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Colin Smith: eight bells

by Jamie McWilliam 10 Oct 2018 07:49 BST
Colin Smith, sadly missed. © Jamie McWilliam

It is with sadness and yet real gratitude for his life that we report that Colin Smith, sailor, Olympian and coach extraordinaire, passed away in late September shortly after reaching his 90th birthday. He retained his great spirits all the way, and no doubt reported as usual that he is “delightful” when he arrived wherever he is now.

Colin was born in Adelaide in 1928 and learned to sail and build boats at Grange, where his early sailing experience included Heavyweight Sharpies and a stint as a bailer boy on a traditional 18 foot skiff. He then fell victim of the offshore addiction and Sydney Hobarts (9 of them, and 22+ Bass Strait crossings in total) and other long distance races around Australia became a feature for the family. In the 1960s the small boat bug returned, in the form of a Flying Dutchman in which he won the South Australian Champs with Graham Williams in 1968, and shortly thereafter, he moved to Hong Kong and represented the colony in the 1972 Munich Olympics in the Flying Dutchman class, with his lifelong mate Bill Steele.

In the 1980s Colin moved back to Australia where he took his coaching qualifications, and in 1982 was appointed Australian National Sailing Coach; he had instant success coaching the 1982 Fireball Class world champions Chris Tillett and Mike Rogers, amongst other international successes in 505s, 470s, and Lightweight Sharpies. He was the Australian Olympic sailing coach for the 470s and Finns that competed in Los Angeles in 1984 and in Seoul in 1988, and was the Grand Master Champion of the Tasar Class in Australia in 1991. After this, he returned to take care of unfinished business in Hong Kong, where he cruised his much-loved yacht “Rapid” on adventures all around Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, also managing to fit in a win of the China Sea Race with Henry Kaye.

In 1992 he returned to coaching as the National Coach of Hong Kong, where he met and married Mei Han Cheung who was to be his partner for the rest of his life. Colin coached the HK team (including Mei Han, Chun Mei Tung, Fajai Chan and Andy Service) at the 1996 Olympics, and continued coaching Hong Kong sailors for the next 20 years, across Asian Games and World Championships in 420s, 470s, and Etchells.

It is possibly in the Etchells Class that he will be best remembered around the world, as an energetic and enthusiastic coach with time for everybody no matter where they finished. He had an amazing gift for being able to spot something from off the boat and comment on it relative to other boats’ setups, and to communicate thoughts and advice in a way that was unerringly helpful without being interfering. His eye for detail was tremendous. For the last years he was a regular feature on the committee boat at the RHKYC, snapping photos at starts and during the race and sharing them with the fleet for discussion afterwards. The HK Fleet annual award for the Most Improved boat will from now on be the Colin Smith Trophy.

Although sailing was a huge part of Colin’s life, he was also a highly valued communications technician at work, and was a much-loved Dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather, building Oppies for the kids, teaching them to swim, and taking them on sailing adventures.

Colin was adored by his friends and family, respected by his competitors, and revered by his disciples. We will all sorely miss him.

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