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Syd Fischer retires - The end of an era
Syd Fischer off Diamond Head, Honolulu, at the end of the Transpac Race - Ragamuffin Crew

Syd Fischer retires ~ The end of an era

It is with sadness but also appreciation that I write this on behalf of the crew from Team Ragamuffin – the last edition of “Team Ragamuffin adventures”. Today we sailed our final race at Boracay Race week on board Ragamuffin 90.

Yesterday marks the day, on his 89th birthday, Syd has officially retired after some 60+ years of sailing. What an achievement that is. It’s hard enough getting around a 100 footer for a 20-year-old let alone someone pushing 90. For us Team Ragamuffin members it has been inspirational to see Syd clambering around the cockpit (mostly un-aided) as he refuses any assistance. He also insists that we keep the boat rocking along and don’t stop pushing hard.

During last year’s Hobart, on the first afternoon, we were hurtling down the coast doing 20-25 knots beside Wild Oats with Syd sitting calmly at the back of the boat in his wet weather gear and trademark floppy sun hat. As the clouds rolled in he decided it was time to head below deck. With that he crawled his way through the cockpit on hands and knees while the boat leapt and lurched around. He didn’t want to distract us from sailing the boat. He made his way down the companionway steps and hopped into his bunk. Syd is unbelievably stubborn and undeniably tough.

When the going gets tough Syd’s emotion doesn’t really change. Sail with Syd a few times and it kind of rubs off. So in the face of adversity we just get on with it. And that was what we did in the Hobart: overcome a number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and then finish with a strong result.

Syd Fischer retires - The end of an era

Wolfgang Weibach (Rolex Philippines) with Syd Fischer and the RAGAMUFFIN crew – line honours winner of the 2014 Rolex China Sea Race – © Rolex- Kurt?nid=142836 Arrigo

Whenever I passed Syd in his bunk between watches he would greet us with a grin and ask ‘how are we going? What speed are doing and what angle? Who are we near?’ For me, it was a timely reminder to stay focused on why we were there.

It’s fair to say that Team Ragamuffin has had an enviable programme running the past few years. Syd didn’t want to leave any races un-raced, so we ventured all over Asia, around the Pacific and beyond. Sending the ‘90 here and the ‘100 there. It has been a wonderful experience to be part of and a privilege at that.

So on this occasion I thought I’d share a story that comes to mind on the Team Ragamuffin ethos ‘send it with Syd’ and Syd’s toughness in these last few years.

Hong Kong to Vietnam yacht race 2013, racing Ragamuffin 90.

It was Luke Parkinson’s trial for the Abu Dhabi Volvo 65 team with Ian Walker on-board to help us push Ragamuffin 90 to its fullest potential.

With an ominous forecast, the then-record held by Skandia 100, looked within our reach.

Leaving Hong Kong was typically balmy and dense with smog as we beat out of the harbour. Before we knew it we were dodging fishing boats in building breeze on port gybe.

The further away from Hong Kong we got the more we eased sheets and the bigger the seas. As the first night set upon us we had up to 40knots of breeze at 130TWA. So the team all dressed appropriately in t-shirts and shorts – Syd included – had the bit between its teeth and ears pinned back.

It was one of the best nights of sailing: absolutely sending it with Syd.

We barreled down waves, ploughing through the back of the next. Walls of water rolled down the deck and left the cockpit completely full at times. At one point I was bowled over and left wrapped around the mainsheet drum under water, including my head. Action packed and Syd didn’t blink an eyelid.

As the speed hit 35 knots he said “if I die, zip me up in a sail bag and keep racing”!

An issue with a halyard lock appeared while pealing to the fro and Ian ordered Parko up the rig in the dark to sort it out – doing Mach 10. A few tense moments with Parko gecko like on the end of a sizzling fishing rod. Some clenched butt cheeks – we were back rumbling along safely.

Syd has great feel of a boat and is often on our case about flow of the main and getting the tell tails flying. This was no exception.

Through the second evening the breeze was abating but Witty had the boat fully lit up. We did the one and only gybe of the race 130 nautical miles out from the finish. With the record in reach the entire crew was on the rail, pushing hard.

We powered up the Harbour, pulled away around the final point and into Nha Trang Harbour to cross the line some 40minutes ahead of the old record. We were all drowned rats celebrating but we still had to manoeuvre the boat to avoid the cable car that runs across the harbour, at (our) mast height.

At that exact moment the electronics and motor decided to pack up shop and we were stuck on starboard, fully canted, with no engine heading straight at the cable car.

“Get Syd to his bunk and strap him in” Witty ordered.

Syd Fischer retires - The end of an era

Syd Fischer after his Ragamuffin 100 christening today Andrea Francolini

Syd was quickly ushered below deck in the pitch black and strapped himself into the bunk as we began to capsize! Witty worked some magic manually moving the keel below deck and after a few choice words we were positioned upright, keel locked in the middle and safely at anchor ready for the celebrations to commence.

What none of us knew at that point was that, with Syd’s heart condition, he had approached “level three” – nearing cardiac arrest while below deck. He quietly went about treating himself with the help of the legendary Vanessa Dudley, luckily they didn’t have to get the de-fib out! True to his nature, Syd didn’t say a word about this and continued on with his usual tough-as-nails demeanour. Indeed I do recall seeing him present and engaged at the post race kangaroo court. Inspirational stuff indeed.

It has been a pleasure to sail with Syd in these final years of his competitive career. It’s also been a privilege to be part of Team Ragamuffin – a great bunch of passionate sailors from all corners of the globe.

On behalf of the Team Ragamuffin crew I would like to say thank you Syd – your passion for the sea, your love of competition and your expectation of performance (both crew and boat) have afforded us many sailors life changing opportunities.

by Jack Macartney

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