Vale ‘Sighty’ Hammond a great Australian navigator

Richard ’Sightie’ Hammond
Richard Bennett
Richard ‘Sighty’ Hammond, who died last week in Sydney, was 'one of the great navigators and seamen in the ocean racing world,' according to former Yachting Australia president, former International Sailing Federation vice-president and past Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore David Kellett AM.

Kellett’s tribute was one of many that have been flowing in from ‘Sighty’s’ many friends and former sailing mates since his death was announced. He and Hammond sailed together on the maxi yachts Sovereign, Vengeance and Condor, with Sovereign achieving line and handicap honours in the 1987 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

In an ocean racing career spanning more than 46 years, Hammond competed in 40 Sydney Hobart Races, navigating two overall winners, Koomooloo and Sovereign, and two line honours winners, one being Sovereign in her double victory, the other aboard the British yacht Crusade.

He also sailed at the Admiral’s Cup in England many times, his organisational and navigation skills playing a key role in the success of the Australian teams, including the brilliant team victory in 1967 when he navigated Mercedes III.

'It needs to be recorded that Sighty was a great mentor and teacher of Australian navigators, due to the research and diligence he applied to understanding the tides of the Solent and Channel and generously passing that knowledge on to Admiral's Cup navigators,' came as a tribute to another leading navigator,' Lindsay May.

Ragamuffin at Admiral's Cup 1979
Richard Bennett

David Kellett said ‘Sighty’s’ success in the Sydney Hobart and the Admiral’s Cup 'speak volumes for his ability and dedication.' Kellett added that he had been honoured when ‘Sighty' had agreed to sail with him, forming a relationship that would last for many years and certainly led to the formation of a winning crew to campaign Bernard Lewis’ Sovereign.

'I learned so much from ‘Sighty’ about navigation, positioning a yacht on the race course to take best advantage of the weather, keeping the yacht up to speed, managing a yachts and crew at sea, and seamanship in heavy weather,' Kellett added.

Lindsay May recalled his own time at the Admiral’s Cup and the guidance he received from ‘Sighty’ Hammond.

'In 1983 before I went to Cowes, I used to spend every Saturday, for about two months, at Sighty's home, manually (in those days) calculating the tidal flow for The Solent and cross Channel race scenarios, determining apparent and tidal wind,' he wrote.

'Then in Cowes we shared a room for about three weeks, with the table, floor and beds littered with charts, publications and paperwork about The Solent, the Channel and tides. It was a memorable immersion into the advantages of using tidal flow that I apply every time I sail, even when the rate is minimal. When in Cowes, it’s a special feeling to just let that ebb and flow move you across the track, knowing that you appreciate the nuances and the overall picture.

'I've always believed that Australian crews at Cowes were better prepared and served than even our English competitors due to ‘Sighty's’ knowledge and preparation. Oh those endless discussions (arguments) about the 'moving carpet' and fallacy of getting the 'tide under the keel' for lift.

'In the Cherbourg race the Australian boats all reached the CH1 mark and kedged within 100m of it; if we had not been familiar with tidal wind, in those very light airs, we could have been like some of the other boats who were miles down current. To me ‘Sighty’ was the current man.'

'Vale Sighty, a lovely man and leader in our sport,' May added.

Having covered seven Admiral’s Cup in England as a yachting journalist, a few years ago I had the great pleasure of assistance ‘Sighty’ Hammond compile a series of yachting magazine articles on Australia’s significant participation in the Admiral’s. He felt this had been overlooked in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s history ‘From Ratbags to Respectability’.

In a letter to me later, ‘Sighty’ complimented me on capturing the ‘mood’ of the Admiral’s Cup at Cowes. He wrote: 'The purpose of doing all this, will I think will be achieved and the importance of the CYC’s participation can be recorded with your excellent documents.'

I am sure that ‘Sighty’ would have passed away, proud of his own outstanding achievements in ocean yacht racing but delighted that he was such a fine mentor of navigators who have followed his skills, albeit with much more modern technical equipment.

Attached to that letter from ‘Sighty’ was a list of some of the yachtsmen from around the world he had sailed with as navigator/tactician. It reads like a ‘who’s who’ of international yachtsmen: Ben Lexcen (Ginkgo, Apollo III), Syd Fischer (Ragamuffin), Ted Kaufman (Mercedes III), Peter Kurts (Love and War), British yachtsmen Sir Max Aitken (Crusade, UK) and Arthur Slater (Prospect of Whitby, UK), David Kellett (Sovereigh,Vengeance and Condor), John Bertrand (Superstar and Apollo V), Denis O’Neil (Koomooloo, Bondi Tram and Inch by Winch), his good friend from Cowes Bobby Lowein (Prospect of Whitby, Crusade, UK), Ian Kiernan (Maris), David Forbes (Love and War and Ragamuffin), Hugh Treharne (Bondi Tram and Inch by Winch), American Lowell North (Ragamuffin), UK Olympic gold medallist Rodney Patterson (Crusade), Gordon Ingate (Pam)….and the list went on.

Richard ‘Sighty’ Hammond was a member of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and Middle Harbour Yacht Club.

A memorial service will be held at St Mathews Church, 1 Darley Road,Manly, NSW on Thursday 31st October at 10.00am..