Loved to laugh: Richard ''Sighty'' Hammond
|Other Name||Sightie Hammond, Dick Hammond, Sighty Hammond|
|Date of Death (if Applicable)||2013|
|Club||Cruising Yacht Club of Australia|
Middle Harbour Yacht Club
|Boats Sailed On||Apollo III|
Inch By Winch
Margaret Rintoul II
Prospect of Whitby
From MHYC: The First 60 Years
Article by: Vanessa Dudley
In 1998, Richard 'Sightie' Hammond sailed in the Sydney to Hobart. 'People ask me Why I keep doing the Hobart race. The fact is, I like it and I'll keep doing it if my health is maintained. I don't get sick - I've never been sick. I just love the camaraderie and the excitement and the thrill and the whole thing.'
Hammond has sailed in 40 Sydney to Hobart races, most of them as navigator, and he holds the record for the most races sailed. 'The number of races has never been really important to me; it just happened.'
Hammond's first Hobart race was in 1952 on Wanderer. He started as a for'ard hand and steerer and he retains vivid memories of that year 'because it was my first one. I never went to bed - I was too excited and involved in everything going on.'
He sailed again on Wanderer in the 1953 and 1954 Hobarts. Then came his years with Russell Slade's Janzoon. Slade had been an idol to the young Hammond as a skipper in the Manly 16-foot Skiff Club ranks. 'I couldn't get on his skiff, but I could sail on his yacht', Hammond recalled.
It was around this time that Hammond became interested in navigation. He explained: 'I discovered fairly early that the biggest single gain to be made was by being able to know exactly where you were and where youwanted to be. It was nothing to do with how good your sails were or things like that.' Slade asked Hammond if he was interested in taking on the role of celestial navigation, and 'that's how it all started'.
'I was really interested in it and really keen to master it. It helped that I'd done quite a lot of surveying, so I was used to the instruments; I had been a very good rifle shot, and this may sound vain, but I was pretty good at taking celestial sights.
'I bought the lightest-framed sextant I could find. I also developed some of my own techniques; a bit unconventional, not always three star fixes. And I always did a lot of pre-planning of races.
'With the Hobart and all the east coast sailing we do, it's important to know your longitude. You must know if you're closing the coast.
'We were fortunate then that we have Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, sitting out there in the east at the time the Hobart race is on. If you can get the object you're taking a fix on at right angles like that, it's easier to work out your longitude. I prided myself on being able to get a good sight.'
Hammond's growing reputation as an offshore sailor and tactical navigator burgeoned into representative sailing for Australia at major international regattas such as the Admiral's Cup and Clipper/Kenwood. He was team navigator with the winning Mercedes V for the 1967 Admiral's Cup, and again on Syd Fisher's Ragamufiin in 1979, winning the cup in atrocious conditions in a race where 15 yachtsmen died.
He has been on two Hobart handicap winners: Koomooloo in 1968, and the maxi Sovereign, which also took line honours for the rare double victory in 1987. There was a second line honours win on Crusade in 1969. He considers the toughest race of his experience to be the 1979 Fastnet Race.
When asked which yacht he would rate as the best he had raced to Hobart, Hammond paused for a while before his face lit up with pleasure: 'Gingko' was an absolute dream to sail on and we had the best crew. It was an exciting boat to sail, it won nearly every race it entered. We had Carl Ryves, Sarge (Dick Sargeant); Benny (Ben Lexcen), Poddy (Pod O'Donnell).
'We had a boat-on-boat race with Ragamuffin and Apollo 2 from the start (of the 1972 Hobart) to the finish and we were pretty unlucky not to win. American Eagle was just at Tasman Light when the wind went from north to south; they got around and home.'
After sailing on progressively bigger and bigger boats to Hobart, Hammond said that when Ian Kiernan asked if he'd join the crew of the Canon Maris for the fiftieth race: 'I was happy to go back on a boat the same size as I used to go on. It felt exactly the same as when I went before - Wet and crashing around. I liked it.' Canon Maris is an 11.3-metre Tasman Seabird designed by Alan Payne and launched in 1958.
Comparing the older boats to the modern racers, 'Boats like Canon Maris bury in the water downwind, right down to the deck level; the modern boat is a lot more thrilling to sail downwind.
'I don't like what they've done with the ballast of the modern boats, taking it out of the keel so you have to stick the crew on the rail and they're not allowed to get off. I don't want to sail like that and I think they've lost the plot a bit there, compared to the days of the nice solid boat capable of withstanding hard weather and with proper eating and sleeping conditions.
'I'm not criticising the new boats - you've got to go ahead -- but I do worry a bit how strong they are and their ability to withstand some of the weather I've been through.'
His reputation as a tactical navigator, approaching every race as thoroughly prepared and with as many things pre-planned as possible, continues today. Things are different now, of course. 'Now you've got the boat GPS and a hand-held GPS as standby and that's all you need',
Thirty Nine and Not Counting