• Bill Manning

The 1969 Sydney to Hobart yacht race

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

The 42ft yacht Caprice of Huon was designed by Laurent Giles in 1938.

Boxing Day 1969 was the start of a classic Sydney summer day. A nor-easter was forecast, at 8am boats were coming onto the harbour by the thousands and Caprice of Huon (number 13) was almost ready for the big race, the famous Sydney to Hobart ocean yacht race. All our sails were flaked and stowed in order of the anticipated usage. As the skipper was cruising with his family on the return voyage back to Sydney in January the rubber duck (rubber dinghy) was stowed on the floor underneath the sails.


As we left the wharf at 8.30am I had an admission to make to our skipper, Gordon Ingate. I told Gordon that we did not have a weather forecast or any bread or milk for the 3 to 5 day voyage we were about to undertake.

“Why not“

was the angry reply. I then explained that these freebies were not collected from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) because you kept me on the boat till 4:30pm yesterday (Christmas Day). I missed Christmas lunch with my dear mother. As I got to the boat a 6am today there was no time to travel over the Harbour Bridge or to shop as the shops were not open.

“I will fix that”

said the skipper.


By this time, about 9:30 we were coming out from Robson Point, into the main harbour and boats were travelling at speed to the starting area. The race was due to start at Midday. Down the harbour came a family of four in a 3 metre outboard tinny and 40 hp motor that looked like they had just got for Christmas. Gordon caught the eye of the husband helmsman and beckoned him to come in close to our boat. The two children about 7 and 10 years of age became very hyperactive at coming near the Caprice of Huon, they were stamping their feet in the tinny and chanting

“Caprice of Huon, Caprice of Huon, Mum she is a race favourite, Caprice of Huon. Dad she is might win.”

Gordon beckoned the tinny to come along side without slowing Caprice down from 7 knots under motor. The tinny helmsman tried to come along side but his wife was adamant they should keep clear and the kids went on with their chants. As the tinny got to within a metre of us I suddenly felt Gordon’s hand at my back pushing me over the life rail where I had no alternative than to make a jump into the tinny.

“Go to the CYCA and collect the weather, the milk and the bread”

called Gordon.


Once in the tinny I had to position myself immediately behind the helmsman in order to keep my hand on the throttle and to ensure we were heading for the CYCA in Rushcutters Bay. The wife at this stage was not happy with me or the situation that was rapidly developing. I explained our predicament that I had to get some milk, bread and the weather forecast from the CYCA. By the time we arrived at the CYC the place was empty. There were about 10 boats in the marina, the other 100 boats were out to participate or to watch the start of the race. I asked the man to wait while I went up to the club to collect the supplies and weather forecast. The club house was empty. We would normally take 6 pints of milk and 6 loaves of bread. I returned with a bottle of milk and a half a loaf of bread from the kitchen and that is all. I could not find a weather report.


At full speed we left the CYCA to return to the harbour. We soon came across the patrol boats that kept spectators at a distance from the start and the race course. With the kids still chanting “Caprice of Huon”, the wife was having a bad hair day, the husband in a state of shock, but I did not take my hand off the throttle. We sped onto the course area with the patrol boats chasing us and now a police boat with a siren also chasing. We looked for the Caprice of Huon to no avail. However, we eventually found her by the Sow and Pigs some one mile up wind from the start testing a spinnaker.

 

Under guidance from myself we pulled alongside the Caprice, I passed up the pint of milk and the half loaf of bread and climbed aboard with great difficulty as both boats were moving at 7 knots, no thanks to Mr Ingate. While getting aboard Gordon said to the crew

“I do not think we should take the rubber duck (rubber dingy) with us, get it out and we will place it in the tinny”

The husband who had moved from a state of shock to a mood of alarm, looked at Gordon in disbelief as he was asked to

“take the rubber duck back to the CYCA, place a label on in to Caprice of Huon care of Constitution Dock Hobart via TAA”

(I should explain that in those days the airline transported sails and clothes etc. for free to Hobart as a promotion). The crew dug deep to retrieve the rubber duck from under 3 spinnakers, 5 headsails and a spare mainsail. They got it on deck just in time to throw it into the tinny. The last I saw of the tinny it was surrounded by a police boat and several patrol boats.

 

When we got to Constitution Dock in Hobart we searched the baggage delivered from Sydney. We just could not find our rubber duck. Obviously, the husband had not gone back to the CYCA. Gordon Ingate to this day asks me

“do you remember the name and address. or the registration number on the man who drove the tinny?”
“No Gordon, I do not”
 

Race results: Across the line 18th total boats 75, 3 days 9 hrs. 50 seconds. Handicap 13th

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