Home' Afloat : AFLOAT November 2016 Contents 42 AFLOAT.com.au November 2016
When Bill Solomons, passed from our midst in
September, he left the sailing world in mourning,
for he was not only one of Australia’s finest racing
helmsmen but also a gentleman of the first rank. Those who had
the privilege of knowing him were all infinitely enriched as much
by his quiet demeanour and dignity ashore as they were by the
memory of his outstanding racing exploits around the world.
One of the last of the true Corinthian Amateurs, Bill was
proud to have successfully represented Australia at the helm
of some of our most famous racing yachts. His personal and
professional presence will be sorely missed and not least at
Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron where he was a distinguished
member for 58 years. The Squadron was one of seven yacht
clubs to which he belonged but having grown up on Sydney
Harbour, it was the one in which he naturally felt most at home.
I knew and admired Bill Solomons for over 50 years and
yet at his farewell, as I stood among the many mourners on
the Squadron’s manicured lawns, listening to the lone piper
playing him over the water in a fine Spring rain, I was gripped
by a profound sense of loss and regret that I had not spent
more time in his company.
There is no more plaintive sound in all the world than the
slow and stately Gaelic rhythm of a MacCrimmon pibroch
played by a master on the great Highland bagpipes and as the
haunting notes sailed out across the grey waters of the Harbour,
I was certainly not alone in weeping for a man who had made
a deep and lasting impression. Bill Solomons had the genuine
and engaging warmth of a diplomat and the impeccable good
manners of a man of distinction, which he most certainly was.
To his very great credit he treated everyone, no matter who they
were, with equal courtesy and respect.
William Robert Peter Solomons was raised by his paternal
grandparents on the water’s edge at Elizabeth Bay. As a boy he
haunted the local boatshed and there imbibed the fundamentals
of sailing that underpinned his life-long passion for boats. In
exchange for rowing crews out to their moorings, he was given
access to a small gaff-rigged skiff in which he learned to sail.
He was a bright boy who was academically gifted enough to
be the youngest ever scholar at Sydney Boys High, the illustrious
school in which he excelled in maths and long distance running.
As a teenager he and a mate sailed an over-canvassed 10-footer,
a cedar skiff with no buoyancy, in which they learned a lot about
bailing and staying upright in a blow. In hard southerlies and
westerlies they took turns at the tiller, enjoying the thrill of
low-level flying as they broad-reached out and back.
Bill was lucky to have been taken under the wing of Sydney’s
veteran yachting journalist, Lou d’Alpuget, who built him a
12-footer and became something of a father figure for him,
taking him aboard his gunter-rigged raised-decker Cherub as
they cruised Pittwater during school holidays.
In his eulogy for his father, Bill’s elder son, Dr Gregory
Solomons, paid tribute to Lou d’Alpuget and a string of other
luminaries who served as father figures and mentors and who
encouraged and guided the young man. Among the notables was
Eric Strain, the English Olympic yachtsman who had raced as a
professional in Europe where he became famous as a light-air
maestro. Eric insisted that Bill practise steering with his eyes
closed and insisted that he not move the tiller beyond the edges
of the centreline plank. Those light-air skills were well and truly
learned by Bill Solomons who mastered the art of being able
to keep a boat moving in little or no breeze.
Bill’s talent as a helmsman was such that at the age of 29 he
became reserve helmsman for Gretel, Australia’s first America’s
Cup challenger in 1962.
In 1968 Bill skippered the 5.5 Metre Barranjoey at the
Acapulco Olympics. Crewed by Jim (later Sir James) Hardy and
Scott Kauffman, they finished mid-fleet after a Mexican naval
barge crashed into the yacht and almost sank her at the dock.
Bill spent the 1970s racing Solings and the ’80s and ’90s in
Etchells, and later the Star Class which became his favourite
one-design. Bill’s swan song was a second in the classic division
of the 5.5 Metre worlds in Sydney in 2004, sailing with Mick
York and Stuart Grey.
Greg Solomons drew warm smiles and approval when he
told the farewell gathering at the Squadron that “Dad’s greatest
victory was in marrying Mum in Newport, Rhode Island, just
24 hours after the last America’s Cup race.”
The Australian syndicate chairman, Sir Frank Packer, gave
the bride away; Jock Sturrock, Gretel’s skipper was Best Man
and Bus Mosbacher, Weatherly’s winning America’s Cup skipper,
generously hosted a wonderful wedding reception in the
Newport mansion that was the American crew headquarters.
President John F. Kennedy attended the festivities that “made
the newsreels.” “It was,” Greg said, “a 20th centur y fairy-tale.”
Bill Solomons and his bride, the lovely Athenian-born Faye
Coroneos, who was then one of Australia’s most glamorous
fashion models, became a “brilliant team” whose marriage
lasted for 54 years. “ They loved each other dearly,” Greg told
the gathering. “ They were perfect for each other. Dad enjoyed
his sailing but his greatest love beyond all else was Mum and
h Bruce Stannard
Bill Solomons at the helm of the 12 metre Vim when she was the
trial horse for Gretel, Australia’s first America’s Cup challenger in
Racing helmsman and
first rank gentleman
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