Home' Afloat : AFLOAT April 2014 Contents 54 AFLOAT.com.au April 2014
At the top of the stairs at the entrance to Sandringham
Yacht Club overlooking Port Phillip Bay there hangs a
magnificent oil painting of Victorian Yachting’s great
champion ... Lou Abrahams.
Lou Abrahams, who completed 44 Sydney-Hobart yacht races
and won the gruelling bluewater classic twice, has died aged 86.
The first time I came across Lou Abrahams was when the
gun smoke wafted into an almost still air announcing the start
of the third Sydney to Suva yacht race. The waters across the
entrance to Middle Harbour from Middle Head to Dobroyd were
calm. There was hardly a ripple in the moderate westerly wind. A
fleet of twelve set sail for Suva on a Friday morning in May 1980.
He was skippering his new Challenge II. I ’d joined Geoffrey
Blok, Greg Gilliam, John Taverner and Robin Copeland and crew
aboard Mary Muffin for what we all assumed would be a pleasant
Pacific sail. Not so.
Lou’s crew included Russell ‘Budgerigar’ Evans, former CYCA
Commodore Matt Allen and Bernie Case. Challenge would prove
to be our challenge in the 2,200nm race. By the time we reached
sea, Challenge held a handsome lead under spinnaker. Marshall
Phillips’s Sweet Caroline was tucked in astern of us.
Early next morning not another entrant was in sight. Nine
days later, still racing under grey skies and driving rain, Challenge,
on port tack crossed our bow with a 400 metre lead. We didn’t
see her again until Suva.
Three hours out of Fiji’s biggest city we put up a spinnaker in
sloppy Kadavu Passage under blazing sunshine and soft tropical
breezes. Nearing the finish surrounded by spectator craft we were
informed that Mary Muffin was first boat to finish. Three hours
later Lou and his crew crossed the line in second place with
Sweet Caroline arriving shortly after. The rest of the fleet trickled
in over the next 36 hours.
It was when the fleet moored stern to at the Tradewinds Hotel,
that I first spoke with the gentle stubble-bearded Melburnian in
the bar overlooking the pool. We talked briefly about the race
and the irony of three hours after so many days at sea.
Over the ensuing years I again caught up with the softly
spoken Lou Abrahams in Honolulu at the Pan Am Clipper Cup
series which the Australian team of Ragamuf fin, Challenge II and
Sweet Caroline won. And later in Sydney when he was competing
in the annual Sydney to Hobart.
Before sailing, Abrahams had been involved with motor
racing, demonstrating the early signs of his flair and appetite
for dangerous adventure. In the 1950s he set the Australian
land-speed record with a self-built car that reached 256kph at
Lou’s sailing career began in 1963 when Sir Arthur Warner
took the 36 year old Abrahams to Hobart as bowman aboard the
then renowned yacht, Winston Churchill.
Smitten by sailing Lou began racing his first yacht Odin
regularly from Sandringham Yacht Club, then the magnificent
S&S design Vittoria aboard which he and wife Joan extensively
cruised the Pacific. In 1978 he commissioned the build of another
S&S design, Challenge II, racing her from 1979 to 1983. In 1984 he
commissioned Frers to design Challenge III.
It was Challenge II, however, that gave Lou his first Hobart
win in 1983. He repeated this effort in 1989 with his Ed Dubois
design one tonner Ultimate Challenge.
A succession of yachts all bearing the Challenge name followed
until he committed himself to One Design, winning four National
titles in the Sydney 38 class and all but one Victorian title since
The 1998 Hobart was for Lou, as it was for everyone
participating, one of the toughest in his long Hobart career. Burly
crewmember Victorian policeman Garry Schipper went overboard.
“It frightened me that we lost a crewman and I’m so proud
that we got Garry back within ten minutes after a huge wave threw
him into the boiling sea. We reciprocated our course and in the
black of night there he was. Col Anderson put the boat right up
next to him,” said Lou.
As testament to prudent seamanship and boat preparedness
Lou always insisted that his boats carried halyards of extra length
so they could reach the water.
“ We saved his life. Winching Garry on board was not easy as
he was a big man, 140 kg to be exact,” he added. Sadly, Schipper
succumbed to cancer some years later.
Lou Abrahams was a decorated yachtsman. He was Manager
of Australia’s 1979 Admiral’s Cup winning team, comprising
Ragamuf fin, Impetuous and Police Car. A founding board member of
the Clipper/Kenwood Cup series in Hawaii, he also competed in
seven Fastnet races, Geelong Race Weeks, Hamilton Island Race
Weeks, Hogs Breath and in many Victorian State Teams. He was
the first Victorian to race the Fastnet with Vittoria.
Lou was awarded Ocean Racer of the Year twice, in 1984
and again in 1990. In 1983 and in 2006 Lou was awarded
Victorian Yachtsman of the Year and in 2002 he was awarded
the Commonwealth Medal for Services to Sailing.
As Commodore of Sandringham Yacht Club form 1972-
73 his business acumen and professional skills set the basis
for the development of this influential yachting and sailing
Importantly Lou was instrumental in the development of the
Juniors Sailing Program and as current Commodore Chris Carlile
said, “One of Lou’s happiest moments was at the opening and
naming of the Lou Abrahams Sailing Centre. Lou would often
attend the Off the Beach Annual Presentation night and the
juniors were thrilled to bits to receive their trophies from Lou.”
“ We don’t usually celebrate people here at Sandringham. We
celebrate boats and crews,” s aid Carlile.
But we do celebrate Lou. h
No challenge too great
Links Archive AFLOAT March 2014 AFLOAT May 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page