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  • Writer's pictureBill Manning

The 1987/1988 race to Hobart and return to Sydney

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

The 1987 Sydney to Hobart was uneventful, the real story concerned the trip back to Sydney. For this trip we sailed the Norske a Peter Cole design Nantucket 42 footer which was owned by Bruce Dickson and family.

Bill Manning Blog - Norske on its ear on Sydney Harbour
Norske on its ear on Sydney Harbour

For the trip to Hobart 146 yachts finished, we were 71st across the line finishing in 4 days 6 hours and 41 seconds, and on IOR handicap we were 87th with a corrected time of 3 days 10 hours

and 34 seconds. The reason we went in the race was to participate in the return race featuring many tall ships and yachts from the 1987 Hobart race on the 200 anniversary of the first fleet arriving in Sydney.

The return race was due to start at 1400 hrs on 3 January 1988 out of the Derwent River and in Storm Bay. This is approximately 20 nautical miles from Hobart city and it took about 4 hours to the start line. The river was full of boats , tall ships and yachts all moving at about 4 to 5 knots. There was absolutely no wind and everybody was moving by motor power. There was much talk on the radio and across the water, there was a real buzz between the boats in the race and many spectator boats.

Then Radio Hobart came on the air booming over all the boats chatting.

“This is radio Hobart, we have a message from the prime minister of Australia The Honourable RJ Hawk.” On comes Mr Hawk in strine “my fellow Australians, I wish you all……”

Now normally Radio Hobart booms over the top of all other traffic, but there were so many others coming into the conversation that much of the rest of the message was garbled by many singing

“the working class can kiss my arse … etc.

Then came the US Coast Guard Tall Ship ‘Eagle’,

“I have a message from the President of the United States for the Prime Minister of Australia, we wish you all …”.

Once again the message was interrupted by a lot of out of tune singing. The same thing happened to a message from the Polish Tall Ship Dar Młodzieży (300 feet in length and 2255 ton deadweight the same as US Coast Guard Ship ‘Eagle’)

Bill Manning Blog - The Polish Tall Ship Dar Młodzieży
The Polish Tall Ship Dar Młodzieży

At 1400 hrs the gun went for the start of the first division of the race. We did not move for about 1 hour due to no wind. Eventually the gun went for the Tall Ships and they were going no where. Then at about 1500 hrs it came in very hard from the north and we were so busy we did not see how the others in the race were fairing. Eventually we gathered the tall ships we headed for New Zealand.

We settled down, rounded Tasman Light and then we were close hauled on a 25 to 30 knot northerly. At about 12 midnight we were off Maria Island with Bruce Gould at the helm when BANG the forstay broke at the deck. Bruce really saved the day by turning the boat around 180 degrees down wind and thus taking the pressure off the mast. All hands on deck, we took the now ripped genoa off and took all the halyards to the bow to hold the mast up. We then sailed through the Schouten Passage behind Maria Island into Triabunna.

When we got to the Triabunna Wharf we pulled along side and tied up. It is a ships wharf and is about 4 metres above low water mark. Shore side there is a fish factory with offal sliding into the bay. There were about 2 dozen kids and a few adults fishing off the wharf. They were catching good fish and the odd shark.

We established that the broken forestay had gone at the bottle-screw at the deck. If we could get a replacement bottle-screw it would be an easy repair. We phoned Mike Snook and asked him to get us a replacement. He advised he would have to get it from Melbourne and it would be at Hobart Airport by 0900 in the morning.

We then adjourned to the local hotel and booked in. Malcolm Levy upset the bar maid who was pouring the beers. He asked if she could fill his just poured glass of beer with some rum.

She said she certainly could.

‘Then fill it up with beer please,’ Black mark Malcolm.
Bill Manning Blog - King Arthur

The next morning we were up and about early and ready for Mike Snook to delver the bottle-screw. At about 1000hrs the children were all fishing and Mike arrived and stopped his ute at the end of the jetty in front of the fish factory. He ran down the wharf and handed the bottle-screw to Bruce Dickson. Unfortunately the bottle-screw went strait through Bruces’ hand and into about 2.5 metres of water. On seeing this the crew’s first reaction was to come to the side of the boat, to place there hands on the side wire and look over the side to where the bottle-screw disappeared into the water. They could see nothing not even bubbles where it went in. Bruce said that he dropped it so he would get it back. He took off his shirt and dived in. With this drama unfolding the was an audible drawing in of breath from all those on the wharf and a muffed reference to sharks in the water. After about 20 seconds there was the sound of a whale breeching. It was Bruce coming up for air and diving down again. Then like King Arthur holding Excalibur out of the lake Bruce came up again thrusting the bottle-screw above his head to the cheers from the crew and the crowd on the wharf.

Later, Bruce said the first dive involved him diving to the bottom and on his first touch of the bottom his vision was reduced to zero by the very fine black silt. His second dive he felt his way to the bottom and thrust his hand into the silt. As luck would have it he found the bottle-screw first up. He the surfaced with the bottle-screw in his hand above his head.

Without any engine assistance we sailed from the wharf in a light south easterly breeze. The following day the south easterly was still at 15 knots pushing as along at 6 knots when we spied on the horizon the Dar Młodzieży.

We were overtaking her quite swiftly. After some discussion it was decided to sail right up the her and give her three cheers. We sailed under her lee and along side by about 6 metres and shouted our greeting. With that, the claxton on the Dar Młodzieży sounded and in Polish we deduced the broadcast saying

‘all hands on deck’.

With that 250 ‘hands’ appeared from below decks and took their positions in the rigging and returned our three cheers with gusto. It was a memorable day for the Norske crew.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. At the time the race had to finish we were abeam of Ulladulla so we dropped off some of the crew who wanted to get home as soon as possible and motor sailed our way back to Sydney.

Bill Manning Blog - The Norske crew
The Norske crew taken October 2017 have crewed together since 1962 (left to right) Tim Lloyd, Hans van Whye, Jim Dunstan, Malcolm Levy, John Woollett, Bruce Dickson, Warrick Beadle (at the rear), Bill Manning, Tony Sherlock, David Watson, Peter Bradford, John Freedman (at the rear), Michael Dawson and absent Mark Ross, Bruce Gould and Paul Kerrigan.

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