In 1979 the original Sydney hydrofoil Manly was sold, having been laid up in November 1978. She left Sydney under her own power on January 13, 1979 heading for Rockhampton, after a full refit at Groom’s yard in Berry’s Bay. Her new name was Enterprise and she was intended to run between Rosslyn Bay and Great Keppel Island off the coast of Queensland.
Years later, it seems, she had her foils removed and became a riverside cafe somewhere along the Murray River** [see p21].
The big hydrofoils continued to work the Manly route, having been withdrawn from the Gladesville run after the pressure waves from the foils, when at speed, caused heavy damage to foreshore structures. In 2006 a similar problem existed with the pressure waves from the RiverCats on the Parramatta River.
With the increasing fragility of the two large veteran Manly ferries in mind, the Wran Labor government ordered two totally new large Manly ferries with an option on a third. These new ferries entered service from 1982 to 1984 and broadly, have been successful although in ‘re-inventing the wheel’ some long-learned earlier design lessons were ignored. Two big new Italian-built hydrofoils were also ordered. They were to be built overseas and fitted out by Carringtons, near Hexham. The first was to be Manly (4) with a sister Sydney, to follow.
These new hydrofoils were to carry 240 people at up to 38 knots and they cost more than $5 million each.
Manly
was placed in service at a joint commissioning by Neville Wran and Barrie Unsworth at Manly Wharf together with the third new large Manly ferry Narrabeen (3), on August 8, 1984 and everybody cheered.
But not for long.
One month after she started running Manly had the first of her mechanical troubles, with an engine room fire. Noone was hurt but she was off duty for some time.
Things went from bad to worse and to even worse. The Coalition opposition had a field day when it was pointed out that the new Manly had spent almost two days out of every three under repair in its first year. It seems she broke down 119 times and was off duty for more than 6,000 trips and on duty for just over 5,000.
Sistership Sydney arrived as deck cargo on May 17, 1985. She was placed quietly in service on July 22, 1985 because of a series of strikes within the industry.

Sydney seemed to be about as effective as was her sibling and the Opposition again waxed lyrical concerning these expensive white elephants.
The fourth of the big new Manly ferries Collaroy was commissioned in 1988 and on her initial scheduled service Coalition Transport Minister Bruce Baird gleefully announced the intended demise of the hydrofoils. New high speed catamarans that would be driven by water jets were to be built to a Tasmanian InCat design in Cairns and they would provide safe and reliable high speed Manly passenger services.
Fairlight, Dee Why
and Palm Beach were soon sold and were quickly broken up, mostly in Homebush Bay, for their valuable aluminium. The newer ’foils battled on with a reconditioned Long Reef and Curl Curl as back-ups for the bigger boats. Long Reef was to run the final passenger service by a Sydney hydrofoil on March 18, 1991.
She and the big ’foils were sold for overseas service in the Mediterranean and all were loaded aboard the Swiss ship Regine which sailed early in February 1992.
With much publicity hoo-haa Bruce Baird introduced ‘his’ new fast ferries – Blue Fin, Sea Eagle and Dolphin which had a late name change in honour of the recently-deceased NSW governor Sir David Martin.
The Greiner Coalition government proudly proclaimed that fuel costs for the three new cats would be much less than for the same number of hydrofoils.
But ... the JetCats could carry about 280 people at about 31 knots and had to run flat-strap all the way to maintain the time schedules of the faster hydrofoils. As I explained in Part 1, the ’foils could throttle back when ‘flying’. The JetCats with displacement, non-planing hulls, using the less efficient water jet propulsion, needed full revolutions almost all the time and it cost money!
When compiling my 1992 edition of the Ferries of Sydney, I found out that the Jet Cats were averaging 31,840 litres of diesoline each week. On the same runs, the big ’foils had averaged 24,875 litres each. Oddly enough, the government didn’t want to comment on this aspect of the new boats. Then the JetCats started breaking down. By the end of the year The Daily Telegraph headline was not encouraging: “What a waste of your cash! – $6m. failure.” Mr Baird sent out some paid hack to face the press … naturally. The JetCats took on an unusual and interesting role during the severe NSW bushfires of 1994.
Sea Eagle
was sent to Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River, to help shift passengers that had been blocked by passenger rail closures because of bushfire damage. It was reasoned that the jet drive and shallow draft of the big cats would allow them access through the narrows and shallows into Brisbane Water. Sea Eagle solved the problems of many travellers on that day.
By 2000 or thereabouts the Jet cats had been re-engined. Much of the political trouble at the Balmain ferry base had been overcome but the revolving door of management problems were still there – in spades.
Almost all the large inner harbour ferries had been disposed of without replacement and the large fleet of several types of catamarans, all with different mechanical systems and stores requirements, was providing maintenance problems and the press with reasons for critical articles. Private ferries, also catamarans, were still being hired regularly to support the Government fleet.
There were First Fleet Cats, RiverCats, HarbourCats and then along came the ‘one size fits all roles’ SuperCats, often known as the ‘Scully cats’.

Data and figures used in this article come from my long-established card index file and from press clippings dating from the 1950s. – GA

** Any readers who have further information on the current whereabouts of the original Sydney hydrofoil Manly can contact the author at Graewin@aol.com


 

*Graeme Andrews’ book The Watermen of Sydney can be had from Boat Books, ABC books and all good book stores. Mail order enquiries may be made to Stannard Marine at 02 9418 3711.