Legendary yachtsman Syd Fischer retires

Published on March 24th, 2016

The most famous name in Australian yachting has finally decided it’s time to retire from the sport he loves after a career spanning more than 55 years. Syd Fischer, 89, who completed his 47th Sydney-to-Hobart Race last December, is synonymous with ocean racing in this country. His Ragamuffin yachts have competed with distinction and success in every major offshore event in the world.

In announcing his retirement Fischer was typically blunt, saying only, “I reckon I’ve done my dash”. Over the past few years his sense of balance has diminished, preventing him from steering his yachts or standing watches at night.

After finishing the last Hobart race Syd told the media he’d be happy to sail the 628-nautical mile dash South again, “if I’m still crazy enough”. But it is understood that the physical demands of competing for line honours have now become more than Fischer wants to put himself through.

The yacht suffered a terrifying knockdown at sea when a wild storm slapped the fleet the first night at sea. “It was a bit bumpy,’’ a laconic Fisher said when quizzed about the conditions. Fischer admitted his loss of balance made it increasingly difficult for him to move around his supermaxi, confining him below more than he would like during long ocean races.

Fischer only came to the sport of sailing in his early thirties after excelling at rugby league, boxing and surfboat racing. He entered his first Sydney-Hobart in 1962, finishing in 5th place. During the same period he was establishing himself as one of the most successful independent builder/developers in Australia.

A few years ago Fischer, a former carpenter-turned-self-made multi-millionaire property developer who contested his first Sydney to Hobart in 1962, explained why he started sailing and why he chose ocean racing.

“I liked the camaraderie and the guys,” Fischer said, “I used to sweep and I found the two communities (surf lifesaving and sailing) very similar. I found in sailing, the only part I could like was ocean racing. They are not the best-behaved blokes at times but they have a lot of fun and they are tough. The blokes in the harbour don’t even go out if it’s blowing the whiskers off something. That’s what motivated me and I’ve been with it ever since. I love it.”

In 1968 Fischer decided to compete in the Admiral’s Cup, then the world’s premier international ocean racing event. He commissioned a new yacht to be built, Ragamuffin, which became the first of nine elite offshore sloops to bear that name.

Sustained success followed. Fischer won the rugged Fastnet Race in the UK, then led the Australian team to victory in the 1979 Admiral’s Cup. Among many other victories around the globe he also won the One Ton Cup in New Zealand, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Blue Water Championship numerous times, the Clipper Cup in Hawaii three times and the Sydney-Hobart race three times. He was awarded the OBE for services to sailing in 1971.

Restless for other yachting contests, Fischer has challenged a record-equaling five times for the America’s Cup, in the process giving opportunities to young sailors such as Iain Murray and James Spithill who went on to become giants of the sport.
“Syd is incredible, just incredible,’’ Spithill said recently of his rival in the last Sydney to Hobart.

The decision to retire now means that many of Fischer’s impressive fleet of yachts and power craft will be offered for sale. The ‘Team Ragamuffin’ operation, which maintains and crews Fischer’s various racing yachts, will be disbanded. But his commercial boatyard business Sydney City Marine, which is managed by Fischer’s grandson Brenton, will continue to be owned and operated by the family. A book on Syd’s life, Ragamuffin Man, is to be published in November.


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