Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Roger Hickman dockside at Constitution Dock. Image copyright Bruce Montgomery.
by Bruce Montgomery
A pod of dolphins off Bicheno on the Tasmanian east coast, the biggest that veteran yachtsman Roger Hickman has ever seen, stopped him in his tracks on board the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race entrant Audi Centre Melbourne yesterday.
Until that point in the race, he had not really reflected on the night of October 10 when he lost his “first mate” Sally Gordon and “good mate” Andrew Short when Short’s maxi struck Flinders Islet off the coast of Wollongong and they died.
Another Rolex Sydney Hobart boat, the TP52 Shortwave, with 11 members of Andrew Short’s family making up the crew of 16, took time out to stop racing as they crossed the same latitude of Flinders Islet, 30 nautical miles further out to sea.
Andrew’s older brother Matthew went to the starboard side of the boat.
“We had agreed on what we were going to do when we got to that point on the course,” Matt’s wife Christine said.
“He said a few words to the kids. It wasn’t heavy. He said that Andrew had died doing what he enjoyed doing and he reminded the kids not to make any silly mistakes. We wore lifejackets for the whole race,” Christine Short said.
“After that, we threw one of his favourite hats into the sea, the one from last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. From then on, we knew he was with us. Every time we needed some wind we said ‘Come on, Andrew, give us a puff’, and he did.”
The family plans to return to Flinders Islet in a couple of weeks to scatter Andrew’s ashes.
Hickman, on his 33rd Rolex Sydney-Hobart, reflected particularly on the loss of Gordon, his memories triggered not by passing the Wollongong coast but by the haunting presence of that pod of dolphins off Bicheno.
“Sally was a really good friend, a special lady. We sailed the world and did the last 13 Sydney Hobarts together,” Hickman said.
“The Rolex Sydney Hobart is not about the boats you sail on or the number of Sydney Hobarts you do or how bad the weather was, it’s the number of friends you make.
“Sally was a terrific crew person, a wonderful lady, very special, because she was my first mate.”
Then came the emotions of the dolphins, with which Sally Gordon had a special affinity.
“Off Bicheno we got more dolphins than any of us had ever seen, and I’ve been floating around for a long time,” Hickman said.
“They just played and played. Sally was always fascinated with them. That was sad because you think, ‘bugger’.
“Sally and I had done 20 Flinders Islet races over the last 15 years; with Sally, with the dolphins, it was just amazing. Every time we saw dolphins, she just loved them. You’d call her, she’d come up on deck and go to the bow and tap on it to attract them. No matter how close the race was, how furious the competition was, she was just obsessed with them.
“This was the best display I had ever seen. They just frolicked and jumped out of the water.
“I said to Peter Inchbold, ‘you can understand why people get religious because if you connected that with a god, a Sally Gordon type god, you would think they have come to haunt us’.
“That was quite poignant; very poignant. Very sad. You can visualise Andrew and Sally floating upside-down, lifeless, and that is very sad.
“You just think ‘bugger’,” Hickman said, and turned away.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race