Vale Trygve Halvorsen, offshore racer and skilled designer

Trygve Halvorsen, who died in Sydney last Friday, aged 94, leaves a fine legacy in offshore racing and quality boatbuilding.

With his brother Magnus, he designed and built six successful ocean racers including Freya, a 39ft double ender that won consecutive Sydney-Hobart races in 1963, 1964 and 1965, a feat not matched in the 69-year history of the race.

In their 13 previous Hobarts with five other boats they designed and built themselves, they won with Anitra V in 1957 and finished second five times.

The Freya hat trick was built on a steady gathering of offshore experience and the refinement through five previous designs. She was easy to push hard downwind and in fresh winds able to pace it with much bigger yachts upwind.

Trygve and Magnus were complementary personalities. Magnus, big, bluff and strong, a former Rugby second row forward, was the outgoing one. Tryg, gentlemanly, quiet and withdrawn but extremely determined was a perfectionist in boat maintenance and preparation.

They were born in Norway, sons of boatbuilder Lars Halvorsen who arrived in Australia in 1924. His wife and children – five sons and two daughters – joined him in 1925. The five sons Harold, Carl, Bjarne, Magnus and Trygve all went to work in the family boatbuilding business when they turned 14.

After the death of death of Lars in 1936, his eldest son Harold founded Lars Halvorsen and Sons and purchased sites for new yards in Neutral Bay and Ryde. World War Two accelerated the company’s development with the Ryde yard, with a staff of up to 350, producing a 112ft Fairmile anti-submarine patrol boat a month.

After the war the yard built tugs, large fishing boats, motor cruisers and the occasional yacht. Another Halvorsen yard opened at Bobbin Head and became base for a fleet of drive-yourself hire cruisers.

Magnus, Trygve and Bjarne in their spare time in 1934 began building their first yacht, a 34ft harbour racer called Enterprise that became scratch boat with the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club and won one of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s first races, to Pittwater in 1945.

Trygve and Magnus then designed Saga for the 1946 Hobart race, followed by Peer Gynt (1947, ‘48, ‘49), Solveig (1950 ’51, ‘52, ’53, ’54), Anitra V (1956, ’58, 59), Norla (1960).

They both then became busy with Australia’s first America’s Cup challenger Gretel. The Ryde Halvorsen yard built her to Alan Payne’s design for Sir Frank Packer. Magnus sailed as cockpit crew in all five America’s Cup races. Trygve was number three helmsman in the team behind Jock Sturrock and Archie Robertson and also in charge of maintenance.

Trygve designed Freya before the Halvorsens left for the 1962 America’s Cup, originally with a shorter keel and a spade rudder. When they returned Magnus talked him into giving Freya a longer keel with conventional keel-hung rudder because he wanted to cruise as well as race.

The Halvorsens were meticulous in their boat preparation. Trygve used to recall their only major breakdown, breaking the mast on Solveig in the 1953 Noumea race when she was becalmed. The boat’s flopping about caused a split pin securing a clevis pin to fall out of the rig and they broke all but 12ft of the timber mast. “It was the only time I never went up the before the race,” he said. “There were two jobs I always did before the race: go up the mast and clean the bilge so the pump would not get clogged.”

They also developed a crewing strategy that contributed greatly to their successes, based around maintaining concentration at night. The three helmsmen, always Trygve, Magnus and Trevor Gowland, would steer one hour on and two off to rest below.

Freya, along with Camille and Caprice of Huon, was a member of the first Australian team to contest the Admiral’s Cup international teams championship in England for an encouraging second place behind Britain, to launch Australia firmly onto the overseas offshore scene..

The Halvorsen brothers’ sailing courses parted after 1965. Trygve became involved with design work for the alterations for Gretel’s 1967 America’s Cup campaign and after that never considered building another race boat to spend more time with his family.

He did race again, firstly with Alan Bond’s new 57ft Apollo in the 1969 Hobart race and then sailed the US Onion Patch and transAtlantic races with her.

There will be a memorial gathering at the CYCA in Rushcutters Bay from 2pm to 4pm on November 18.

– Bob Ross

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