Sydney to Hobart 2016: 71-year-old Newcastle boat and skipper take first shot at blue water classic

NEWCASTLE radiologist Dick Lees joked that he was either brave or foolhardy to tackle the Sydney to Hobart for the first time at age 71 in a boat as old as him.

OLD SALT: Part-owner and skipper Dick Lees oversees preparations on Freyja on Tuesday at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club. Picture: Simone De Peak.

OLD SALT: Part-owner and skipper Dick Lees oversees preparations on Freyja on Tuesday at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club. Picture: Simone De Peak.

But at least the skipper knows what he’s in for.

After two return trips to Hobart on the 38-foot, William Atkins-designed Freyja to attend the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, Lees is tackling the blue water classic for the first time with five other race rookies on Boxing Day.

Lees and fellow part-owner, son-in-law Andrew Carr, will race in the 72nd Sydney to Hobart alongside Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club captain Ernie Thirkell, Craig Sanders, Robin Hillery and Louise Costello.

Of the all-NCYC crew, only sailing master Thirkell has competed in the race. Lees, though, is no stranger to the challenges of sailing to and from Hobart, where he lived for four years before moving to Newcastle 33 years ago. He made the voyage in 2011 and 2013 for the wooden boat festival on Freyja.

“It can be pretty rough,” Lees said. “We’ve been across four times and it’s been rough every time.

“We’ve cruised down for the wooden boat festival but not raced. But it’s seaworthy and a good boat, a classic American design.”

Although a keen sailor for more than 50 years, Lees said competing in the Sydney to Hobart had not been on the radar until “we were sitting around having a beer and thought it would be a good idea”.

“We just decided to do it,” he said. “It was part of the bucket list, I suppose.”

Lees and his family have lovingly restored Freyja over the past 10 years after his daughter, Victoria, and her husband made the surprise purchase.

“When my daughter [Victoria] and son-in-law bought it originally, I had another boat which I hated, so I sold it and put my money into this,” he said. “I found in the timber that supports the deck, it had a carved number in it. I’ve been in the navy and I knew it was a US Coast Guard number, so I contacted them and got its history.”

He found that Freyja was launched in 1945 from Alameda, California.

Like all 97 skippers in the Sydney to Hobart fleet, Lees said the main goal was just to get to Constitution Dock, but he hoped to make the trip inside six days and figure in handicap equations. 

“It’s fairly slow because it’s not a planing boat like some of these lightweight flyers,” Lees said. “It’s heavy. That one with the big black mast [super maxi Perpetual Loyal] over there, that weighs five tonnes. We weigh over 11.”

Freyja is one of just two NCYC boats in the Hobart fleet this year. Sibby Ilzhoefer’s Dare Devil is the other.

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