Triabunna Seafarers Memorial recalls 1998 tragedy

The memorial plaque to those who lost their lives in the 1998 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on the Seafarers Memorial Wall at Triabunna. Photo: Lisa Allen
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Tasmanian Seafarers Memorial at Triabunna recalls the 1998 tragedy.

Dozens of fishing trawlers and a few yachts and motor cruisers lined the wharves in the small fishing village of Triabunna, on the East Coast of Tasmania, last Saturday as yacht club commodores, naval officers and civic leaders joined local residents, fishermen and tourists for a moving commemorative service on the waterfront.

Close to the wharves is the Seafarers Memorial Wall, low brick walls built in the shape of a fish and surmounted by an anchor cross. On these walls are many plaques commemorating Tasmanians, both civilians and members of the armed services, who have lost their lives at sea, along with all seafarers – trawler and ship’s crews, yachtsmen ad amateur fishermen, emigrants and convicts on early sailing ships - who have perished in Tasmanian waters.

Among the plaques is a poignant reminder of those fateful days in December 1998 when six yachtsmen lost their lives at sea during the storm-battered Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Engraved on the plaque are the names of those lost in that storm.

Commodore Matt Allen of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia joined Commodore Clive Simpson of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in laying a wreath during Triabunna’s annual Blessing of the Fleet and Service at the Seafarers’ Memorial.

Speaking at the Service, Commodore Allen said that the sea and sailing had been fundamental to the origins of white settlement in our country. 'As a method of transport, pastime or sport it has always held its’ own challenges and risks,' he said. 'Technology and regulation have altered and reduced these risks, but risks will always remain when the sea and nature are involved.'

Recalling the fateful Sydney Hobart Race of a decade ago, Commodore Allen said: 'In remembering those who died in that storm it is also important to remember others who have perished during and because of the race since 1945.

'There have been two occasions that yachts either going to the start of the race or on their way back home following the race have been lost with all hands:

'In 1979 the Hobart based yacht Charleston, on her way to Sydney, was lost with all five crew in a storm that I well remember as I was also in Bass Strait at the time. Nick Corkhill, present here today lost both his father and grandfather on Charleston in that storm.

'Only about one month later Smackwater Jack was lost on her way back to New Zealand, again with all four crew on board. Paul Whiting, the skipper of the yacht was amongst the most talented yacht designers of his time.'

Commodore Allen said the tragic race in 1998 had led to significant changes in the sport, not only in Australia but worldwide, pointing out that:

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia had designed a safety sea survival course that has been adopted worldwide for other Ocean Races.

Since 1998 there had been a vast number of changes to the safety regulations that govern the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and the way the race is conducted. Many of these changes had been adopted by other races throughout the world and by the International Sailing Federation.

In 1999 the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia had established the CYCA Safety of life at Sea Trust, or SOLAS, a charity devoted to the assistance of search and rescue organisations throughout Australia.

Commodore Allen said that to date SOLAS had donated almost $500k to search and rescue organisations in every State of Australia and the ACT. 'These donations assist people from all walks of life, not just yachtsmen and yachtswomen,' he said.

'In Tasmania SOLAS has assisted Tas Coast Radio and Tasmanian Air Rescue. SOLAS also assists needy families in the event of a death during any yacht race in Australia. SOLAS also has as its aim to foster research and training so as to improve safety of life at sea,' the CYCA Commodore added.

'On behalf of the members of the CYCA and our sister club, The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, I wish to remember all those who have perished at sea as a result of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race,' Commodore Allen concluded.

Commodore Matt Allen (left) and Commodore Clive Simpson with the wreath they laid at the Seafarers Memorial Wall at Triabunna last Saturday. Photo: Lisa Allen
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