Friday, March 26, 2010

Farewell to Garry Schipper

I often asked Garry Schipper during his yachting safety talks whether he ever feared for his life after he fell overboard during the treacherous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 1998. He always said, “The adrenaline kicked-in, and it all happened so fast. I just knew I had to stay afloat so the crew could pick me up again.”

Anyone who saw Garry’s presentations can understand why this larger than life man could draw a crowd. His delivery was engaging and enthralling, and safety on the water was one of his passions. Apart from his adventures in more than ten Sydney to Hobart Yacht races, he also represented his country in the Admirals Cup on more than one occasion.

But it was when he was swept overboard in Bass Strait in 1998 that he became a legend. In ten metre seas, and with rescue from the air impossible, he found himself amongst the waves without any flotation device and no EPIRB….in the middle of the night…ghastly! Six yachtsmen succumbed to the conditions that year, while 55 others were plucked from the water via helicopter.

But Garry always acknowledged the skill of his crewmates to turn the boat around and park it right by his side that night. The only safety device Garry had in his hand while in the water was a weatherproof Dolphin torch, which he used to signal his position to the crew. He later indicated that it saved his life, and the torch manufacturer subsequently built an entire marketing campaign around his survival. The relationship continued as Garry presented safety seminars and talks around the country up until his death this week.

Every year at the Sydney International Boat Show I would enjoy Garry’s daily talks, even though I had heard the story every day at the show for the past seven years. The look of wonder and astonishment on the faces of the audience as Garry unfolded his story of survival was always priceless. He would often be detained by the crowd for quite a while after his presentation as everyone was hungry to hear more from this amazing man.

We’ll all miss Garry terribly, and I’ll personally find it difficult to introduce the speakers at this year’s show knowing that Garry is not on the daily roster.

He leaves a hell of a hole to fill in all our hearts.


(Pic: Garry Schipper, Sydney International Boat Show)
Sail World's tribute to Garry can be seen here: