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Heather Lidgard, top offshore navigator and shorthanded sailor passes away

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 23 May 16:26 PDT 24 May 2021
John and Heather Lidgard celebrate another win © RNZYS

Heather Lidgard who passed away last Saturday was one of New Zealand's foremost navigators, and shorthanded offshore sailor. In conjunction with her husband John - a noted designer, builder and sailor - they competed in most races in the SW Pacific - usually with an outstanding performance.

Perhaps the most memorable of those was the Southern Cross win 1971, when three New Zealand yachts Waianiwa, Pathfinder and Runaway, took the top three places in the offshore classic, giving the New Zealand team an outstanding win against a crack British team and others from the states of Australia. On individual points Waianiwa was first overall, in the Southern Cross Cup, Runaway second, Prospect of Whitby (GBR) third and Pathfinder fourth. The latter was DSQ'd from one race early in the series for using her motor to get off a reef.

After navigating through the final night in stormy conditions, the wind died for the always tricky passage across Storm Bay. Heather, as the best light air helm on Runaway took the tiller for the final stage, extending their lead over Waianiwa, with Pathfinder ahead. The record of three boats from the same country (outside Australia) taking the top three places in the Sydney Hobart has stood for almost 50 years and will never be equalled.

While navigation is now done primarily on a computer hooked up to an internet connection, Heather Lidgard was from the pre-electronic era of paper charts, sextants, dividers, sun and star sights, chronometers and the ability to take sights from the deck of a racing yacht, combined with the ability to work accurately with the navigation calculations in a cramped below decks nav station. Add in obtaining weather information without a computer or fax, and being able to use dead-reckoning when the weather prevented accurate sights, is another part of the required skill set. Of course, having a top racing navigator on board was probably the most crucial role in any racing yacht, and Heather Lidgard was part of that very elite and highly respected group.

Between them John and Heather Lidgard sailed over 100,000nm together around the Pacific Rim, mostly two-handed, including the Melbourne Osaka race. Ivor Wilkins provides an excellent insight on the RNZYS website. John Lidgard has a more detailed account in his book "It's in the Blood"

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