Closing Time – Don Mickleborough passes away at age 90

Don MIckleborough, one of the great characters of Australian offshore racing, has died. Four days after throwing a big party at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia for family and friends, to celebrate his 90th birthday, he died in his sleep in the early hours of Thursday morning.

He had been in poor health for the past few years but never lost his zest for living and was a regular each Thursday night at the CYCA in “Mickleborough’s Corner”, already designated by signage in his honour in the member’s bar.

Tasmanian-born Mickleborough, a former fisherman, first went Sydney-Hobart racing in 1958, with Southerly, a Charlie Peel-design built in 1938.

He sailed her in eight Sydney-Hobart races, then began alternating on big boats as his noted seamanship skills became recognised. He put a crew together for emerging newspaper proprietor Rupert Murdoch’s 59ft Ilina in the 1960s.

In the 1970s and 1980s he organised crews for Jack Rooklyn, firstly on Apollo and then Ballyhoo. He was with Ballyhoo in 1976 when she was first to finish in the Hobart race, the China Seas race and Hawaii’s around-the State race and in 1977 when she took line honours in the Fastnet race.

He was aboard John Kahlbetzer’s Bumblebee 4 when she was first to finish in the 1980 Newport-Bermuda race.

Meantime, he had kept Southerly for sailing around Sydney. He recommissioned her and began campaigning towards the 50th anniversary Sydney-Hobart race in 1994.

She rated well under the IMS handicapping rule. With new sails and an experienced crew, she won IMS division C in the 1994 Sydney-Gold Coast, the first race she had contested in 15 years.

Then, with the youngest crew member Tony Cable (52) naturally on the foredeck, she won the 30-year veteran division of the 50th Sydney-Hobart race. The other crew members were Southerly regulars David Reid, Bruce Jackson, Dick Logan and John Sheridan.

The following year Southerly won division 5 in the Sydney-Mooloolaba race and then won IMS division F in the Hobart race.

MIckleborough’s crews on Southerly were always compatible, their close fiendships forged in the after-race partying as well as the teamwork afloat.

He once told me: “In the whole history of Southerly I can never remember one time we had a cross word. It’s always been a laugh a minute. The boat was known as the Great Floating Hotel so we’ve always had libations on board. They’ve been a great bunch of guys.”

The 1994 crew joined Mickleborough in singing the Southerly song together one last time at last Sunday’s party:

First verse:

Now if you see a yacht sailing from Double Bay,
It might be as well to keep out of the way.
You might hear them shouting,
You might hear them yell,
Look out for the Southerly floating hotel.


Wowsers shout, mothers yell,
‘Look out for the Southerly floating hotel’.

– Bob Ross

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