Mark Foy is regarded as “the father of 18 Footer racing”. He was born in Victoria (Australia) in February 1865 and moved to Sydney in 1884 where he began business under the name ‘Mark Foy’ (one of the largest department stores in Sydney for 100 years).
His hobby was sailing and he soon became disappointed that despite the beauty and location of Sydney Harbour there was practically no public interest in sailing. He came to the conclusion that it was because yachtsmen did not cater for the public.
The courses meant that the fleet was out of sight for more than an hour and there was no attempt to entertain spectators while the competitors were out of view. Adding to this was the fact that a complicated handicap system caused further delay while the winner was being determined.
As an entrepreneur, he was determined to popularize yacht racing and came up with four particular aims to achieve his target.
The Foy method was:
1. Boats must be more colourful and more easily identified than by a number,
2. Racing must be exciting and faster,
3. Wins should be decided on a first-pass-the-post basis,
4. Prizemoney must be bigger.
The major problem was producing a faster racer and Foy solved this with the first of the 18 Footers.
He catered for the enthusiast who liked to follow the racing by introducing coloured emblems on the mainsails, and a triangular course of about three miles which was in full view of the public for the entire race.
He chartered every available ferry to carry spectators to Clarke Island, which was a natural grandstand on the harbor to view the course, hired bands to entertain the crowds and whipped up enthusiasm with high-pressure publicity.
On the regatta day in 1892, Clarke Island was packed to capacity, moored ferries were crowded as were every major vantage point along the harbor foreshore.
The crowd was without precedent in Australian yacht racing yet most of the spectators knew little about the sport. The vast majority of the crowd were there to thrill to the excitement that Foy had promised, but by evening they were the forefathers of the 18 Footer enthusiasts, competitors and spectators of today.
Foy had demonstrated that 18 Footer racing was the most exciting competitor and spectator sport ever seen on Sydney Harbour, a status it has held to the present day.