Gordon Marshall, one of the most influential figures in ocean yacht racing in Australia and overseas died on April 25, 2001, in Perth.
By Peter Campbell, with contributions by John Keelty and Bob Brenac.
A Life Member of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, former Rear Commodore, Chairman of the Sailing Committee, Race Director of the Sydney to Hobart and Southern Cross Cup, and long-time IOR, then IMS Chief Measurer for NSW, Gordon's forthright and sometimes controversial, but far-sighted views, extended beyond the CYCA.
His words and actions placed the CYCA to the forefront internationally as a driving force for yacht stability and sound construction and thus, safety and seaworthiness. The Club became one of the most respected ocean racing clubs in the world.
An engineer by profession, his innovative ideas on navigation and measuring techniques made a great contribution to the sport worldwide.. His coastal and celestial navigation courses at the CYCA were famous; over more than two decades he passed on his practical skills, notably the use of the sextant, and later computer programs, to leading Australian and international offshore navigators.
Proudly, he was a Member of the Institute of Navigation while last year he was awarded a prestigious Commonwealth Government 2000 Sports Medal. The CYCA had made him a Life Member in 1982 while the Gordon Marshall Trophy is presented to the winner of the Veteran Yacht Division of the annual Sydney to Hobart Race.
Gordon began offshore sailing in the mid-1960s, joining the CYCA in 1969. Within two seasons he had been invited to join the Sailing Committee and in 1973 he was elected to the Board of Directors. Thus began a remarkable career in ocean racing administration that continued through to 1994.
Gordon began his 25 years of active association with the CYCA as a sailor. His first Sydney to Hobart was as sailing master aboard Corroboree, a new Sparkman & Stephens ocean racer, in 1965 - a memorable race in many ways.
As Corroboree was sailing down the Tasmanian coast just after dawn on December 30, Gordon spotted in the water Lieut Franco Barbalonga, navigator of the Italian
Gordon Marshall served on the CYCA Sailing Committee for 22 years, was a Director of the Club for 21 years and a Flag Officer as Rear Commodore for 11 years. The Club created a special flag rank of a second Rear Commodore to enable Gordon, a non boat-owner, to become Chairman of the Sailing Committee.
He conducted his celestial and coastal navigation courses at the CYCA from 1972 through to 1994, his emphasis being on practical navigation aboard a racing yacht. Among the hundreds of men and women who completed his courses, are many of the top navigators in ocean racing today who learned their skills from Gordon and his famous (and infallible) sextant.
He was one of the first people in the world to develop a specific yacht navigation program for handheld computers, such as the Hewlett Packard, Casio and Sharp. Gordon was Chief Measurer for New South Wales for many years, firstly as an IOR measurer and then the new IMS, for which he designed, and the CYCA constructed, an innovative system of rails which enabled yachts to be measured quickly and accurately on the sloping slipway at Rushcutters Bay. His efforts led to the IMS rule becoming the major ocean racing handicapping system in Australia.
A severe critic of the trend to lightweight yacht construction, of boats with centreboards rather than fixed keels, and with dubious stability built under the IOR in the late 1970s, Gordon and the CYCA Sailing Committee started contemplating the theoretical consequences of a knockdown/staydown in Bass Strait and did not like what they saw.
Realising that any likely action by the Ocean Racing Council would come long after the Sydney-Hobart, they calculated the club's own self-righting formula for IOR yachts before the 1977 Sydney to Hobart. It was a controversial decision, but the CYCA stuck to its guns and required a number of lightweight yachts to undergo physical haul-downs to prove their righting moment before being allowed to race to Hobart.
At the instigation of Gordon Marshall and the CYCA, supported by many active but concerned yachtsmen, the Offshore Racing Council eventually required that all yachts be built to scantling requirements drawn up by the ABS (American Bureau of Shipping). A stability screen was also introduced into the IOR (and subsequently strengthened in the IMS rule) with the objective of producing wholesome keelboats for ocean racing.
Gordon was 79 at the time of his death after a short illness.