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Vale John ‘Les’ Black

5th April 2023

Vale John ‘Les’ Black

It is with much sadness that we advise you of the passing of Past Commodore and Life Member John ‘Les’ Black.

Les was a highly esteemed and well regarded member of our great club for more than 47 years. Les was one of SYC’s most passionate members whose love of the Club knew no bounds. His voluntary efforts are legendary and his contribution has left a legacy that has shaped our success in so many ways over the past 35 years. We will forever be indebted to Les contribution which still resonates today.

In his role as a Flag officer and Commodore, Les was instrumental in making the floating marina happen. It was a huge undertaking and its construction was a major feat. Although there was strong support from a great majority of club members, there was strong opposition, both from outside the club and some members.

The club was incredibly fortunate, however, that Commodore Les Black, who was a very successful businessman and a first-class organiser, formed a small sub-committee of himself, treasurer Bruce Edmunds, Graeme Ainley and Graeme Griffiths. Their vision in choosing a modern floating marina system protected by a concrete wave screen was implemented in the early 1990’s. At the time Les emphasised that this period in the club history would affect the nature of the club for the next 30 to 40 years. As always he was spot on – as it is the marina we enjoy today, the jewel in our facility crown and one that has underpinned our financial success and will continue to do so. What an incredible legacy.

To get a sense for his contribution to the marina and wavescreen project, Past Commodore Bruce Edmunds said, ‘Great appreciation must go to Les Black, whose foresight in the early planning stages made the project concept start – then with his management and guidance provided a world-class facility all can be proud of.’ Equally, Past Commodore Graeme Ainley was also very complimentary of Les, who led the club through most of the (marina planning and works) period. ‘His leadership and determination, despite all obstacles, is why we are now able to admire our new harbour.’

Les did so much more for his beloved SYC and looking back he was ahead of his time. He set up a task force with the specific role of informing the local community about the club, ensuring press coverage of the club’s activities, conducting awareness talks wherever interest was shown, encouraging visits to the club for sailing and boating functions, and creating a far greater community awareness of Sandringham Yacht Club – all with the view of attracting new membership in all categories.

Les was also credited with naming the institution that was Bay 13. There was an infamous group of members referred to as the ‘locker boys’. The locker boys were predominantly motor yachties. If you wanted to start a rumour, you went into the lockers; if you wanted to know anything about the club you went to the lockers. The locker crew knew everything and had an opinion on everything. But one day Les went down, shook his head and said that we ought to call this place “Bay 13”. From then on it got its name. On club opening days, there would be 50 to 100 people gathered around.’

Les also had a great affiliation with the Melbourne to Osaka Double Handed Yacht Race. Recognised as one of the great yachting challenges in the world, the contest was classified as a Category O race by the Offshore Racing Council. SYC was the race organiser and Les was the inaugural Chairman from 1987-2000 including filling the role of race director for the 1999 race. Les formed lasting relationships with the Hokkai Yacht Club, the Port of Osaka and the City of Melbourne.
Les was interviewed as part of the Clubs centenary celebrations. He observed that his then 35 years of membership had been amazing, surprising, satisfying and almost always enjoyable. He listed his then highlights:
  • Best achievement – finally winning the approval of members, after a deal of opposition, to commencing the wave screen, being the catalyst for the marina development.
  • Proudest memory – marching along the wavescreen with Ted Winchcombe, who was proudly playing ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipes!
  • Worst moment – greeted on my return from business trip to Japan with a ‘would you like the good news or bad news?’. It turned out the good news was that today your boat is floating – yesterday it wasn’t!
  • Happiest moment – meeting lots of good people along the way, great company, competent crew members, supportive flag officers when commodore, particularly Bruce Edmunds and Graeme Ainley and the team who worked together on the wavescreen … and a few good drinking partners as well.
  • Saddest time – the day I realised I was a little older than I thought and it was time to sell my beloved Scotch Mist, thus loosening, but not entirely letting go, the strings that have bound me to Australia’s finest yacht club.

Les was the SYC Commodore in 1991 – 1992, he was awarded SYC Life Membership in 1994 and he served on a wide range of committees at SYC over an extended period.

All in all Les made an incredible contribution to the Sandringham Yacht Club over an extended period and on behalf of all SYC Members we express our gratitude and condolences to Les lovely wife Elizabeth and the family.

RIP John ‘Les’ Black 19 October 1935 – 5 April 2023.