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Payne, Alan Newbury (1921–1995)

by Carlin de Montfort

This article was published online in 2019

Alan Newbury Payne (1921–1995), naval architect, was born on 11 December 1921 at Brockley, London, elder son of Sidney Arthur Payne, master mariner, and his wife Gladys Newbury, née Rowing. The family moved to Australia in 1929, first living in Brisbane, where Sidney worked ashore, and later moving to Rose Bay, Sydney. Alan attended Sydney Grammar School, passing the Leaving certificate examination in 1938. He then held a cadetship in the drawing office at the Cockatoo Island dockyard while studying naval architecture at Sydney Technical College; he gained his diploma in 1945.

At school Payne had shared a love of sailing with his brother Bill and lifelong friend Bryce Mortlock. The three boys began designing boats, including the Payne Mortlock sailing canoe. Described as a ‘legendary craft’ (Mortlock 2004, 42) among sailors, the 19-foot (5.8 m) boat was known for its canoe-shaped hull and sailing speed, and could sometimes outpace the famous 18-foot (5.5 m) skiffs of Sydney Harbour and Brisbane.

After completing his cadetship, Payne established a practice as a naval architect, advertising his services in the design of wood or steel vessels under power or sail. His sailing craft gained him a reputation among Sydney’s yachting community. A local yachtsman, Ernest Merrington, gave him his first commission, Thurloo, a 39-foot (11.9 m) steel yacht suitable for both offshore racing and cruising. Payne competed in the first Sydney to Hobart yacht race in 1945 aboard Horizon. The event would showcase his later designs. Nocturne, a timber vessel planned as a harbour racer, won line honours in 1952 in light conditions. Solo, a steel cruising yacht built and owned by Vic Meyer, was also a victorious ocean racer, winning on handicap in 1956 and 1962 and taking line honours in 1958 and 1959. Payne’s wooden Tasman Seabird class was particularly successful, with Cherana winning the event on handicap in 1959 and Kaleena finishing second on handicap the following year.

When Sir Frank Packer and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron—of which Payne was a member—challenged for the 1962 America’s Cup, Payne was commissioned to design the Australian challenger, Gretel. He studied both the complicated design rules of the competition’s 12-metre class, and the lines of the American vessel Vim, which was chartered and brought to Sydney Harbour. Twice visiting the United States of America, on one trip he was allowed to test scale models in the towing tank at the Stevens Institute of Technology at Hoboken, New Jersey. He designed the hull, rigging, and sail plans, and ‘broke new ground’ (d’Apulget 1980, 104) with some of Gretel’s innovative fittings. Built by Lars Halvorsen Sons Pty Ltd, Sydney, it was launched in February 1962.

The New York Yacht Club successfully defended the Australian challenge in September, but the moment when Gretel surged past the American defender, Weatherly, to take the second race was a defining moment in Australian yachting, opening the possibility of winning the America’s Cup. Payne worked on the design of Gretel II for another unsuccessful Australian challenge for the trophy in 1970. His Advance proved uncompetitive in the series to determine a challenger in 1983.

At the registrar general’s office, Sydney, on 4 March 1965 Payne had married Betty Lucille Forsyth, née Jones; they later divorced. On 12 May 1973 he married Gwendolene Avice (Wendy) Hay, an English-born teacher, in a Presbyterian service at Mosman. In a diverse career, he had worked as an engineer at the Bond’s Industries Ltd clothing factory and as chief designer for De Havilland Marine in the 1960s, and had collaborated with a number of naval architects and boat designers. During the 1980s, in partnership with Keith Lawson, he developed the design for the First Fleet class catamaran ferries for service on Sydney Harbour. He also engineered the hydraulic hoist used to raise and lower the flag on new Parliament House, Canberra. In 1993 he was appointed AM.

Payne is remembered for his innovations in yacht design, and for his strong seaworthy cruising craft. The America’s Cup challengers Gretel and Gretel II were considered by some to be superior to the American defenders, and his cruising yachts have completed circumnavigations of the world and sailed into Antarctic waters. Gretel II’s skipper in 1970, Sir James Hardy, later said that ‘the word magic could be applied to Alan’ (Mundle 1995, 18). Modest and quietly spoken, he had ‘great determination, sincerity, and spirit’ (Davis 1967, 149). He died on 20 June 1995 at his Mosman home, survived by his wife and twin daughters; he was cremated. In 2005 he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame. His daughter Rosetta also became a naval architect.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Australian National Maritime Museum in association with Sydney Heritage Fleet. ‘Australian Register of Historic Vessels: Alan Payne.’ Accessed 24 February 2017. http://arhv.anmm.gov.au/people/11147
  • Baverstock, W. The America’s Cup: Challenge from Down Under. Sydney: The K. G. Murray Publishing Company, 1967
  • d’Alpuget, Lou. Yachting in Australia: Yesterday Today Tomorrow. Research assistant Tony Mooney. Richmond, Vic.: Hutchinson Group (Australia), 1980
  • Davis, Murray. Australian Ocean Racing. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1967
  • Mortlock, Richard. ‘Intellect Behind the Aesthetic.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 7 August 2004, 42
  • Mundle, Rob. ‘Design Genius Set Course for Cup Triumph.’ Australian, 23 June 1995, 18
  • Stephensen, P. R. Sydney Sails: The Story of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron’s First 100 Years (1862–1962). Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1962

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Carlin de Montfort, 'Payne, Alan Newbury (1921–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/payne-alan-newbury-21620/text31833, published online 2019, accessed online 20 July 2019.

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