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Father of New Zealand Yachting passes on

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World on 13 Dec 2008
Don St Clair Brown’s beloved Anticipation, aboard which he sailed his final race yesterday afternoon, pictured here at the start of the 2006 HSBC Coastal Classic © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz

Don St Clair Brown widely regarded as the father of the New Zealand Yachting died peacefully in his sleep last Friday night. He was aged 94years.

Brown raced his yacht Anticipation, on Friday afternoon. Had dinner with his crew, and then passed away in his sleep.

Brown will be remembered as one of the greatest benefactors of New Zealand Yachting, along with his wife Mary, together they helped competitors from P-class through to Olympics and offshore keelboats.

Don and Mary St Clair Brown formed the New Zealand International Yachting Trust, along with Sir Tom Clark, which has been a substantial independent funder of New Zealand sailors for 20 years.

In 1968 Brown commissions the first Dragon class yacht in New Zealand and competed in the 1968 Olympic trials in the class finishing fourth.

He was awarded Sailor of the Year in 1986 by the then New Zealand Yachting Federation, now yachting New Zealand.

Another of Brown's many initiatives was the Air NZ Olympicsail which was first sailed in 1978 off Takapuna attracting 90 boats in just five classes, peaking at 145 in 1983 in six classes it ran to 1997, in the last few years it was sailed off Eastern Beach which took away a lot of its spectator appeal.

Olympicsail was formed in conjunction with a number of friends, including Peter Montgomery, who were disappointed at New Zealand's performance in the 1976 Olympic Regatta and were determined to start a regatta similar to Weymouth Olympic Week, Kiel Week and others to lift standards and provide a focal point for the season for all Olympic sailors.

Winners of each class at the regatta received air tickets to a regatta of their choice in Europe (usually a World or European Championships) along with other assistance from New Zealand Yachting Federation's Olympic Fund which had grown substantially under St Clair Brown's tutelage.

The following Olympics, in 1980, were not attended by NZ, and during the effective period of this regatta 1984-1996 New Zealand sailors won 11 Olympic medals – including four gold, four silver and three bronze in five classes across just four Olympic regattas. The New Zealand medal drought was broken in 1984, when sailors won medals in three classes the Olympic program peaked in 1992, producing four Olympic medals and fourth placings.

Since its discontinuance New Zealand has won just three Olympic medals in three Olympiads in one class - windsurfing.

His greatest mark was on the ocean racing scene, with his beloved, yellow hulled Anticipation, an aluminum 50fter designed by Ben Lexcen. In Anticipation, Brown sailed in most of the major Pacific ocean races including the Clipper Cup and Sydney Hobart races.

Brown also commissioned Thunderbird, a Farr 43 he owned from about 1984 – 1987 and sailed in the 1985 Southern Cross Cup and in the 1986 Kenwood Cup winning that trophy for the first time sailing with Equity (Del Hogg) and Exador (Michael Clark).


1984 Olympic Yachting Manager, 1992 Olympic Chef de Mission and NZ International Yachting Trust Board member, Ralph Roberts commented 'Don’s interest and knowledge of all yachting especially Olympic was always a joy to behold. His favourite words were money doesn’t buy an Olympic medal.. The sailors that benefited from Don and Mary’s assistance are too numerous to mention. We have lost a dear friend.'

Don St Clair Brown will be sadly missed for his passion for sailing, particularly offshore and Olympic; his encouragement of sailors who needed help; and his straight talking and his surgical ability to quickly cut to the centre of any issue.

He was a hard taskmaster with a heart of gold.

Don St Clair Brown's funeral service is to be held on Wednesday, with the wake to be held at Royal NZ Yacht Squadron.

Craig Connell (USA) reflects:

'Don was the father of sailing in New Zealand. When I was just a lad I would go down to Westhaven and look for a sailboat to race on. If Don was there I knew I would be able to go for a sail. He was a great influence for the racing/sailing industry. I was even able to do a 90 mile race with him. Not bad for a teenager. He will be sadly missed in the sailing industry. I am currently living in the USA and am sad to hear of his death.'

Paul Henderson (CAN) writes:

Donald St. Clair Brown:

I first met Don at the '64 Olympics in Enoshima, Japan as he had brought as his crew my 14 ft Dinghy friend Ralph Roberts. Don was the Kiwi Team Manager and also the FD training team in his 'Pink Lady'.

Don and Ralph won the practice race and as long as I knew Don he would remind me that they could have won the Olympic Gold Medal instead of Wells and Pedersen if they had allowed him to race. Browny never believed: 'The Meek would inherit the Earth!'

My Mary and I had the pleasure of visiting Auckland in early 80's we had the pleasure of having dinner at his Mary's and Don's farm where he took me on a tour of his hen house. Being always interested in the financial aspects of all endeavours he pointed out the hen droppings being piled out the back. 'Mary's Pension Fund' was how he described it.

For the rest of his very long and active life Don Brown was the glue both financially and administratively that held the most respected Yachties in the World together.

On the recommendation of Ralph Roberts and Hal Wagstaff it was such a great honour as President of ISAF to award Donald St. Clair Brown the ISAF Gold Medal for his lifelong contributions to the sport of Sailing especially in his beloved New Zealand.

We have lost a revered and unique character. He will be sorely missed but remembered with great affection and always with a smile.

regards,
Paul Henderson

Ralph Roberts picks up on Paul Henderson's anecdote from the 1964 Olympics staged on Sagami Bay.

Roberts was the reserve crew for the Flying Dutchman, having finished second in the New Zealand trials. Although he was the NZ team manager, Don St Clair Brown had also been a competitor in those same trials at the age of 50,. He was instrumental in getting the class started in New Zealand, with the importation of 10 moulded wooden shells, nested inside one another from Holland.

There was practice racing stage before the Olympics proper. St Clair Brown and Roberts fronted up and took on the British representatives, Keith Musto and Tony Morgan.

Starting to windward, the Kiwi training crew sailed through to windward of the British pair. Musto blew up. So the New Zealanders dropped back astern, set up to leeward and did the same again - sailing through the Britishers' lee from astern and then worked their way out to windward.

At the start of the Olympic Regatta, the New Zealand FD representatives, Helmer Pedersen, who had emigrated to New Zealand from Denmark and Earle Wells were not having a good regatta. They'd finished 16th in the first race, and hit a mark in the second, which meant a retirement in those days.

That night there was a more than a bit of a post mortem. St Clair Brown was his usual blunt self, and was rather grumpy to boot. Particularly, as he and Roberts had beaten the NZ representative crew in the practice racing in Enoshima.

It was clear that the chemistry was not good between St Clair and the Dane, whose response was to get rather surly.

To keep the peace, it was agreed that St Clair Brown would butt out, and leave Roberts to interact with the NZ Olympic FD crew for the rest of the regatta.

Brownie, being Brownie, had insisted that all crews should be to bed at a reasonable hour, and get a good night's sleep. This was a new experience for Pedersen, who thrived on a diet of minimal sleep and many, many cigarettes.

Roberts, told Pedersen to go back to his old ways of late nights, and he'd make sure that Brownie stayed out of the way. The on the water performance improved.

New Zealand's team morale improved the next day when Peter Mande

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