Before the announcement of the race results, the officer of the day and general committee member Murray McCutcheon, told the crews enjoying their Cactus Cup lunch the story of Cactus Cup. The story helps explain why it is one of the most prestigious and important events on the Squadron’s calendar. The following is based on text written by squadron historian Bert Ferris but edited by Murray to shorten it for the occasion.
The Cactus Story
Years ago a story was told of a donkey which lived in the desert. The standard of living was poor, and the main course on the menu when things were tough was cactus. The donkey accepted the good with the bad, and in bad seasons it was always cactus.
One day during his wanderings he came to a high fence. On the other side of the fence was lush grass and animals in prime condition. The donkey asked a horse to let him in the gate. The horse said, “what do you want to come in for, all of us are geldings?” The donkey said “if that is the case, it is back to the cactus for me”.
In the early stages of the great depression of 1929-1932, this story was similar to conditions at the then Royal St. Kilda Yacht Club. There were very few trophies due to the lack of money. Many members were out of work, and each Monday many would front up for any jobs that were offering. Those who missed out went back to the dole queue, or as many put it, “Back to the Cactus”.
The “Cactus Cup” race, to be free of entrance fees, was an idea conceived by H.A. (Toby) Armstrong, soon to be backed by Bert Bryant, Ivor Bowles and Jim Thorpe. It was first sailed on 25th March, 1922, when 9 yachts on sealed handicaps, raced over a 5 mile rectangular course for a small trophy donated by Jim Thorpe. The winning crew of the yacht Helen, skippered by D. Dowse, were entertained at a café after the race by the instigators of the race.
The next contest was on 12th April, 1930, for another small trophy also donated by Jim Thorpe. However, this time the winning crew of Petrel, skippered by Stan Gamble, were required to arrange for a mussel supper to the extent of the trophy money at an informal musical evening held in the spar room. From then on races for the Cactus Cup became an annual event.
In time the format was changed with the winning crew having to collect mussels from the pier on the first Saturday of July, cook and prepare them for a no charge informal supper and entertainment evening held in the spar room. The club subsequently contributed a keg of beer.
Jim Thorpe then agreed to purchase a now perpetual trophy to be named the “Cactus Cup”. He first presented this trophy in May 1940, together with replica, at a dinner suit function in the spar room. However, entries soon became few, because of the “prize” was the penalty of having to collect, cook and prepare the mussels so it was decided that the crew of the last yacht to finish had to collect, cook and prepare the mussels.
In time, for reason of contamination, the collecting of mussels from the pier was discontinued, so commodore Otto Meik, decided that the format be changed. He replaced the collection of mussels with a supper on the day of the race, consisting of bottled mussels, buttered bread and frankfurts. Following the death of Otto Meik in 1979, with no provider for the trophy or replicas, the Squadron in the early 80’s broke tradition by introducing race entry fees.
In 2006, the Cactus Cup tradition was reinstituted by a donation from J.H. (Bert) Ferris – RMYS historian. The Cactus Cup and its accompanying “feast” is now free to enter once again for all. The race is run early and a late afternoon feast of mussels and frankfurts is eaten afterwards.
Yesterday’s race was generously sponsored by Rundles.