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  • Writer's pictureBill Manning

My first three trips to Hobart

The smallest yacht to do the Sydney to Hobart race in 1959

In 1959 I had just finished School and I was keen to do some serious sailing. So it was on December 24 that Wally Burke (Yes that is my now wife’s father) phoned me to ask if I wished to go to Hobart? I said yes and arranged to meet him that day at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. At 3pm we met and Wally introduced me to the skipper of Four Winds, Stan Gibson. I was excited to be asked to join the crew. The yacht Four Winds was 27 foot long and that is still the smallest boat ever to go to Hobart in the race. The limit now is 32 feet I think.

On Boxing Day December 26th 1959 I travelled to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYC) and went aboard the Four Winds. Her entry in the race program was as follows:

Bill Manning blog - My first three trips to Hobart 1

I am not included in the crew list as I only joined on Boxing Day. I replaced Cliff Carter. Stan Gibson the owner/skipper could not swim. He crewed as the cook although in the Mercury newspaper in Hobart at the finish of the race, I am photographed with Stan as the cook in the last boat to finish. The galley was forward in the cabin just aft of the mast step which made for a very smelly and cramped cabin area.

Stan did not come on deck for the for the whole race but (I am not kidding) he smoked at least 100 cigarettes a day, Capstans I think. As an aside he raced his pidgins in the winter time.

We started in a south easterly breeze of 10 to 15 knots. Soon after the start the petrol started leaking out of the breather hole from the small tank (of about 2 pints) on top of the motor. I had to go below and fix the problem. I did not get sick even with the smell of petrol, cigarettes and food for lunch in the very small cabin. For this race we did not have the safety gear we are required to have today. We did not have navigation lights on for the night sailing as we had a limited battery power. There we no life lines around the deck. I did not see the medical kit. The navigator was Eric Menz.

The trip to Hobart was uneventful except we were worried about how long it was taking to get to the finish. It eventually took 7 days 3 hours 1minutes and 39 seconds to get there. I believe this should count for two Sydney to Hobart yacht races. ( Today the 491 nautical mile race record is 1 day 9 hours and 15 minutes). However the worry was soon discounted when we broke our boom just north of Tasman light. This gave us some excuse. We were 24th out of 24 finishers.

In the meantime Wally Burke broke the backstay off Eden NSW in his yacht Alcyone but as he has his wife Doris and 2nd daughter Deirdre who were waiting in Hobart, he flew to Hobart via Merimbula and Melbourne with a member of his crew, Bob Thornton. Bob was after sailing time so he came to Hobart to do the return trip after only getting half way to Hobart . (It is a small world as my step daughter Deirdre’s daughter is now married to Andrew Thornton and Bob Thornton calls me his prick relation). Bob soon arranged to crew on Four Winds with me from Hobart to Melbourne and return to Sydney by car from Melbourne with the Burkes and myself. In Hobart I hooked up with Deirdre and we became an item for the next three months. We married in November 1999.

On the way we stopped at Deal Island and spoke the lighthouse keepers families. It was very pretty as we moored in the bay.

We arrived off Port Phillip heads (the entrance to Melbourne Port some 50 nautical miles away) at 0400 hrs. We waited there until the tide changed and the lights turned green to enter. We got as far as Queenscliff and the tide turned again as the boat under motor was so slow and we started going back out the heads. Seeing this Bob and I got the anchor out and Bob swam it to a sand bank and pulled the boat into a non tidal pond. We then went ashore and caught the train to Melbourne city. After not washing for 5 days we both had our fellow passengers holding their nose all the way to Melbourne.

My second trip was on Sylvena 1961

Once again my name was not in the program as I was late in joining the crew as was Tommy Dawson. We replaced Boyd and Primrose.

Bill Manning blog - My first three trips to Hobart 2

There was nothing exciting to report about the trip except I went overboard when we got a knock down and I was on the spinnaker sheet.

I was clipped on with my harness to a cap shroud and ended up by a crostree.

On the program I have included Tahuna the reason being that I met Margret Grace (nee Hales) in Hobart and took her out in Sydney for the next six months.

She was the daughter of EA Hales the owner/skipper of Tahuna.

Sylvena is number 18 in this picture of the start of the Sydney to Hobart race in 1961.

Bill Manning blog - My first three trips to Hobart 3

We finished in 5 days, 21 hrs, 14 minutes and we were 24 out of 33 finishers in this race.

The third trip was on Sylph VI in 1963

Sylph VI was owned by the Lawson Bros who were ships plumbers. It is just as well as we struck a 70 knot south wester off Tasmainia. David Dorrington got very sea sick in this blow, so much so that he began to bight his fingernails. However he occupied a cabin bunk for 2 days which did not endear him to the crew. The Sylph was built of steel by ships plumbers and throughout the blow she did not leak a drop of water which was our saving grace.

After spending a whole day off Freycinet Peninsula in the hard south wester we did not make a nautical mile. We then decided to advance to Tasman Island from behind Maria Island. This really did work a treat. We made excellent progress in the relatively calm waters behind the island.

However this respite did allow David Dorrington to get up on deck for first time in 2 days. Passing Orford the Sylph sailed next to a 10 foot moth scow. David called the owner to come alongside and as it did he jumped onto it. We never saw him again. We had to declare to the race officials in Hobart that we lost a crewman during the race!

The race program said this about the Sylph VI.

"SYLPH ll" Sail No. CYC 51.
L.O.A. 4Ift., -t.W.L. 28ft. 5in., Beam l0ft. 9in., Draft 5ft. 7lnch. "Sylph" is a multi-chine steel yacht from the board of Alan Payne. She rates very well for her size and in a good breeze can give a fine account of herself. This will be her second race to Hobart and she is improving all the time.
Crew: Skipper A. Lawson (1), Navigator B. Lawson (l), L. T. Coble,
W. Manning (1), B. Gould, D. Dorrington

This was Bruce Gould’s first trip to Hobart and more of Bruce will be the subject of my next Blog. He has now done 40 races and 7 trips in the radio relay ship to Hobart.

Bill Manning blog - My first three trips to Hobart 4
Bruce Gould

The trip was also Tony Cable’s first full trip to Hobart and he now holds the record of 52 trips.

Bill Manning blog - My first three trips to Hobart 5
Tony Cable is on the right

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