by Di Pearson
If you were to ask anyone connected with the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia or the famous Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, you would find that most will want to talk about Tony Cable who is coming up for a record 46th race to Hobart in December; but not Tony, records don’t mean a thing to the yachtie who still retains an air of youthfulness.
Tony Cable on the boom of DUENDE, the TP52 on which Cable is to sail his 46th Sydney-Hobart race.
Cable will head south on Duende, the Judel/Vrolijk 52 owned by friend, Damien Parkes Quite possibly strangely, Cable couldn’t give two hoots that he is about to create a new record and history, he’s more interested in the great mates he has met along the way – and mostly, the adventure. 'I just like sailing - and sailing in the ocean,' he says.
'If it’s a nice Hobart, I look forward to sailing down the coast, even though to some degree it’s pretty repetitive.'
‘Nice Hobart’s’ don’t come along too often; just ask Cable, or ‘Glark’ (after famous actor Clark Gable) as he is known to sailing mates at the CYCA. And when you read some of what he’s been through, in the race, and ashore, it makes you realise how lucky he is for his terrific sense of humour and sense of the ridiculous.
Coming up for 46 races, Cable has seen it all. 'The toughest, although I didn’t know it at the time, was 1963 aboard Sylph VI with Lawso (David Lawson) and his uncle Archie. It was my third Hobart and the most protracted and heavy one – up to 80 knots was recorded off Tasman Island. I remember two boats did 360 degree turns without meaning to,' Cable says.
'One was Aqua Bleu, and Bob Ross, the sailing journalist, was on it. The other was Four Winds II, with Rear Admiral Chris Oxenbould aboard.' Oxenbould was to become Chairman of the Race Committee for the Rolex Sydney Hobart during the 1990’s.
Bob Ross remembers it slightly differently: 'We took a hammering and ended up far left into the Tasmania in a big south-westerly blow. We retired when, on re-hoisting the mainsail when the blow eased, it split. We didn’t do a 360 though.
'We ended up back in Eden with, among other boats, Stan Gibson's Four Winds II, which suffered two knockdowns. Bernie Case (who has sailed 40 Hobarts) was on board and took pride in showing us the cheese slices stuck to the inside of the cabin top roof during a knockdown,' Ross recalled.
'The boat that rolled 360 degrees was John Farren-Price's Lolita, skippered by Bob Young. It was dismasted in the rollover around 140 nautical miles east-north-east of St Helens. The British submarine Trump, fortunately heading up the coast, diverted to take her in tow.
'Winds were light and variable for the first three days of that race, before a strong south-westerly change. The gale lasted 48 hours, with gusts of 60-65 knots and gusts of up to 70 in Storm Bay,' Ross added.
Cable recollected: 'That was the longest trip ever – seven days 17 hours (13 minutes and two seconds to be exact).
'It was only my third Hobart, so I was prepared to think it (the weather) was normal. I was a foredeck hand then – there was such a big wave came over the foredeck that I lied face down and held on for dear life – it was as high as the roof at the Club,' he said pointing to the CYCA’s roof.
Asked if he remembered where the wind was coming from at the time, Cable responded: 'It was immaterial where the bloody wind was coming from - it didn’t matter - it was horrible no matter what the direction was.'
Still at sea on New Year’s Eve, midnight came around. 'The only person nearby me was a character called ‘Bubbles’ – Bill Manning – so we shared a New Year’s kiss on the deck of Sylph,' Cable said.
Sylph VI, he said, was an old clunker, made from indestructible 3/16 inch steel plate owned by the Lawson brothers Archie, Mick and Jim, the latter being Lawso’s father.
Asked how Uncle Archie and Lawso were handling the weather, Cable said: 'They were nice and safe in the cockpit.' What he didn’t say, was that it was because the two’s roles were normally below deck; Uncle Archie as cook and Lawso navigator.
What he also failed to mention was that Sylph VI finished dead last overall and second last on line. However, she did finish when ten others did not.
Tony Cable on the boom of DUENDE, the TP52 on which Cable is to sail his 46th Sydney-Hobart race. DUENDE, Sail No: ESP6100, Owner: Damien Parkes, Design: Judel Vrolijk 52, LOA (m): 15.4, State: NSW
Lawso, whom Cable also sailed his first Hobart with on the yacht Tarni in 1961 (it retired), has since bowed out from long ocean races, but he has his share of ‘Cable stories’ too.
'Cable turned up looking for a ride in an ocean race we were doing to Coogee when he was about 19. We were based at Rose Bay in those days, and when he arrived, we told him he’d be doing the foredeck. He looked at the bow and threw up before he even got on board,' a laughing Lawso remembered.
'Another time, on Fare Thee Well, we busted the steering in rough weather and went to an emergency tiller. When we arrived at Constitution Dock, he was on the bow of the yacht in a busman’s shirt and hat and was yelling ‘fares please, fares please’.'
Cable has a fund of stories about himself and others – you could live on them for weeks – and he remembers all the old-time famous salts who he got to share the rail with.
A member of the CYCA for 50 years come January, Cable also started sailing to Hobart 50 years ago, and later helped Alby Mitchell, who will start this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart, to find his first ocean racing rides.
'I’ve sailed with something like 250 fellas, including Olympic gold medallists such as Peter ‘Pod’ O’Donnell, through to a Danish bloke who at the last minute jumped aboard Boomerang VII on Boxing Day in 1972 and we never saw him again after that race and I never knew his name,' Cable said.
He recalls names like Raw Meat, Earings, Thunder, Sid Brown, George Pearce, Russ Williams, Dudley Burridge, Jim McCloy and so many more, who are now long gone. And Boy Messenger, who taught him to sail and mentored Syd Fischer’s early sailing career too.
Into the mid 1970’s, as he became better known, Cable started to get rides aboard the big famous maxis such as Apollo (Jack Rooklyn), Gretel, Vengeance and Sovereign all owned by Bernard Lewis, and Condor of Currabubula (Tony Paola).
Sailing master on Vengeance and Sovereign during those days was David Kellett, well known in sailing circles and at one time as the Vice President of ISAF. He now heads the CYCA’s Radio Relay Vessel team for big race south and had a great yarn to tell about his sailing mate being arrested in Hobart during the 1980’s.
'We noticed a parade going through the streets of Hobart, there was a jazz band in it – Cable thought it would be good to have them for the QLD (Quiet Little Drink - founded by Cable and John ‘Dawso’ Dawson at the end of the 1969 race), so he got the number and rang.
'The guy he spoke to was Bob Thorpe – and they’ve stayed great mates. Bob had a friend who was the Inspector of Police and he had to come to Sydney for some training, and Bob asked us to look after him, so we invited the Inspector to lunch at the CYCA,' Kellett said.
'After a huge lunch, Cable started to get into Tassie stories, and got onto one about having to have operations to remove Tasmanians’ second heads. The Inspector took it in good grace, but told Cable he ought to look after himself in Hobart that year.
'When we got to Hobart, various police would regularly come up to Cable wherever he happened to be, touch him on the shoulder and say: 'The Inspector’s compliments.' Finally, New Year’s Eve came around, and at dinner, a policeman arrived. Cable couldn’t take it anymore - so put his hands on his head and said 'take me'.
'This went on for two days,' Kellett said, 'and next day at the QLD, the police arrived and asked if anyone knew Tony Cable – and he got hauled off in a police car. They took him to Hobart prison, and photographed him with a serial number and put him in a cell for a couple of hours. Later that day, we went to Governors House – where Cable thanked the Governor for his pleasure!'
Despite the carry on, when it came to the Hobart race, it was all business - serious sailing – and Cable is most proud of getting the rare double of line honours and the overall win on Sovereign in 1987, when Kellett skippered the yacht in the owner’s absence. He also got line honours on Vengeance in 1981. 'It was a good era,' Cable reckons.
Among his favourite Hobart rides was with old mate, Don Mickleborough, on Southerly. It started in 1994 and ended with the tragic 1998 race, which the yacht retired the yacht from. During that era, and very much tongue in cheek, Cable became known as ‘The Boy Bowman’.
'The first long race I did was on Southerly to Montague Island – and 50 years later I’m at the bar at the CYCA still having drinks with Don and other crew members, Stork (David Reid), Jacko (Bruce Jackson), Sighty (Richard Hammond), Chas from Tas (Charles Blundell) and others,' Cable tells.
'I find it incredible that I started ocean racing as a 19 year old on Tarni and 50 years later here I am sailing on Duende,' Cable said, whose birthday is 8 December. 'It was a time when I started to meet the remnants of the founding fathers of the CYCA,' he remembered.
'It’s also incredible to me now, that at the time, the Hobart had only been going for 15 years,' Cable said.
During the early years, the yachtsman wondered the docks looking for a ride, such was his enthusiasm. 'I met a lot of the old salts and other interesting people and they accepted me,' he said. 'I started out with all these hot shots and here I am still going.
Tony Cable third from left checks the course aboard Tarni in his first Hobart
'All of a sudden, here we are and there are still a few left from those days. Gouldy (Bruce Gould), Woody (John Woodford), Parksey (Damien Parkes), Roof Racks (Geoff Rouvray) and Tip Toes (Colin Tipney),' he said, adding: 'Once me and Tip Toes (who does not fit the nickname) bought tutus and danced the Sugar Plum Fairy at the QLD.'
And now, while 18 year-old Jessica Watson is getting all the publicity, regular public relations massaging and respect; in contrast, most of Cable's mates are taking the mickey out of him publicly – starting with a large sign on the boom of Duende which reads: ‘Short Fat Bald Man - sponsored by Phillips Foote’.
On the port side of the boat, aft, Parkes has had inscribed: 'Tony Cable 46'; anyone seeing it might think it was the design of the yacht, as it is in the spot where such things normally are. And there are other surprises in store, according to Parkes’ son, Nick, who will also sail on Duende, which his Dad recently purchased out of Spain.
And, says Cable’s mate Stork, 'Donald Graham (a police inspector) has been appointed his probationary officer.'
Southerly skipper, Don Mickleborough chips in: 'When he sailed with me, we got him to share a bunk with Jacko (they were on opposite watches) because they’re both bald so the pillow never got wet. They slept forward on Southerly – we called it ‘Heroes Headquarters.'
We asked Mickleborough what he thought the young people on Duende tackling their first Hobart might make of madcap Cable. 'They’ll think he’s an idiot,' was the quick reply, 'but he’s a really good boat hand, actually.'
Talking about his mate, it took the veteran yachtsman (he turned 87 in November) back to the 1994 race.
'We were off the Tassie coast near Maria Island, and a big rolling cloud came over. I knew a southerly buster was in the offing. Glark asked what we were going to do, and I handed him an 8' long x 6' wide bundle. He asked what it was, and I answered: 'It doesn’t matter what it is, just put it up.'
'It was the storm jib. He got no further than putting it in the slides and the whole bloody lot blew up – it was blowing 60 knots,' Mickleborough says.
Does he mind all the teasing? 'I have no choice but to cop the ribbing,' Cable says - famous ocean racer or not.
A little long in the tooth for the bow these days, Cable will be 'somewhere in the cockpit,' the driest area on the 52ft Duende.
Married for 41 years to the long-suffering Ada, Cable said his marriage contract stated he had to go to Hobart once a year.
'It was a point of tension, but in the last two years when I didn’t do the race, Ada was going around telling people she wished I was going to Hobart – so I copped it both ways,' says Cable, the father of two sons, Ross and Geoffrey. Ross has followed in his father’s footsteps, having contested the race a handful of times.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race website