Death of Bob Ross

Vale Bob Ross 19.11.1931 – 28.6.2024

Unfortunately I never got to know Bob, but without him, this MySailing website would not exist, as it grew out of the Australian Sailing Magazine he created. So I will leave Di Pearson to provide the relevant words -Steve/Editor.

Bob Ross, the renowned sailing photo journalist, newspaper writer, magazine founder, editor, book author, sailor and friend, died on Friday in his 92nd year after an extended illness.

Bob stood head and shoulders above all in our profession, hailed the most respected sailing writer in Australia and ranked among the best in the world. To the point, honest and always giving boating enthusiasts an enjoyable read, he lived and breathed sailing.

Wherever he went, to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, where he was a member since 1970, to other clubs and to social occasions, Bob arrived pad, pen and camera, ready to record the next good story. All it took was a few conversations with other guests…

A New Zealander by birth (but we claimed him as our own), Bob spent his early years in the Finn dinghy, competing for Olympic selection in 1964 and 1968. Moving to Australia, he raced competitively and with success in J24s and offshore events, winning the 1986 Sydney-Mooloolaba race as co-helmsman on Bill Dodds’ Nuzulu.

Bob was the quintessential quiet achiever – no accolades or awards wanted or needed – and he was loved and revered by all who knew him.

Bobby, or ‘Rossy‘, as he was known, covered his first Sydney Hobart for the Sun Herald News-Pictorial in Melbourne in 1960. He moved to Sydney and continued to cover the Hobart and other major sailing races and regattas for magazines and the Sydney Morning Herald, along with reporting for the Launceston Examiner, London Times and London Telegraph.

Interviewed for ‘Blue Water Classics: Portraits of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race’ in 2019,  Bobby said, “When a chance would come up to go on the race (Hobart),  if they were short on regular crew, I went. My best years – in ocean racing anyway – were with Sir James Hardy on Nyamba and Police Car.”

His first Hobart was in 1963. “I did it because I hadn’t done any ocean racing. I’d been a dinghy sailor, and I thought ‘Well, I’m going to have to do this properly and find out a bit more about it’.

“A chance came along to go on Aqua Bleu. We had a hell of a time. We got caught in a  south-west gale and ended up back in Eden. I was truly scared, steering at night looking up, across the waves, looking down into a trough. I knew it was going to be serious strife.”

Bobby, a fitness fanatic with daily bouts in the gym and running, took a break after that, “mainly because I was a bit bloody scared.” In 1969, he took the opportunity to do the race on Arthur Byrne’s Salacia, a standout yacht at the time and had a much better experience, including placing third in the prestigious Southern Cross Cup sailing against Australia-wide and international competition.

Bobby said the worst race he covered was the disastrous ’98 Hobart. “That was a really hard year for me, because I knew a lot of these guys. Breaking the news to Syd Fischer that Jim Lawler, one of his very good friends, had drowned… Syd had just arrived in Hobart, and he’s a tough guy, but he really broke down at the dock.

“For the next few Hobart races, I could never get to sleep at night on the first two nights, until I knew everything was OK. It  was just awful,” he said.

In September 1976, Bobby and Ken McLachlan founded what became the most popularly read sailing magazine in Australia, Australian Sailing. The mag covered everything from junior sailing to state and national titles in dinghies and skiffs, through to yachting – the only magazine in Australia to cover the broad spectrum of sailing.

The favourite part for most, was the Bob Cranse column, an alias Bobby created in 1976. The stories were always true and very funny – for us readers – but not always for the subjects. We couldn’t wait for the next installment and we still miss that column, which was as legendary as the writer.

Cranse came about when a collection of characters, curious situations and humorous readings found their way to Bobby’s desk – great fodder. The best of them were ultimately published in a book, Flotsam and Jetsam: The Cranse Chronicles. The book can still be purchased on Amazon and Booktopia.

Dedicated to his craft, Bobby also authored other books such as Tuning a Racing Yacht, Ocean Racing Around the World, America’s Cup 1987: The Official Record, Australia and New Zealand: Complete Book of Boating and The Sailing Australians.

During those years you would see Bob and his wife Eve on Sydney Harbour, covering races from Bobby’s orange rubber duck, emblazoned with the Australian Sailing logo. Bobby wrote and took photos – Eve beside him, driving the boat, changing film rolls and batteries in cameras, holding cameras, changing lenses – whatever was needed. Theirs was a marriage made in heaven and their partnership extended to Bobby’s work and sailing.

Celebrating 20 years of Australian Sailing, Bobby wrote of his enduring passion for sailing: “At first, it was the boats that attracted me to the sailing scene as a very young-age learner and L-competitor but, soon afterwards, the people became equally important in my perception of this seemingly limitless pastime. The stimulation of innovative boats – a heady cocktail – has kept me enthused through the good portion of a lifetime.”

In 1996 Bobby won the Robert Greaves Achievement Award which recognises outstanding contributions to the boating industry. He wasn’t able to attend the award ceremony because he was covering sailing at the Olympic Games.

In 2007, he received a Life Achievement Award in the 2007 Sydney Harbour Awards for his dedication to the coverage and promotion of boating on Sydney Harbour and also won various media and sport promotion awards during a distinguished lifelong shed career.

Bobby covered major world yachting events, including every America’s Cup since 1962 until the early 2000’s; the Admiral’s (UK), Clipper/Kenwood Cups (Hawaii), Olympic sailing, world championships and others.

Bobby also championed us younger females as we came up through the media ranks – me, Vanessa Dudley and Amanda Lulham were some of the beneficiaries.

He was supportive and gave us great advice. As Amanda Lulham recalled, “The best piece of advice he gave me was to ‘make sure you get your quotes correct. You can’t go wrong if you do that’.”

His best to me, when I decided to go freelance was, “Always work hard – you’re only as good as your last job – keep it real and get your facts right.”

Before I started my career in media, he was already a fabulous, loyal friend. I also sometimes sailed with him and Eve on his J24s, one beautifully named ‘Stamped Urgent’. He was all business, competitive in the extreme.

One race, I was trimming headsail and busting for a pee. He was fuming, asking why I hadn’t gone ashore and could I hang on, before yelling for a bucket on deck. He wanted me to keep trimming. That’s how competitive he was. But when I started my media career in 1986, he was always there encouraging and helping me. Like his other recipients, I was blessed.

In 1986 Bob and Ken sold Australian Sailing to Yaffa Publishing, but Bob remained editor until December 2003, when he handed the reins to Vanessa Dudley, who shares her experience with Bob below.

Vanessa:

“The sailing community has lost its greatest writer. For many decades, Bob Ross was the authoritative voice on all aspects of sailing within Australia and internationally. Bob gave the sport a true community forum with the magazine Australian Sailing. He loved the sport, competing extensively in dinghies, one-design keelboats (most particularly his beloved J24s) and offshore events, which gave his writing a deep understanding and perception.

“Through the 1980s and 90s and onwards, Bob was a role model, mentor and career facilitator for young sailing writers like Sandy Peacock, Di Pearson, Robert Keeley and me.

“He was generous with his knowledge and resources. He gave us work and taught us by example, braving any weather to cover events with his pen and camera and never skimping on time to get all sides of a story, and cover all levels of the sport from junior classes through to the America’s Cup and Olympics.

“Bob’s reporting style was concise and factual, not florid or partisan. He was deeply interested in technology and new developments, while also being invested in the social and convivial aspects of the sport at all levels.

“He was not afraid to express strong views and criticism of authorities in his editorials and opinion pieces, while his dry sense of humour lightened his writings and made the back-page column by the mysterious Bob Cranse a monthly must-read.

“Bob’s commitment to the sport was never more apparent than in the dark days of the 1998 Sydney Hobart and its aftermath, when he attended every day of the coronial inquest to report comprehensively on the race and what could be learnt from the tragic deaths.”

Bob Ross is survived by his wife Eve and their combined seven children plus grandchildren.

A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at the CYCA at a date to be determined and will be advised in due course.

Di Pearson  

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