Talking Sailing” From My Archives. Memories of the Winger & Herbert McWilliams

This photo was taken on the occasion of the launching of ‘Winger One’ at Amsterdam Hoek. It accompanied a short article in the EP Herald or Evening Post. The people in the photo from left to right are; Elizabeth Sullivan (my next door neighbour and friend), John Bowen, Daniel DeWet, “Binky” (I didn’t know her real name. I believe that she was German, a writer or artist, a keen fisherwoman and friend of Herbert’s) and Herbert. I don’t know in which year in the 50’s the photo was taken, but evidently it preceded the building of the bridge across the river mouth.

by Richard Crockett

I do enjoy receiving feedback from followers of this blog, especially when they include old and rarely seen photos. As a result of correspondence with John Bowen I am departing from the norm to share his treasured memories.

John wrote as follows: I just found and read your piece on ‘Stroppy’, the first Sprog. I then went on to read Herbert McWilliams’s history of the development of the class. His advice to Sprog owners on tuning and positioning of the mast and centreplate brought back a flood of memories of the few times Herbert took me sailing. He would constantly issue instructions to his crew to move slightly forward or aft, tighten or slacken the jib sheet, raise or lower the plate in small increments. Only sometimes did the reasons for these adjustments make sense to me. I do remember him saying repeatedly, “Every ounce counts”.

My family had a weekend holiday home at Amsterdam Hoek, on the Swartkops River in the 1950’s. Herbert McWilliams lived nearby. As a young boy, I was one of Herbert’s junior helpers, while he built the prototype Winger. Amongst other tasks, I remember being sent through a tiny hatch into the bow compartment to glue and affix pieces of wood. As a reward, I was allowed to inscribe my name in the (later) sealed compartment.

Herbert told me and the other kids many stories about the navy, about the Sprog, his experiences with other craft, but many details I have forgotten. So I was glad to find his piece on your site about the origin of the Sprog, in Herbert’s own words.

I remember seeing ‘Stroppy’ in the PE Museum, covered in dust. I never owned a Sprog. I had a “Bilio” (also McWilliams design) briefly, but by the time I reached high school, plywood boats were already being replaced by laminated ones (Spearhead, Andy, Finn) and of course fiberglass hulls. And after high school, I left PE and SA for good.

Dinghy sailing has always been a great pleasure for me. When out in my kayak near my home, I often watch youngsters in small sailboats being towed out of Eagle Harbour Yacht Club and think of the joy that sailing gave me at that age. I have Herbert McWilliams to thank for introducing me to the world of sail.

Thank you John for this nostalgic look back to your youth and introduction to sailing.

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