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  • Writer's pictureBill Manning

Fun and Games on the 1989 Sydney to Hobart yacht race

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

In 1951 the Margaret Rintoul broke the race record of 4 days 2 hours and 25 seconds and were first across the line. In 1989 we set sail for Hobart to see how the boat would go 38 years later. We did not make the time; it took 5 days and 58 seconds. But we had a ton of fun doing it.

Bill Manning - Sydeny to Hobart 1989
The Margaret Rintoul crew in Constitution Dock Hobart. Back row left to right Paul Kerrigan, John Wigan, Peter Hemery, Bruce Gould (owner skipper), second row Malcom Levy, Peter Green, Bill Manning front David Hagon.

Margaret Rintoul is a wooden ocean racing yacht, built in Sydney for builder AE Edwards in 1948. The yawl rigged yacht won line honours in two successive Sydney to Hobart races in the early 1950s and set a record for the race with its second victory. Designed by renowned US naval architect Philip Rhodes, it is an early example of a post war ocean racer built in Australia to the latest international concepts, at a time when many local ocean racing boats were dated to the 1930s.

The fun commenced as I was sitting on the head (toilet) going past Jervis Bay about 90 nautical miles from the start in Sydney Harbour. I could hear water running somewhere and that is not a good sound in an old wooden boat. Eventually I pulled up the floorboards and I saw a lot of water running from the bow, underneath the head to the main cabin.

‘Hey there is a lot of water running down past me.

Paul Kerrigan (Kerro) and Bruce Gould very soon identified the leak was coming from the anchor locker in the bow.

Joined by two other crew the team emptied the locker of the two CQR (Coral Quick Release) anchors, the chain and rope plus fenders etc. They saw the the water coming from the stem (the very front of the yacht) in buckets full. Because we were aware that the 41-year-old wooden boat was prone to a few leaks we carried a case of silastic on board. Kerro immediately loaded a tube the silastic into the gun, got into the locker and started to squirt the goo at the leak. Within 2 minutes Bruce and Peter Hemery pull an unconscious Kerro out and revived him in the forward cabin. The goo had no effect on the leak but had a big effect on Kerro.

The next command was to Peter Green to turn the motor on, to keep the batteries charged, to keep the pump going, to keep the water out. (You are allowed to start the boat engine so long as it is not put into gear).

We carried on sailing south in a pleasant south easterly breeze. However, we were about to enter Bass Strait and we had to plan what we would do if the weather turned sour. Firstly, we turned off the bilge pump to establish if we could keep the bilge dry, if we could only use the manual pumps. After only 2 minutes of pumping by hand we were out of breath and the water was rising in the bilge. Turn the electric pump back on. We had to devise another plan. The water was coming in at a point where the bobstay was attached to the stem of the boat. With the foresails up and set the boat was under pressure from the tension of the forestay, to the masthead, to backstay to the stern. The boat was ‘bananaing’. We therefore dropped the sails, removed the tension and turned off electric water pump. Again, we tried the hand pumps and found we could the hold the water level. Thank goodness. We believed we could the sail into Bass Strait and handle bad weather, using the motor power, should it come our way.

That evening was very good sailing. The south easter was still at 12 knots with almost no seaway. I was on the night watch, 12 midnight to 4 am with Johnny Wigan. After about a quarter of an hour I said to Johnny that I was completely talked out. I therefore suggested that we pick a topic and the other person has to speak to it. I then nominated to John the subject to be ‘the most embracing incident of your life’. This is how John handled the question.

At the time he was courting his wife to be Jenny and the time came when he should meet the prospective in-laws who lived in Adelaide. So, on one weekend the two set off to drive from Sydney to Adelaide, about a 16-hour drive in those days. On arrival at the house John observed that the lawn had been freshly mowed and the paths clipped. It was a neat wood structure nicely painted. They were met in the driveway by Mother. She ushered them into the kitchen where Jenny’s father was waiting. The kitchen was neat and clean, and it was the room in the house where visitors were welcome, and conversation took place. Mother was very chatty, but Dad was awkwardly stiff and uncomfortable to be meeting Johnny.

Bill Manning - Sydeny to Hobart 1989
Margaret Rintoul in 1951 ready to he breaks the race record

On the kitchen bench beneath the window was a bird cage with a budgerigar perched within. The sink was in the centre of the room with some soapy water ready to wash the ashtrays. There was a lot of smoke from the cigarettes puffed by a nervous Dad who did not add to the to the talk at all. We did not move from the kitchen and after about an hour Mother said to Jenny we had better go and get ready for dinner, with a slight nod of the head and a knowing look. They both left the room.

Obviously, this was the moment where Mother had allocated for Dad and Johnny to have a private talk regarding his daughter’s future. Instead Dad muttered something about the chooks having to be fed and went straight outside leaving Johnny on his own. Looking around Johnny was struck with the budgerigar in the cage, talking like Dad never did. The bird was saying

‘have you got your lunch Jenny’, ‘did you clean your teeth Jenny’, ‘off to school Jenny’, ‘play with friends Jenny’

etc. without a break. Impressed Johnny approached the cage and took hold of the holland blind cord by the window immediately above the cage. Dropping the ring at the end of the blind cord into the top of the cage our Johnny swung the ring at the bird, who had not stopped the chatter

‘that is a pretty dress Jenny’

but took to hitting the ring with its beak. Without warning it then leaped from its perch into the ring having a great time making it swing inside the cage.

Again, without warning the ring, with the bird perched in the ring, took off like an Atlas rocket, the holland blind rolling up to the top of the window. The bird was struck still for a nanosecond until it hit the top of the cage whereupon two cage wires were imprinted into its head. On arrival at the top, the cage then fell completely apart with bird seed and water landing on the floor with pieces of cage and the bird. Johnny was not sure what caused this to happen. Was it himself jiggling the ring or the bird shining in the ring?

The question was academic with what happened next. Into the kitchen comes Mother investigating the noise. On seeing what has happened she screamed

‘not budgie’

three times. She then picked up the bird and, in an effort, to save it proceeded to give it mouth to mouth resuscitation. The bird then came back from the death throws, stood in Mother’s hand and then flew into the sink, into the washing up liquid and drowned.

‘That was the most embarrassing moment of my life!’ concluded Johnny.

Meanwhile down below Peter Green and Peter Hemery were complaining about the story telling. They could not get to sleep for all the laughing in the cabin.

Back to the Sydney to Hobart race. We ran the motor to keep the batteries charged, to keep the electric pump going, to keep the water out. All this until 100 metres from the finishing line when the fuel ran out. We limped across the line into Constitution dock where we immediately secured a portable pump to keep the boat dry. Next month is about the activities at the end of the race.

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