Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Under starter's orders

You may not see them – and in some cases you may not know them – but when the cannons are fired signalling 10 minutes to the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, five minutes to the start and then the start in Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s (CYCA) famous race, the people chosen for these duties are chosen for a reason.

Denis O’Neil has been given the duty of setting the fleet in the 628 nautical mile race on its way to Hobart, firing the replica cannon from Eclipse.

Fifty years ago, O’Neil won the 1968 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with his beautiful 43ft timber yacht, Koomooloo. He represented Australia twice at the at the Admiral’s Cup – 1969 with Koomooloo – and 1983 with Bondi Tram at the Olympic Games in 1972 and 1976 in the Soling keelboat, among other sailing achievements. Today he owns the pretty Kyeema, sailing her regularly on Sydney Harbour.

Gail Lewis-Bearman will fire the five minute warning. She is the first female member of the Club to be honoured with this opportunity. A valued member of the CYCA since 1984, she was made a Life Member in 2013 in recognition of her volunteer work, including being a member of the Sydney Hobart Liaison team, helping develop it to today’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart Information and Liaison Centre.

Lewis-Bearman also joined the founding members of the CYCA’s Breakfast Club, working alongside the crew for 16 years, and ironically, was still involved when it presented the Club with two replica cannons. She was on Shark Island when they were fired for the first time to start the 1990 Sydney Hobart.

Lewis-Bearman was also crew on the Club’s Start Boat and joined the Associates Committee in 1984, staying for 18 years, including five years as President. She was on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Emergency Management Team, too, among many other roles, some of which she continues to undertake.

”Once I got over the initial shock, I felt very humbled and privileged to be chosen for this role,” she said of being asked to fire the five minute cannon. “I’m very passionate about the Club – anything I might have contributed has given me personal enjoyment and satisfaction – I didn’t expect to be rewarded for it,” Lewis-Bearman said.

Bill Psaltis will fire the 10 minute warning and is fully cognizant of what that means. He has 22 Sydney Hobarts behind him, mostly famously with Meltemi, so named to reflect the family’s Greek heritage. He was commodore of the CYCA twice – from 1963 to 1964 and again in 1971. He is one of the longest standing members of the CYCA, joining in 1953 and being made a Life Member in 1999.

There will be extra feeling when he fires the 10-minute cannon, as he son Ed, who learned to sail at his father’s knee, will start his 37th Sydney Hobart aboard the Sydney 36, Midnight Rambler, which he co-owns. On a former small Midnight Rambler he co-owned, Ed won the tragic1998 race and Bill remains very proud of his son’s sailing achievements.

In other news, the CYCA is removing the yacht Weddell as an entrant in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. There has been no response from the owner after many emails, and it was confirmed this morning the boat is in Cape Town minus her mast. The fleet now stands at 87, including 12 internationals.  

The Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network via 7Mate throughout Australia.

For full list of entries and all information:


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