February 23 - March 1, 2014: Issue 151


Rob Brown OAM

Some people, through their passion for a sport, a subject or an industry, contribute to and build Australia’s future in their areas of interest. 

In 1984, Rob was awarded one of Australia’s highest accolades, the Order of Australia Medal. The award for “Outstanding Contribution to Sport” was soon to be followed by the inclusion to the Australian Bi-Centennial Hall of Fame for being part of the “Best Australian Sporting Team Ever – Australia II”. He has been nominated for the Australian and NSW Yachtsman of the Year on numerous occasions and generally considered by his peers to be one of Australia’s best yachtsmen.

In the sport of sailing, Rob Brown has practically done it all.  A part of Australia’s greatest sailing victories including the 1983 Americas Cup win, a 1979 Admiral‘s Cup victory and surviving the tragic Fastnet Race and winning three World Championships in the 18’ Skiffs designed by himself, as well as coaching Olympics sailors and some of our own now world champion sailors are just a few of the items in his long list of sailing achievements. 

Rob has been no slouch in promoting it as an industry either -  as one of the founders of Grand Prix sailing for tv and as a commentator for many a Sydney to Hobart. This year Rob is launching the Pittwater Festival through the prestigious Royal Motor Yacht Club – Broken Bay – a month packed full of aquatic events of all descriptions inspired by his past experiences and an update on the old Pittwater Regattas with more modern twists – the SUP Scotland Island race for example.

As with all consummates though, it began when he was knee high to a dinghy:

Where did you grow up?

I grew up at Drummoyne near Five Dock Bay , Thompson street, right near Drummoyne oval.

Is this where you first went sailing? 

Yes. I went for my first sail in an 18foot skiff. My dad had ten 18footers through his sailing career in 18’s, and then he built me a Sabot (dinghy) – my first sail in that was when I was aged six, in the middle of winter, on a cold rainy day with not much wind. I think I said to him “I don’t like doing this” because it was cold and wet and not much fun. 

I sailed Sabots out of Snail’s Bay at Balmian, through the Snail’s Bay Sailing Club. I sailed these until I was about 10 or 11. I was then 4th hand in a 16 footer at Drummoyne Sailing Club for a couple of years and on the Sunday I used to sail a designer built boat called ‘The Snail’ out of Snail’s Bay which was actually two people on trapeze – so we were sailing a high performance boat when I was in my early teenage years. 

Then I graduated to the 12foot skiffs, sailed out of Balmain Sailing Club and won the Junior Australia Championship when I was 18 or 19.

I took a loan out to buy some timber and build my own boat because all the boats I’d sailed previously were owned by others, so I was going to make the big leap into building my own via my own design, when I got a call from the 18Footer Club of which my dad was a board member, and he sailed out of Double Bay as part of the NSW’s 18 footer Sailors League, and they asked if I was interested in sailing an 18 and that they had a sponsor. 

So I cancelled the loan and took the timber back. That was in 1976 and I then sailed my first 18 at the age of 21. 

So your dad was the man who got you into sailing and on the water?

Very much so. Dad (Norm Brown) grew up in Greenwich, sailed 12foot skiffs and won the Australian Championship in the 12’s. Dad, in his own right, was responsible for Trailer Sailers being introduced at Drummoyne Sailing Club and won three Australian Championships in the Trailer Sailers, we did as a family – mum and dad and myself. They then went across to New Zealand, where their heart was - that was their territory, and mum and dad won the Inter-Dominion Championship in the Trailer Sailers. Dad went on to yachts and brought Cavalier Yachts to Australia – his boats were all named “Ariki” which means “the Leader” or "the domain of the leader". His influence on me was big.

I remember as a tacker sailing out to the start in an old 18footer and going upwind for a little bit and we’d come past the start boat and he’d throw me off as they went past. They’d go and race and I’d watch the race from the start boat. From an early age sailing was very much instilled. 

Apart from your mum and dad, who else were major influences on your sailing?

Obviously my dad was the main influence on my early stages. But also, just being involved in that whole Balmain area, that was the hub of where all the old skiffies came from – the Robinsons, Huey Treharne used to sail out of Balmain in those days.

Really, just sailing in the 18 foot skiffs and the type of boat it was where it was development class, so there was innovation in its design and the use of technology, that’s where I really shone I suppose. I went on to win three World Championships – then when we had the break away from the 18’s and formed the Grand Prix Skiffs for the television circuit, I was current World Champion then, and went on to win seven Grand Prix Championships over the next ten years.

Around that time I was asked to do the Admirals Cup with Sir James Hardy on Impetuous – that was 1979 – Fastnet Gale – 15 people dying, ocean racing like we do here.

The following year Jim Hardy asked me to come and sail aboard Australia in the America’s Cup – we won one race and came second and then Bondie asked me to come back in ’83, being involved in that whole America’s Cup scene was just fantastic.

Just on that note – what did it feel like to be the winners of the America’s Cup?

You could probably ask most of the guys involved in Australia II and the bulk will answer “Relief.” 

It was a long time coming – I’ve done two America Cups  - I knew what it was like to come second in the America’s Cup, knew how good the Americans were and what we had to do to get good enough to beat them,  and in ’83 we had a really good bunch of guys, we had a very good design, but a very difficult boat – and had the people on board to get the best out of that boat.

Was that the difference – the crew?

Mostly, yes. The Liberty was actually faster then us by the end of the series because they kept changing their boat and they had the capacity to change their boat each day to adapt to the weather. We just kept our boat the same and relied on what we knew and tried to sail the boat as best we possibly can. In the end the mere fact that we had a really solid network who had confidence in us and we had faith in each other; that's what got us there.

So to answer your question – it was absolute relief  when you consider that we were leading two races and then they came back again – the lay days, the weather blow-out, the competition went for 13 days – so when you actually finally get there, it was relief. All the crew was in bed by ten o’clock that night – we had probably a couple of beers and we were just mentally relieved. 

It wasn’t until a couple of days later that we went out and partied and proved to be hopeless drunks. 

Did you see any of what was happening back here (in Australia) – Bob Hawke declaring it a National Holiday – people driving around Pittwater beeping their horns ...

Well, the boxing kangaroo flag we designed that – Huey and John Fitzhardinge, they drew that up on a napkin in a restaurant down in Melbourne, then Huey actually went and made the flag adding the colours, and the eyes and red boxing gloves. To our knowledge there was only ever two flags – one for us and one for Challenge 12. It was really mind blowing when we flew from Boston to San Francisco and walked out on the tarmac and there was the Qantas plane for us painted with the boxing kangaroo on the tail of the plane. We just stood there and went ‘what’s our flag doing up there?’

When we got on the plane everyone had flags, clapping us on to the plane. When we landed in Sydney the groundstaff were lined up along the tarmac with boxing kangaroo flags. We were very naïve.

Yes, should have licensed it.

We didn’t know what was going on at home. We got a box of telexes and letters that had come in at the end of it, they kept this from us so we’d stay focused. We had a media ban from a month before the cup – we didn’t watch any television, we just stayed focused.

What did you do post-America’s Cup?

I went back to work as an Electrical Design Draftsman at the Electricity Commission in town. The big boss called me up to the top floor in Park street, shook my hand, said ‘well done’ and basically asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life, said ‘you’ve got one year for long service’ and was basically telling me I’d better get out of there and go sailing – so I did.

I then was the first one to go fully professional in 18’s, for Prudential. I really thought the 18’s as a television vehicle was perfect.

I worked with the company when they were running the boat – going around to offices all around Australia and doing an analogy between organising sport and organising business. I had a really long association with Prudential of six or seven years.

Bill McCartney who was working with the 18’s tried to get them into the Olympics and failed – 49er’s got the nod. Bill had commitments with NewsCorp so he went with the 49er’s. 

I retired from 18’s in the High Performance 18’s Grand Prix and then ran the television circuit for the next two years.

Currently you have taken on another role in television with Channel 7 annually – commentating each year during the Sydney to Hobart. How many Sydney to Hobarts have you done?

I’ve done nine Sydney to Hobarts. 

What was your best time?

I think we got third one year on a boat called ‘Indian Pacific’. There was one race in ’79 when we got back from the Admiral’s Cup when we sailed to Hobart, we were leading on handicap at Tasman Island and fell into a light patch and stayed there for seven hours and finished 52nd!

The commentary has been great. I’ve been with Channel 7 for eight years now and did a few years prior to that with Channel 10 and the ABC. Last year was the best ratings ever – we out-rated the cricket. I really enjoy it, working on Sunrise, popping down to Hobart…

What do you think of Hobart and Constitution Dock?

Oh, it’s fantastic – there’s nothing like when you finish a Hobart – the relief of getting there in one piece and finishing – if you’ve had a good result, even if you haven’t had a good result, it’s always good to get there – it’s party time.

What’s the best thing about sailing?

I think, apart from the actual physical satisfaction you get out of being on the water and controlling a machine, it would be the mateship- the teamwork that’s required to sail. You’re only as good as the machine around you and under you, so you have to look after it – it’s got to be prepared and well designed to perform. If it breaks you, you break and you won’t get a result. Thirdly would be a the process of maintaining all those things is what makes sailing so good, an involvement in all those facets. It’s not an activity where you just come down at nine o’clock in the morning and go sailing; and then come back and expect it to be in the same form next week - you have got to do things during the week to maintain it and that comes back to what you put into something is what you get out of it.

Have you ever been at sea and thought ‘I’m going to drown’?

Yes – the 1979 Fastnet. We raced the whole time – 80-90knots of wind, 40 to 50 foot seas, it was scary – hearing mayday calls, seeing helicopter rescues, lifeboats. That was pretty harrowing. It was the first time I’d been in really strong winds. I’d done a little bit of offshore racing before but nothing to that degree. I learnt a lot out of that because we had guys on board like Sir James Hardy, Hugh Treharne, Phil Eadie – good guys, good skiff guys, all mates – we had confidence in the boat, the team and the preparation we’d put in but it was still scary. I kissed the dock when we got in.

Who are your heroes in the sailing world?

My first hero was a guy by the name of David Porter – he sailed KB’s the 18 foot skiffs – my first boat was actually the boat he won the World Title in five years earlier – I used to have pictures of Dave Porter up on my wall..

Sir James Hardy – the presence of him as a mate, as a sailor, as a person was fantastic. 

What did you learn from him?

Respect, respect for everyone. I was a little bit gung-ho as a young guy – and what I learnt from these guys is everyone is out there trying and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – always respect the guys you’re racing against. When you’re up they may be down so have a little bit of respect for that. 

You have also coached other sailors?

I coached James Spithill when he was younger. He lived on the other side of Elvina Bay and I watched him grow up. I had the opportunity to coach him a little bit when he was a kid. In 1999 he rang up and said I’m involved with Syd Fischer and Young Australia 2000 – America’s Cup – would you come and be the project manager – so I said, alright. Two months later I’m on board as tactician sailing with James and all the other young guys that we picked up round the country and now he’s won the America’s Cup.

You were also involved in the Australian Olympics Sailing team?

This was a highlight for me – 2008; mentoring and supporting guys like Tommy Slingsby and Nathan Outridge and helping them along the way. Those guys are super talented and loved that experience to guide them and prod them a little bit. I feel very privileged to have been involved with James and these boys.

What’s also nice about this is these young men are also really nice guys – even with all their success they’re still the same guys, from Elvina Bay or wherever- they’re respectful, always acknowledging the team  - James Sptithill is always downplaying his importance – it’s good.

In recent years you have taken on a role at the Royal Motor Yacht Club – Broken Bay Division, at Newport – what caused you to get off the boat?

I was asked to come and do an appraisal of the Royal Motor Yacht Club here at Newport and look at the varying operations – not only the sailing and the divisions – the powerboats, the gamefishing, mulithulls, timber boats, and also to look at the overall activities of the club to identify any possible bad aspects and come up with a plan to rectify these as well as enhance the many good things about this club.  We also want to open the doors of the club to new members – there is a perception in some people’s minds that a Royal Yacht Club or sailing club is for the idle rich and famous which is far from the truth. We believe that the Royal Motor Yacht Club is a community club. We currently have 3000 but would like to quantify what these members are using at the club and how we can make it more accessible to more people.

Through the recommendations I’ve made we’re increasing the number of activities we already do and have also come up with a range of new activities to suit existing members and hopefully get people who wouldn’t normally come here to visit the club and see what is on offer.

One of these ideas was the Pittwater Festival and the range of events this offers, some of which are new to the club and new to Pittwater. 

This month long series of events showcases a progression in aquatics but also reinstates some of the great and historic Pittwater Regattas. The timing is great too – the end of Summer, when Pittwater won’t be crowded with seasonal visitors – how did this come about?

It evolved – the Pittwater Regatta was a no-brainer – the sailing, everyone associates Pittwater with sailing  - but some new events – the stand-up paddling race, the surf-boats out the front, which has been done before – ours will be quite different; we will have a digital clock and they will race against the clock – surf boats have never done that before. All these ideas come in part from being involved in Grand Prix sailing – we were the first ones to put head-cameras on our competitors and have short-course racing and create an arena for the sailing. Doing it all so the public can see the sailing - so that’s where I’ve been influenced for these events. 

The programme also includes a family element though – you have a kids fishing comp, women’s events – you’re creating a place where all ages can meet.

What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?

Elvina Bay is very special to me.  After the America’s Cup in 1983 Ken Beashel rang and told me there was a block of land for sale in Elvina Bay. I dropped everything and drove up here and sat on a rock for four hours and a week later I bought it. 

You wouldn’t believe it – when I was a kid I sailed up to Pittwater with my dad. It was blowing a fresh nor’easter and we were supposed to stay in Coaster’s retreat but it was too windy up there so dad came around and we moored in the middle of the night - I woke up in the morning and looked out through the companionway and the first thing I saw was exactly the place I bought some 40 years later. 

Megan and I lived there seven years in this little caretakers cottage, it was tiny, behind the big stone place on the point. We ended up knocking it down and putting in a new place, a boatshed – I’d be sitting out on the end of my wharf thinking ‘life’s bliss’ and then I sold it because the kids grew up.

So Elvina Bay I love but Pittwater itself – I love the Western foreshores – Towler’s Bay, watching the sea eagles, just going for a putt of an afternoon. I think it’s the most unique place in the world – to have such a beautiful waterway and then the bush so close to a major city. I’ve been to a lot of places around the world and this is pretty special.

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

I have a few – there’s a thousand paths up a mountain but the view from the top is always the same. 

I love Ron Barassi’s saying – ‘the biggest risk is to take none at all’.  

You have got to take risks to succeed in anything you do, whatever field you’re in.

Also ‘have a crack’

The other would be, a good friend of mine Kim Priestly says ‘love many, trust few, but always paddle your own canoe’

References – Extras

18 footers Australian history: www.18footers.com.au/sailing/history.html

1979 – Fastnet Race

The 1979 Fastnet race was the twenty-eighth Fastnet race, a yachting race held generally every two years since 1925 on a 605 mile course from Cowes direct to the Fastnet Rock and then to Plymouth via south of the Scillies. In 1979, it was the climax of the five-race Admiral's Cup competition, as it had been since 1957.

A worse-than-expected storm on the third day of the race wreaked havoc on over 306 yachts taking part in the biennial race, resulting in 18 fatalities (15 yachtsmen and 3 rescuers). Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel were summoned to aid what became the largest ever rescue operation in peace-time. This involved some 4,000 people including the entire Irish Naval Service's fleet, lifeboats, commercial boats, and helicopters. Of the 303 starters, only 86 finished. There were 194 retirements and 24 abandonments (five of which were "lost believed sunk").  

1979 Admirals Cup: www.admiralscup.org/history/116.html

Australia II crew

The crew of Australia II for the America's Cup races was John Bertrand (Skipper), Colin Beashel, Will Baillieu, Peter Costello, Damian Fewster, Ken Judge, Skip Lissiman, John Longley, Brian Richardson, Phil Smidmore, Grant Simmer, Hugh Treharne. The reserves were Rob Brown, Jim Hardy, Scott McAllister. Beashel was an Olympic medal winning sailor who competed at six Olympic games. Richardson an Olympic oarsman who had stroked the Australian men's VIII at the Moscow 1980 Olympics.

Boxing kangaroo – flag

In 1983 the boxing kangaroo received national and international prominence when it served as the symbol for the successful Australian challenge for the America's Cup, where the boxing kangaroo flag, a red-gloved golden kangaroo on a green background, was flown from the yachtAustralia II. Alan Bond (owner of the Australia II yacht) owned the image and licensed it for mass production. The image was later bought by the Australian Olympic Committee, and is used as a mascot to represent the Australian Olympic team and to promote sport and fair play in schools. 

Boxing kangaroo. (2014, February 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Boxing_kangaroo&oldid=594383229

Sir James Gilbert Hardy OBE AASA (born 29 November 1932) is an Australian winemaker and businessman who is also noted for his yachting achievements. A descendant of the South Australian winemaker Thomas Hardy, James Hardy was born at Seacliff, South Australia.

His father, Thomas Mayfield Hardy, who was appointed chairman and managing director of Thomas Hardy and Sons in 1924, was one of those killed near Mount Dandenong on 25 October 1938 in the crash of the plane "Kyeema". Tom Hardy was a noted sailor, associated with the yacht Nerida at the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron.[1]

Hardy was educated at Brighton Primary School, St. Peter's College and the South Australian Institute of Technology. On leaving school, he spent two years share farming at Port Vincent, South Australia, then joined the family wine company Thomas Hardy and Sons in 1953, working as a shipping clerk. He then served as Sales Supervisor from 1957 to 1961, then as Regional Director for the Eastern States of Australia, when he and his family moved permanently to Sydney with a residence at Manly. He was appointed chairman in 1981 and non-executive director in 1992 when it merged to become BRL Hardy Wine Company.


A renowned world champion yachtsman, Hardy represented Australia at two Olympic Games (1964 in Tokyo and 1968 in Mexico City), skippered three America’s Cup challenges (in 1970, 1974 and 1980), and competed in four Admiral's Cup Ocean Racing Championships. - From Wikipedia.

Skiff series win sealed - SYDNEY: Ex-America's Cup sailor and Prudential skipper Rob Brown has sealed the grand slam of all three major 18ft skiff titles by confirming victory in the Australian championship yesterday. Brown and his crew of Nat Coleman and Dave Slennett have this season swept all before them, winning the Diet Coke grand prix, the NSW championship and now the Australian championship. Brown managed a consistent third place yesterday to give him overall victory in the premier long course championship, with one race in hand. Skiff series win sealed. (1995, February 12). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133334827

1989 Admiral’s Cup: Ultimate Challenge: This 40-footer was designed by Ed Dubois and built in 1987. It entered the 1987 Admiral's Cup team as Swan Premium I. Ultimate Challenge, owned by one of Australia's most experienced offshore racers, Lou Abrahams of Victoria, will have world 18-footer champion Rob Brown and Australian Olympic representative Gary Sheard sharing the helm. MIDWEEK MAGAZINE Gearing up for Admiral's Cup. (1989, February 22). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 31. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120912282

Interstate 12-footer sailing will be resumed, in "Brisbane at Christmas. ' The last contest was held in the 1940-41 season,' when the N.S.W. boat Beryl (W. Munee) won the title. Beryl, which is now skippered by J. Scope, and the N.S.W. champion, Ariki (Norm. Brown), will form the nucleus of what promises to be the most powerful team from this State to visit Brisbane. Interstate Race For 12-footers. (1945, November 21). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17960329

Right: Ariki racing in Heat 3 of the 12 foot National Championships on the Brisbane River, 1945-46. The Championship that year was won by Nina, a Queensland skiff sailed by B. Sinclair (courtesy Arthur Foster /Norm Brown). Photo from and courtesy of Greenwich Flying Squadron … The First 75 Years.

ARIKI - Ariki, a Cavalier 28 class yacht, was designed by Laurie Davidson, designer of the New Zealand America’s Cup winner. It was designed originally as the D28 in the late 70’s, with over 100 produced in Australia. There is still a very strong fleet that race on Sydney Harbour. Ariki, the New Zealand name for a chief, was campaigned hard and very successfully in its early years by Norm Brown and when David Williams came across her she was sitting in the Pittwater not being used much. For a short period Jenni and David managed to spend some lovely weekends exploring the Pittwater. P 7.  Groundswell – Cruising Yacht Club of South Australia Newsletter – august 2010

Australian Sailing Team – Olympics – Australia 

The AST Program Manager, Rob Brown said, “It is important to increase the depth of talent in all the Olympic Classes in order to stay on the top of our game. We need our potential Olympians to push our current Australian Sailing Team to greater heights, to raise the bar by producing fitter and more mentally tough athletes”.   

Last week the ASDS travelled to Hamilton Island to be involved in a camp that incorporated an intensive screening process to assess the squad in all facets of campaigning.

“The aim of this Camp was to assess the fitness levels, physiotherapy, psychology, on water sailing skills and personal profiles.” 

“It was a huge success with a large percentage of the squad identified as potential future Olympians”. Retrieved  from: http://www.australiansailingteam.com.au/newsletter/newsletterDisplay.asp?ID=2104

January 2006; Sydney sailor Rob Brown and his crew of Bruce Wookey and Garry Gudmunson on Steam Packet VI have been crowned the Audi Etchells Australian champions at Royal Brighton Yacht Club in Victoria on the weekend.

From: http://fourtitude.com/news/Audi_News_1/sydney-sailor-rob-brown-is-crowned-audi-etchells-australian-champion/

Skiff titleholder successful. SYDNEY: Skipper Rob Brown secured his third major title in the past 12 months yesterday when he steered Goodman Fielders to victory in the final heat of the Tricontinental Australian 18ft skiff title on Sydney Harbour. After earlier winning the state and world championships, Brown achieved his treble with brilliant sailing to score his fifth heat win of the 'series.  In a 20 - to 25-knot nor'easter Brown took the lead from PeterSorensen's Fosters midway through the race and dashed away to win by lmin 9sec. In a rare occurrence there was a dead heat for second between Sorensen and Kevin Nixon in Colorbond. But it was Brown's day.

He only had to finish in the first 10 to secure the title and from the moment he overtook Fosters the race was never in doubt. Showing far greater boat speed down-wind than any of its rivals,Goodman Fielders cleared out from the fleet for another comfortable win. The margin could have been much greater but Brown decided to nurse the boat along to make sure he completed the course without drama. The only boat capable of overhauling him was Chesty Bond,but skipper Trevor Barnabas took a gamble with his sail selection and it backfired. 

While the rest of the skiffs used No4 rigs, Barnabas went for his No 5 sail, hoping the breeze would be stronger. He was up in the firing line for the first couple of legs but when the wind lightened he dropped back through the field. After the race, Brown was delighted and said he was now looking forward to defending his world title in Perth next week. "Now it's full steam ahead for Perth and I know we'll have to sail just as well as we did in this series to keep the world title," Brown said. Skiff titleholder successful. (1987, January 5). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 21. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119473431

The event director and three times 18-foot skiff world champion, Rob Brown,"-said the Canberra course is ideal for grand prix sailing. "The short course racing between the two bridges in the Central Basin of Lake Burley Griffin is ah ideal venue for these exciting skiffs," Brown said. "Spectators can enjoy all the action-from Regatta Point where the skiffs can be viewed in the pits rigging up. While the boats are racing all of the action will be covered via live expert commentary. With two races per day, the 18-foot skiffs will surely be one of the highlights of the Canberra Festival."

The event is presented by Grand Prix Sailing, organisers of Flying Eighteen races around the country. Major sponsors of the Canberra challenge are the FAI Insurance Group and the Canberra Tourism Development Bureau. Flying Eighteens a 'festival highlight'. (1990, March 3). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 50. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120882109