Eight Bells: Life Member Rowan Johnston sails on

  • June 22, 2018

Rowan Johnston addressing members and guests at the RYCT Centenary Dinner.

Rowan Johnston, one of the great stalwarts of Tasmanian yachting, as a competitor and honorary administrator with the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, passed away earlier this week after a brief illness.
Rowan, 86, was a Life Member and Past Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, where he had been a member since a teenager.
He sailed in Cadet dinghies and Sharpies before moving to Dragons, in which he represented Australia in Spain with Ediss Boyes
Rowan was the Hobart Race Director of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for 26 years and a volunteer for the same race for 30 years.

Rowan Johnston receiving the Rolex Sydney Hobart Meritorious Services Award.

For his contribution to the Sydney Hobart, Rowan was awarded the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Meritorious Service Award.
Along with fellow RYCT member John Honeysett, and CYCA/RYCT members Peter Campbell and John Kirkjian, Rowan received the prestigious award the Royal Sydney Hobart 2013 prize giving ceremony in Hobart.
All played major behind-the-scenes roles going back decades, back to a time when yachts gave their position by Morse code and those then had to be individually plotted on a chart by hand to create an overall picture of the fleet and the state of the race.

Life Members at Centenary Dinner with Rowan Johnston at the left.

Honeysett and Johnston, and the late Bob Laing began their involvement in the early 1960s as members of the RYCT Sydney-Hobart Committee. The three of them would drive to Hobart Radio to collect the position reports transmitted by Morse code from the yachts. Once they were plotted back at the RYCT clubhouse in Sandy Bay, the positions were copied to the CYCA in Sydney. This was the foundation of the race information centre that John Honeysett and Bob Laing ran until 1997.
Rowan Johnston worked closely with the CYCA’s Sydney-based Race Director Gordon Marshall. Their relationship cemented the essential co-operation between the two clubs to run the race safely and effectively.
Rowan maintained an interest in the race by keeping the register of all yachts that have competed in the race since its inception.

Father and son Commodores of RYCT – Matthew and Rowan Johnston

Rowan was the honorary Sailing Manager at the RYCT for 13 years and Principal Race Officer for 25 years. He was awarded the Sports Medal by the Australian Government in 1999 for his services to yachting and was a member of the Tasmanian Yachting Hall of Fame.
His son Matthew was elected Commodore of the RYCT in 2015, creating a unique father-son achievement at the club
A memorial service for Rowan Johnston will be held on Monday, 25 June, a St Stephens Church, Sandy Bay at 12 noon.
The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania expresses its sincere condolences to Rowan’s family on this sad loss. He will be missed by members who enjoyed his good companionship, wise counsel and vast historic knowledge of yachting in every aspect, but notably the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Personally, I have much to thank Rowan for his sound advice, historic records and his kindness during my time in covering the Sydney Hobart over many years, particularly during my time as media director of the blue water classic. Sail on in a fair breeze, old friend.
Words and photos: Peter Campbell
22 June 2018