Ian Coward – a legend of the ocean inspires a new generation of yachties

After the '71 Sydney to Hobart race at Constitution Dock, Hobart. L-R: Graham 'Frizzle' Freeman, Les Nibbs, Dr Joe Cannon, Ian Coward, Stuart Florence and owner Dr Des Cooper on the helm.

As the countdown edges closer for the 2016 Sunshine Coast Ocean Regatta(SCOR), SCYC’s Kerry Teed recalls one of the region’s great sailors whose sons are planning to compete in the October race

I first met Ian Coward several years ago. He introduced himself as Ian: ‘Coward’- by name only- not by nature! With over 60 years of sailing under his keels and a life on the water in his blood, it is no wonder at 80 years young Ian still has competitive juices running through his veins.

Ian’s great grandfather ran sailing barges transporting timber from their home in Swan Bay, along the Tamar River to Launceston. Ian started sailing when he was 13 on the 12ft Rainbow Class boats out of Sandy Bay in Tasmania progressing to Sharpies and D class boats by the time he was 18.

'Antagonist'- start of Sydney to Hobart, Nick & Bill Watson trimming a 3/4oz kite.

Rubbing shoulders with some of the most recognizable names in sailing history, Ian raced with Sir James Hardy & Johny Cunoe in the Australian Sharpie Championships.

Ian has completed 12 Sydney to Hobart races with his first being in 1960 aboard ‘Brilliant’. Another S2H yacht Ian raced on was Nell Gwyn, a boat built and owned by Roger Hickman’s uncle. He later raced with Roger on his first S2H on Antagonist coming 8th on handicap. Other S2H yachts included Van Dieman, Natelle 2, Wathara 2 amongst others.

The list of notable yachts Ian has campaigned on includes Far Fetched (owned by Don Calvert, brother to Hedley Calvert), Soundwaves & Execet. Ian also helped campaign his son Bills’ boat Insatiable on the Sunshine Coast as helmsman, winning the Club Championship for two years running- an unbroken record.

When asked to recall his most unforgettable sailing memories, he immediately quips with a twinkle in his eye and a wry smile, ‘oh, I couldn’t tell you about that!’.

But he did say he enjoyed racing on Maria in the 1971 S2H, an S&S38, despite her being knocked down whilst battling 60knot winds and 25ft seas when a southerly buster hit them. ‘When you see that cigar shaped cloud front up ahead, you get ready! The quiet before it hits is eerie, and when she hits you just get to work amidst a deafening howl.’

Des Cooper, Maria’s owner was on the helm. He was knocked down with his life line saving him from being lost overboard. Hitting his head and cutting it open badly, a fellow crew member (fortunately there were two doctors aboard) stitched him back together. Ian said, ‘the boom was broke, but we jury rigged that using the spinnaker pole, then looked at each other and said ‘what now fellas?’ The unanimous answer was ‘let’s head for home!’, and all being Tasmanians that meant they kept racing. They finished the race, pulling into Constitution Dock looking like they’d gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson, but with smiles from ear to ear.

In 1971 Ian raced in New Zealand in the World One Ton Cup, which was won by an Australian team led by Syd Fisher, with Ian’s’ team coming second.

Ian completed his National Service upon a British ship on loan to Australia called Vengeance where he started his marine engineering training. Ian remembers a fun day when the ship was anchored off Hedley Calvert’s home in the Huon River and the Captain organized a sailing race upon the double ended sail boats they had aboard. The Captain’s boat capsized and Ian raced to victory. ‘The scariest part was having the sailing boat hauled up the side of this huge ship, with you in it, waving in the breeze and hoping your mates get it right!’

After leaving Vengeance, Ian continued his training as a marine engineer, a career he excelled at throughout his working career, which only ended recently when a stroke slightly curtailed his activities.

Ian and his lovely wife Di, who he met when he was 17, had six children- four boys and two girls, and the sailing legacy continues as Bill & Richard will this year be part of the S2H team aboard Ian’s Quest. Sadly Di passed away a couple of years ago and being ‘all at sea’ Ian and his sons decided to prepare for a S2H campaign. The hunt began for a suitable boat, eventually leading them to Quest, a Nelson Marek 43.

Now after nearly two years of preparation, Ian is happy with the boat and the crew and has given the green light for this years’ race. ‘It is critical the boat is prepared and capable of withstanding all Bass Strait can throw at it, and equally important that the crew know how to handle her and are able to work together as a team- especially when the going gets tough’, said Ian.

‘I am excited for the team, and would love to join them, but after my stroke I know it is unlikely, so I’ll be keenly monitoring their progress, just as I have over the past two years’. Ian’s son Bill pipes in: ‘Yes he notices every crinkle we have in the sails, but thanks to his attention to detail and experienced guidance we are ready!’

Part of Quest’s preparation will include participation in this years’ Sunshine Coast Ocean Regatta (SCOR) being held off Mooloolaba from October 13 to 15th and organized by the Sunshine Coast Yacht Club (SCYC). As defending winners of the SCOR IRC division in 2015 the Quest team are keen to see their name on the winners board again & taking a share of the pool of $7000 up for grabs.

The coveted SCOR Frank Hurd Memorial Trophy will also be strongly in contention this year after resurfacing from 15 years of storage. Peter Hollis deserves great thanks for taking care of this significant piece of history. The trophy is awarded by a panel of peers for ‘performance & character’ and it would be a great honour to have your name on this trophy.

It’s very costly to prepare a boat and crew for a S2H campaign and Ian & the Quest team continue to seek sponsors to assist them get to the starting line & do the Sunny Coast proud! The Sunshine Coast Yacht Club is very proud of these long time members- a great bunch of guys and gals. We wish them the best of luck, a safe return and equally, loads of fun!

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