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  • Writer's pictureBill Manning

The 1970 Sydney to Brisbane Yacht Race

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Sailing ‘Caprice of Huon’ down wind in a strong wind was (and is) quite a handful. The boat would tend to broach in the hard gusts. That is it would round up into the wind and to pull it away involved a man on the leeward side of the tiller with his legs bent up around his ears. At a call from the helmsman he would straighten his legs to provide an extra weight to pull away and control the boat. Really he did not require the call from the helmsman because as the gust of wind came , the boat would heal, the cockpit would fill with water and submerge the tiller pusher under water, requiring him to hold his breath for anything up to a minute.

At this stage we had a full main up, the 1.5 ounce spinnaker and a cheater (a small sail set as a jib for down wind sailing). The main was set with the mail sheet holding the boom out, a preventer (set from the bow to the end of the boom) to stop the boat from jibing inadvertently and a vang to hold the boom down. The spinnaker was set with a brace slightly forward and the sheet led down to a deck block at the shrouds. This rig narrowed the air intake to the spinnaker.

The occasion was in August 1970 in the winter, Sydney to Brisbane Yacht Race (this has since been moved the the Sydney to Gold Coast Yacht Race). The weather was a strong southerly blowing 30 to 35 knots gusting to 40 knots. ‘Caprice of Huon’ was on a starboard tack approaching the Solitary Islands at about 2000 hours. The night was very black. We then saw a stern light from another yacht ‘Boomerang’ (sailed by Peter Hill, navigator Peter Kurts) on port tack crossing us about 100 meters ahead.

Thus the scene was set for this amazing incident. On seeing the ‘Boomerang’ cross us in ‘Caprice of Huon’ Gordon Ingate our skipper and owner said ‘stand by to jibe’.

"Don’t be silly Gordon’ cried the crew ‘there are lots of bricks in there’ (rocks)."

Chart of Solitary Islands with just some of the rocks to be avoided
Chart of Solitary Islands with just some of the rocks to be avoided

Gordon then explained his logic. ‘We will jibe onto port tack and go into the coast. We will then listen for the surf on the shore (or small island rocks) and when hear it, we will then jibe out again. If we do not do this we will be out in the south going set and we will not see ‘Boomerang’ again.

“Gordon, you are asking us to jibe the boat get out of the set, it will take 30 minutes set up for the jibe (undo the preventer, the vang, the sheet block, dice the cheater) and the do a very hairy jibe, no thank you. We can hardly hear you now with all the noise of the water and boat.

We did not jibe. Gordon then went down to his bunk in a huff. He complained we wasted all his money spent in preparation for this race and it would ruin his reputation as a fearless ocean racer. He did not stand his watch for the rest of the night.

Caprice of Huon on Sydney Harbour
Caprice of Huon on Sydney Harbour

At 0700 hours the next morning the crew were on edge with an upset skipper. We craned our necks looking for ‘Boomerang’ which last night was 100 meters in front of us. We sent a forward hand up the mast to the first crosstrees to look out for ‘Boomerang’ but to no avail.

Gordon Ingate
Gordon Ingate

With no sign of ‘Boomerang’ I said to the crew turn on the ABC news, that will break some of the tension we were all feeling. We heard the Duke of York march and then ‘here is the news’.

"There is a yacht aground on south Solitary Island!"

Well that brightened up the morning. In fact we heard later that “Boomerang’ went to the coast listening for the surf. Too late to jibe back when the boat went aground with this spinnaker still up on the Australian mainland just south of Woolgoolga. They were very fortunate that the hit a beach no more than 25 meters long. The crew attempted to push the boat back into the water and were sending out ‘May Day calls’ when the forward hand came back aft and explained that the crew can get off the bow without getting their feet get wet.

Well that certainly quietened Gordon down. We still had some hard sailing to do to the finish but we got the double, line honours and a win on handicap. We needed a wheelbarrow to collect all the prizes we won.

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