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A tribute to Denis Heywood

15 December 2013 Phil Smidmore

Peter Burton, Dennis Conner, Denis Heywood and Dirk Kneulman in New Zealand in 2002

"Peter Burton, Dennis Conner, Denis Heywood and Dirk Kneulman in New Zealand in 2002"

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I first met Denis over 50 years ago when I was a kid'mucking about' and sailing at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. Although he trained as a cabinetmaker, Denis was the first shipwright concessionaire at the RPAYC. As a skilled tradesman and a'good guy', Denis established a very sound business at the RPAYC. In the 1960s, Denis was a keen Star Class yachtsman and became their measurer. He later took up sailing 5.5 Metre Class yachts and became class measurer for both them and the Soling Class. He was also fitting out many Solings and took on Etchells fit-outs as this new class arrived on the scene in the early 1970s.

One day, the then Etchells president and class founder, Harry Sutton, came into his workshop and said "You're the measurer for Solings and other classes - well now you are the Etchells measurer too." Harry dropped a set of plans and the rulebook on Denis's work bench and walked out. Denis and Harry were later to become very good friends and married sisters.

With the move in Etchells building from Savage in Melbourne to Pamcraft in Sydney, Denis measured every Etchells hull built by Pamcraft. Due to the distance involved, he did not measure the Bashford boats built in Nowra, but resumed hull measurement duties when my Pacesetter Etchells took over from Bashford in 1995 and he has measured every hull since. Denis kept a watchful eye on the building of our new moulds, then subsequently measured and approved them on completion.

He was appointed the Etchells Class' first Chief Measurer and retained that position until he resigned after the Italian World Championships. With up to 100 boats to get through measurement at a Worlds, he would often be seen looking exhausted in the days prior to the regatta commencing, but he would still be happily dispensing advice on how to fix a problem.

Denis is more than just a'yes or no measurer'. He has an intimate knowledge of the rules and class officials, so owners and builders alike often sought his council. He could always quickly refer you to the relevant rule to resolve an issue. As a staunch defender of the Etchells' strict one design principle, if all else failed he would refer back to the over-riding principle of the Etchells Class rules -'Unless the rules say it can be done, then it can't be done.' A principle we all should always remember when working on Etchells.

Although he has retired as Chief Measurer, Denis will continue to be our new boat measurer and no doubt many will continue to seek his opinion.

It has been a great pleasure for me to have been involved with Denis over these past years and I look forward to that continuing. The Etchells Class has been very fortunate to have had people like Denis give their all to the class and Denis richly deserves the honour of being awarded life membership of the class.


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