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The Long and Short of a Commodore

The Long and Short of a Commodore

Commodore Phil Short of the Southport Yacht Club – Interview by Roselle Tenefrancia and Andy Kancachian


Southport Yacht Club, established in 1946, is an association on the Gold Coast, and is at the forefront of the boating community in the city. While focusing on the members, the presence and the services of the Southport Yacht Club have been a significant part of the Gold Coast city. Almost 70 years old, SYC has established its commitment to the Gold Coast boating lifestyle, through strong leadership that has made it a success story among its members, visitors and the general public.

At the helm of the SYC is Phil Short, a man with his own sailing stories, history, humour and leadership goals. This Commodore is a Gold Coaster who is a lifelong fan of boats and sailing, and dreams of a city where every boat – big or small — is welcome on the Gold Coast waters.

From a Sea Scout to a Commodore

Boats and maritime history has been Phil’s lifetime interest. Born and raised in Tasmania, he started off as a Sea Scout when he was 10 years old. “My first boat was a Snipe class yacht, she was a heavy old girl but had a lot of fun, however I never actually raced in this class.”

He moved on to become a member of the Motor Yacht Club of Tasmania, where he learned skills on Navigation Trials on the Derwent River. Deciding to have a go at speed boat racing, he ended up with a Marine Ply 16ft speed boat, with a Singer car engine. “And boy did she go!” he exclaims. “However, as a young teenager I could not afford the up-keep so I sold it and went back to sailing. I sailed Dragon class in Prince Phillip Cup on the Derwent, also Fireball class. The one I enjoyed the most was the 45-foot Ketch ‘Utieka’ — a real classic of her day — that competed in all the Derwent and Channel Regattas.”

He joined the Royal Australian Navy, serving on several units of the fleet, from dock-yard work boats to aircraft carriers that taught him skills in visual communications, ship handling and seamanship. “These skills have been very valuable throughout the years to follow,” he says.

In 1979, he moved to the Gold Coast and became involved in trailer-sailor events, and in the Twilight Races with Southport Yacht Club. “I crewed in the off shore races and competed in several Burleigh Bash offshore events,” he relates. “In 1996 I sailed in the Sydney to Hobart, something every sailor should do, and always was a stand-by crew member. But business does get in the way of sailing until you get your priorities in line.”

He switched from sail to power boating with a classic cruiser in which he competed in the navigation rallies, and also joined the cruising flotilla on several of their events, “ which are excellent for new-comers to boating.” He now has a smaller, faster boat that he relates to as “the Commodore’s Tender”.

“My first introduction to SYC was in 1980, with the experience I gained in the Navy in communications and navigation I became a volunteer instructor at TS Tyalgum Navy Cadets. They have a close association with SYC, with ceremonial functions like the opening of the Club’s sailing and boating season, ‘Sail Past and Blessing of the Fleet’. I made some great friends, and have been associated with the Club on and off since then.”

He was chosen last year as the Commodore of the Southport Yacht Club after holding the position of Vice Commodore Power (of Power Boats) for two years. The position of Commodore requires one to be a Gold Member and to have served in the Board for a minimum of one year. His suitability for the position was also determined through recommendations by Life Members and past Commodores, and through his enthusiasm to volunteer to help when needed by the Board. He says, “I put my hand up to assist when volunteers were called for and was asked to join the Power Boat Committee. I was approached by a past Commodore and asked if I would be interested in putting my name amongst others for the next appointment, for Vice Commodore Power and of course I said yes.” And as they say, the rest is history.

Promoting Boating and Sailing on the Gold Coast

“The Southport Yacht Club has a long and proud history of fostering sailing and power-boating, something we have done since 1946 in a family-orientated environment. The rhumb line has been set by our Past Commodores and Life Members, and this has led the Club to enjoy almost 70 years of camaraderie and boating safety and fun.”

Sailing members are offered 400 sailing events this season at the Hollywell Sailing Academy from as young as seven years old, to sailors on bigger keel yachts racing off-shore. “We have an Olympic Champions from the London Olympics Mathew Belcher OAM and his crew Will Ryan, along with World Champions winning at the ISAF Championships this year as a result for the Hollywell Sailing Academy.”

The SYC has free Discover Sailing Days, held multiple times a year. The Discover Sailing Day is a free event, open to the public within the local community, and aimed at increasing public awareness in sailing, especially among children, promoting the message: Sailing is for everyone – it can be cheap, simple, safe and fun!

Phil explains, “Sailing is the second fastest growing sport in Australia and our playground is the sea. During one of our Discover Sail Day held last year, around 300 people visited the Academy. This was their first step to discover sailing. We plan another of these open days for the end of February 2015. The idea is to introduce children and families to the sport of sailing.”

The SYC also sponsored a free breakfast where people interested in power boat “Predicted Navigation” events were shown an electronic presentation explaining the procedure of chart reading and course plotting. This was followed by an actual event where the participants were taken on board the boats owned by SYC members on a short ‘Ambrose’ rally course up as far as the Coomera River mouth and back to SYC where the Club provided a BBQ lunch.

Even a social member of the Club meets and makes friends with other members, talking boats. “You say that you would like to try sailing or cruising, and before long you are introduced to other members and asked to list your name for a twilight sail. Soon you take your first step towards your dream.”


For over 35 years of living on the Gold Coast, Phil has witnessed the rapid growth along the northern end of the strip, “when as many 15 cranes worked the skyline at times”. He believes that cities are about people and for people, and growth needs to continue to keep the city viable.

“We need to move forward and I believe [the Cruise Ship Terminal] is a step in the right direction. Whether the terminal is built on the Gold Coast or a major terminal built in Brisbane, this would [benefit] the City and the whole South-east Queensland.

“Terminals are also needed around Australia to entice the private super- and ‘mega’ super -yacht market. This will place us on their charts as a destination. I see not only the overseas cruise liner trade, but also other vessels that attract large numbers of visitors to the coast, e.g. tall ships and naval vessels. Short stays as part of the package of existing donut cruises to Sydney-Fiji-New Zealand-Sydney can include the Gold Coast.”

Phil also supports the city council’s proposed foreshore development in Surfers Paradise. “The boating public need pontoons at these places to allow them to stay long enough to enjoy midweek lunches, shopping or visiting. This will open our waterways for residents and tourists to use, especially during the week when there is much lighter water traffic.”


Phil Short - 1963

Phil Short from 1963/64 while serving on HMAS Melbourne

Commodore Phil Short and Vice Commodore Power Graham Webb with the Goodwill Cup 2014

Commodore Short with the Goodwill Cup

Phil Short on board Gem

Aboard his once much loved motor yacht “Gem”.


As a Commodore of the Southport Yacht Club, Phil Short’s main duty is to take command of the fleet, and to attend all major ceremonial occasions along with liaising with the Vice Commodores of Sail and Power and respective committees, whom he refers to as the engine room of the Club. Additionally, his role is to encourage and improve boating participation and recruiting of membership, as well as represent SYC at reciprocal yacht clubs and events in Queensland and interstate.