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My uncle Magnus Halvorsen died
aged 96 on 27 July. Magnus was
a giant of a man, both in stature
and as an athlete and sailor. To this small
girl growing up in the 1950s and 60s, he
was a mentor and loving role-model. I
shall miss him.
Magnus Halvorsen was born in the
small town of Helle in southern Norway, on
18 August 1918, the son of boatbuilder Lars
Halvorsen, and his wife Bergithe.
Seeking a better life in the aftermath
of World War I, the family spent two years
in South Africa before settling in Sydney
in 1925. Magnus joined the family firm at
the age of 14. His father died four years
later, but not before he had handed on his
skills in line drawing and the making of
During World War II, Lars Halvorsen
Sons Pty Ltd built more than 250 vessels for
the war effort – from 38-foot air-sea rescue
boats to 122-foot Fairmiles. Magnus was
responsible for the production planning
for the Fairmiles.
Magnus and his brother Trygve built
their first serious racing yacht in 1946 – the
34-foot Saga. Saga was launched just in
time to compete in that year’s Sydney to
Hobart race. She carried no engine. After
weathering a huge storm in Bass Strait, Saga
was becalmed in the Derwent River, but
still managed second place on handicap.
Magnus had played First-Grade Rugby for
Northern Suburbs until then, but gave it up
in 1947 to concentrate on sailing.
New yachts followed, with designs
tweaked. Engines were one improvement!
In one Trans-Tasman race, in which the
brothers’ yacht was knocked over by a
freak wave, Peer Gynt was upside-down for
a minute before righting herself, the only
water inside having come from a vent.
Magnus narrowly avoided serious injury
when an ingot of lead ballast dislodged,
landing inches from him. Still, Peer Gynt
won the race.
Magnus married the love of his life, Paula
Wilson, in 1948 but it would be decades
before he ‘settled
down’. Sailing was
in his blood, and in
1950 Magnus and
Trygve built Solveig,
the 1,000th vessel
produced by Lars
Halvorsen Sons in
Australia. In Solveig,
the brothers raced in
the Hobart, Trans-Tasman and Trans-Pacific
races. Unfortunately, they missed what
would have been their first Hobart win in
1954, due to illness. Solveig was skippered
to that win by Stan Darling.
Magnus and Trygve’s next yacht was the
innovative Anitra V. Constructed using the
latest glues, Anitra had no nails or caulking.
Her hull was as smooth as silk and her
sails made of the new fabric, Dacron. Anitra
delivered a second place in the 1956 Hobart
in hurricane-force winds; a first in 1957; and
seconds in 1958 and 1959.
Competing in the Trans-Pacific Yacht
Race in 1959, the brothers found themselves
without a navigator for the return journey.
Magnus bought a navigation book and
studied every page ...
“ I did a crash course in celestial navigation ...
I gave up partying to study the book until late at
night ... I bought a set of HO214 tables, plotting
sheets, star identifier etc. then took some afternoon
sun sights off the marina breakwater at Waikiki. The
positions lines were very close to where I was sitting!”
Magnus was invited to join Australia’s
first challenge for the America’s Cup,
to be held in 1962. Designed by naval
architect, David Payne, Gretel was built at
the Halvorsen yard in Ryde. Magnus, with
his athlete’s build, was a perfect trimmer
for the mainsail. His personal account of
the trip includes tales of meeting the likes
of Harold Vanderbilt and US President, John
F Kennedy. Magnus celebrated his 44th
birthday at a dinner hosted by the New
York Yacht Club.
Back in Australia, Magnus and Trygve
were able to concentrate on building
the iconic Freya (which still boasts an
unequalled three successive Hobart
wins) and a tilt at the 1965 Admiral’s Cup.
Magnus went on to navigate successfully
on a number of yachts, notably Kialoa III,
which in 1975 established a line honours
record for the Sydney to Hobart that stood
for 21 years.
In 1964 Magnus and Trygve established
their own business, but Magnus eventually
left to become a marine surveyor, an
occupation perfectly suited to a boatbuilder
of his experience and attention to detail.
He and Trygve were joint Yachtsmen of
the Year in 1965/66 and were awarded the
Australian Sports Medal in 2000. Magnus
played an active role in a number of yacht
clubs, including the Cruising Yacht Club
of Australia, the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht
Club and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
Magnus Halvorsen is survived by his
children, Anders, Jan, Niel and Ruth, 12
grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Paula died in 1993.
h Randi Svensen
The last of the revered Halvorsen brothers
MAGNUS HALVORSEN 1918–2015
Magnus Halvorsen and Stan Darling on
Peer Gynt, 1948.
Mainsail trimmer on Gretel, Australia’s first
challenge for the America’s Cup in 1962.
Magnus at 1965 Sydney Hobart winner’s
presentation for Freya.
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