Eight Bells: Roger Hickman

Published on March 2nd, 2016

One of Australia’s most respected ocean racing yachtsmen, Roger Hickman, passed away peacefully March 1 in Sydney following a short battle with cancer.

Born and bred in Tasmania, Roger, a Cruising Yacht Club of Australia member since 1993, collapsed in Hobart on New Year’s Eve, having competed in the Hobart race. He returned to Sydney for treatment to brain tumours and remained positive and upbeat.

He was in fine form prior to the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart, showing no signs of what lay ahead, as he concentrated on his dream of trying to win the Hobart two years running. Among the frontrunners for the overall title to the last, ‘Hicko’ subsequently finished sixth overall and third in division.

Hicko left this earth with no regrets. He packed a lot into 61 years, including a Directorship at the CYCA from 1996-1998, where he was Rear Commodore from 1999 to 2005, with the exception of 2004 when he served as Vice Commodore. He was also Chairman of the Youth Sailing Academy (YSA) for a time before being elected President of Yachting NSW in 2008.

Following the 2014 Hobart race, Hicko celebrated his victory and his 60th birthday with the Wild Rose crew, which included his brother Andrew and sister, Lisa, first timers to the race. At the time, he was looking forward to celebrating the ‘Old Girl’s’ (Wild Rose) 30th birthday in the New Year.

Sailing is richer for Hicko’s legacies. With one of the most enviable offshore track records around, he was a yardstick for many. The 39 Sydney Hobarts race veteran was held in high esteem. He had won the Blue Water Pointscore five times and the Sydney Hobart three times – twice with Wild Rose and one as sailing master of Ausmaid. He was truly looking forward to his 40th Hobart December.

Wild Rose - vying for overall win. Credit ROLEX. Daniel Forster

Wild Rose during 2014 Sydney Hobart Race.

So many sailors have benefitted from Hicko’s experience and knowledge. Those who crewed for him on Wild Rose – and the high profile boat owners who asked him to whip their boats and crew into shape, including Yachting Australia president, Matt Allen (Ichi Ban), Alan Brierty (Limit), Chris Dare (Flirt) and Kevan Pearce (Ausmaid).

Hicko insisted some of his crew be part of those deals so they would experience ocean racing at an elite level, and he thrived on watching them grow. Among them are many female sailors – Hicko has paved the way for equality in sailing. His crew has always been a blend of male and female, and in recent years, it has been a 50/50 split.

Jenifer Wells from his crew was named Crew Person of the Year at the 2013 Ocean Racer of the Year Awards, and Navigator of the Year in 2014. Others from Hicko’s female crew to have won the Crew Member of the Year award are Lori Wilson (1994) and the late Sally Gordon in 2000. This commitment from Hicko has led to other yacht owners adding multiple women to their crews.

Hicko’s leadership qualities were identified early on, when he was named captain of his high school in Tasmania. On leaving school, he trained as a deck officer and eventually qualified as Ship’s Master.

Roger was a director of the CYCA at the time of the tragic 1998 Hobart, in which he skippered Atara to sixth place overall. In 1999 he was appointed Chairman of the Club’s Sailing Committee, and was an integral part of the Review Board, created to undertake a complete analysis of the entire Club’s operation, proceedings and responsibilities in conducting the Sydney Hobart.

In the review, Roger identified a lack of knowledge in safety procedures and equipment by various racing crews, seeing the need for formal safety at sea training. He wrote the curriculum and trained instructors to a qualified level, from which the Club adopted the Safety at Sea Survival Course (SSSC), using the knowledge and experience gained from his 25 years as a Merchant Seaman.

So successful was the scheme, it was adopted Australia wide, then worldwide, It was consequently made compulsory by ISAF; incorporated into the international body’s safety requirements for all major yacht races worldwide. Through Roger’s efforts, SCCC qualifications have saved hundreds of lives.

Hicko’s legendary status in ocean racing has earned him accolades, such as being named CYCA Ocean Racer of the Year in 1997 and 2014. He was a finalist in the 2014 Yachting Australia Awards and was inducted into Yachting Tasmania’s Hall of Fame the same year.

Hicko has also been a supporter of charities, including the Kids Cancer Project, which raises money for research into childhood cancer. This is highlighted during the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race each year, when a group of yachties raise awareness by sitting bears on the rail of their yachts, and raise donations in Sydney and Hobart.

Sympathies are with Roger’s partner, Sandy Eastman, his brother Andrew, sister Lisa and their families.

Funeral details will be advised when available.

Roger Hickman, Owner Wild Rose, and crew receive the Tattersall's Cup and a Rolex Timepiece. Front row: Jean-Nöel Bioul, Rolex SA, John Cameron, Commodore Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Roger Hickman, Richard Batt, Commodore Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2014 Overall Winner Roger Hickman (front centre right) on his yacht Wild Rose in Hobart at the end of the race. Credit Daniel Forster/Rolex.


Source: Di Pearson, CYCA Event Media

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