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True blue: one of Australia's most respected ocean racing yachtsmen, Roger Hickman, passed away peacefully in Sydney following a short battle with cancer.

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Born and bred in Tasmania, Roger, a CYCA member since 1993, collapsed in Hobart on New Year's Eve, having competed in the Hobart race. He returned to Sydney for treatment to brain tumours and remained positive and upbeat. "Everything I read and see is back to front, so I can't even call wind shifts right," he said laughing in February.

He was in fine form prior to the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart, showing no signs of what lay ahead, as he concentrated on his dream of trying to win the Hobart two years running. Among the frontrunners for the overall title to the last, 'Hicko' subsequently finished sixth overall and third in division.

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Hicko left this earth with no regrets. He packed a lot into 63 years, including a Directorship at the CYCA from 1996 -1998, where he was Rear Commodore from 1999 to 2005, with the exception of 2004 when he served as Vice Commodore. He was also elected President of Yachting NSW in 2008.

Following the 2014 Hobart race, Hicko celebrated his victory and his 60th birthday with the Wild Rose crew, which included his brother Andrew and sister, Lisa, first timers to the race. At the time, he was looking forward to celebrating the 'Old Girl's' (Wild Rose) 30th birthday in the New Year.

Hicko was chuffed to receive phone calls of congratulations on his Hobart victory from around the globe, none more so than one from the late Bob Oatley: "I feel lucky and privileged to have Bob Oatley's boat. I did three Hobarts with him on this boat.

"When I bought the boat from him six years later, he almost gave it to me. I only had half the money and Bob said, 'Roger, you were the only guy to go to the bar and buy me a drink after sailing, don't worry about the rest'. He was so gracious. I wouldn't have been able to get involved in that boat otherwise," an emotional Hicko said at the time.

The sport of sailing is richer for Hicko's legacies. With one of the most enviable offshore track records around, he was a yardstick for many. The 39 Sydney Hobarts race veteran was held in high esteem. He had won the CYCA Blue Water Pointscore five times and the Sydney Hobart three times - twice with Wild Rose (1993 and 2 or 4) and in 2000 as sailing master of Ausmaid. And he was truly looking forward to his 40th Hobart this December.

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Hicko also sailed in the Dragon, Etchells and Farr 40 classes at an international level and honed his skills regularly sailing a Laser on Sydney Harbour. He was looking forward to competing in the Dragon class this year with the legendary Gordon Ingate, and felt sure he would recover to do so.

So many sailors have benefitted from Hicko's experience and knowledge. Those who crewed for him on Wild Rose - and the high profile boat owners who asked him to whip their boats and crew into shape, such as the likes of Yachting Australia president, Matt Allen (Ichi Ban), Alan Brierty (Limit), Chris Dare (Flirt) and Kevan Pearce (Ausmaid).

Hicko insisted some of his crew be part of those deals so they would experience ocean racing at an elite level, and he thrived watching them grow. His leadership, training, and generosity have churned out numerous top-level sailors, who started at grass roots level. Among them are many female sailors - Hicko has paved the way for equality in sailing. His crew has always been a blend of male and female, and in recent years, it has been a 50/50 split.

In fact, Jenifer Wells from his crew was named Crew Person of the Year at the CYCA's 20i3 Ocean Racer of the Year Awards, and Navigator of the Year in 2014. Others from Hicko's female crew to have won the Crew Member of the Year award are Lori Wilson (1994) and the late Sally Gordon in 2000. This commitment from Hicko has led to other Australian yacht owners adding multiple women to their crews.

Hicko's leadership qualities were identified early on, when he was named captain of his high school in Tasmania. On leaving school, he trained as a deck officer and eventually qualified as Ship's Master.

Roger Hickman was a director of the CYCA at the time of the tragic 1998 Hobart race, in which he skippered Atara to sixth place overall. In 1999 he was appointed Chairman of the Club's Sailing Committee, and was an integral part of the Review Board, created to undertake a complete analysis of the entire Club's operation, proceedings and responsibilities in conducting the Sydney Hobart.

As part of the review, Roger identified a lack of knowledge in safety procedures and equipment by various racing crews, and saw the need for formal safety at sea training. He took on the task of writing the curriculum and trained instructors to a qualified level, from which the Club adopted the Safety at Sea Survival Course (SSSC), using the knowledge and experience gained from his 35 years as a Merchant Seaman.

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So successful was the scheme, it was adopted Australia wide, then worldwide, It was consequently made compulsory by ISAF; incorporated into the international body's safety requirements for all major yacht races worldwide. Through Roger's efforts, SCCC qualifications have saved hundreds of lives.

Hicko's legendary status in ocean racing has earned him accolades, such as being named CYCA Ocean Racer of the Year in 1997 and 2004, and is among the contenders for the 2015 awards after winning the 2014 Hobart. He was a finalist in the 2014 Yachting Australia Awards and was inducted into Yachting Tasmania's Hall of Fame the same year.

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Wild Rose crewmember Phil Endersbee knew Roger better than most, as they started primary school together in Hobart and have remained friends.

"We did our first overnighter on Bronzewing (a 36-foot yacht belonging to Roger's dad Jim) for his ninth birthday. At 15, with two other friends, we cruised the east coast of Tasmania on the boat. No adults, a hand held compass only, a couple of charts, no toilet, fridge or inboard engine; this was how Roger obtained his Duke of Edinburgh Award," Phil said in an interview last year.

Hicko's dad was a passionate sailor who took him in the 1958 Bruny Island Race when he was just three. When he was 15, Jim built his son a Cadet, which Hicko skippered to second place at the Worlds in Hobart. He and Phil then finished fifth at the 1971 World's in the UK. They were 16, and the first Australians ever chosen to compete overseas at a Cadet Worlds.

Hicko was a hard taskmaster on the boat, but he had a great sense of humour. I interviewed him for an Offshore Yachting story last year, and his navigator Jen Wells joined us. We were comparing our 'Hicko' moodier moments sailing stories in front of him amid much laughter, and he joined in, making fun of himself, which was typical 'Hicko'.

Jen said at the time; "Racing he's very demanding and has high expectations. The more experienced you get, the more the expectations are, so you're never in your comfort zone. But the crew respect his seamanship and knowledge so much that we look past his temperament and foibles.

"All is forgotten and forgiven ashore. He has an incredible sense of humour--I love lying in my bunk off-watch and listening to him up on deck, laughing at his stories. When he starts singing, you know he's in a really good mood. He also has a soft side. On deliveries he's relaxed and fun, because the pressure's off."

Hicko has also been a supporter of charities, including the Kids Cancer Project, which raises money for research into childhood cancer. This is highlighted during the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race each year, when a group of yachties raise awareness by sitting bears on the rail of their yachts, and raise donations in Sydney and Hobart.

The morning of his passing the tributes were pouring in, as so many remember a remarkable man. Yacht owner, Shane Kearns, summed up: "Hicko was the first person to greet us in Hobart and congratulate us (Quikpoint Azzurro finished third overall and beat Wild Rose by one place in division). Now my idol and fiercest competitor is gone ..."

On learning of Hicko's illness, Shane was one of many who offered to sail Wild Rose back from Hobart, but Hicko resisted, insisting he would get well enough to bring his boat home to the CYCA.

Our sympathies are with Roger's partner, Sandy Eastman, his brother Andrew, sister Lisa and their families.
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Title Annotation:EIGHT BELLS
Author:Pearson, Di
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2016
Words:1455
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