who had for some time dropped their picks in a cove of the Port River (pic above) that they had to find another anchorage as the area had been earmarked for a new wharf development.

The Board advised they had no obligation to find individual boaties another location but added, confidingly, that if they happened to be a boat club, then…

The boaties took the hint, and the Small Boat Club was founded with an initial meeting in 1962 (see minutes). Whether the “small” in the chosen name referred to the number of members, or to the size of the boats, or both, is often debated but remains unknown.

True to their word, the new club was allocated the section of land on Garden Island it currently occupies, along with the adjacent waters of Angas Inlet. This was virgin mangrove coast, prior to clearing, and probably much like anywhere else that might be seen along the Angas and Barker Inlets to this day.

A clean slate.
Turning the first sod.

Land access to Garden Island had only just been created with the bridge across the North Arm and the causeway to the site of the new Torrens Island power station. The choice of a causeway rather than another bridge was unfortunate, though, because the resultant blocking of the tidal flow has contributed to the silting up of the waterway ever since.

It is not clear just when the new site had been readied sufficient for the transfer of boats and members from the river, but it was at least by 1965 as testified by that year’s notices for the Opening Day and for the Annual General Meeting. The Certificate of Incorporation is dated June 1966.

The club grew strongly over the first couple of decades; at one stage, there were more than a thousand members and the boats were packed cheek by jowl on fore and aft moorings.

The following pics all date from the early 1970s into the 1980s.

So many boats!
The second generator under construction, with the chimney stack still a stump.
The clubhouse, original T-head, and slipway.
A good sized trimaran on the slips.
Sweet & sturdy wooden craft.
Tenders at the T-head, plus a stunning little ketch.
More fab wooden craft, and such fun!
An Opening Day Sailpast…
…and, later, the presentations.
Another peaceful evening at the SBC.

The club celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1987, marking the occasion with various events and a special edition of the Prop ‘n’ Tiller newsletter.

The construction of the North Haven marina during the 1980s led to a significant drop in membership – walk-on marinas and easy access to the gulf being the obvious attractions. And then the club split; those wanting more of a focus on yachting broke away to form the Garden Island Yacht Club and taking (by agreement) a portion of club premises with them.

Thus the Small Boat Club had become small again, and reached its nadir in the early years of this century. However, it is now on a clear upward trajectory; the clubrooms have been refurbished, the marinas are being repaired and upgraded, the financial position is strong, and the membership growing.

Credit must go to all those club members over the past six decades who have built this boating haven from scratch with their own resources and ingenuity.