87-year-old Gordon Elliot who sailed the inaugural Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will fire the starting gun at this year's Rolex event

One of the few remaining ‘old salts’ who sailed in the first Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 59 years ago, 87-year-old Gordon Elliot (pictured left), will fire the cannon to send the 2003 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet on its way south on Boxing Day, 26 December.

The retired public accountant now lives at Ballina with Ruth, his wife of 56 years, has accepted the invitation of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia to be the Official Starter of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Joining him will be three other ‘old salts’, brothers Malcolm and Ted Bryden- Brown, who will fire the warning signal cannon 10 minutes before the start, and Bernard ‘Barney’ Davies, who will fire the preparatory signal cannon five minutes before the start.

Elliot was 29-years old and back from serving as a gunner with the 2/1st Field Regiment of the Sixth Division during World War II when the marine artist Jack Earl invited him to crew aboard his yacht Kathleen Gillett in the inaugural Sydney Hobart Race in 1945.

The double-ended ketch, designed by Norwegian Colin Archer and which Earl was later to sail around the world, finished fourth on handicap out of nine starters in the 627 nautical mile ocean classic that is now an icon of Australian summer sport.

“I believe I am the only crew member of Kathleen Gillett from that first race still around,” said Elliot, recalling that it had been a tough race in which all yachts, except the winner Rani, hove to or sought shelter from a south- westerly gale.

The following year, Elliot was asked by another prominent ocean racing yachtsman, Bob Bull, to join the crew of his yacht, Christina, which went on to win the 1946 race on corrected time.

Elliot plans to be reunited with Kathleen Gillett before the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Elliot added: “The Australian National Maritime Museum has invited me to come down to Darling Harbour and go aboard the old boat, to see how it was restored and given to the Museum as Norway’s Bicentennial gift to Australia in 1988.”

Fifty years ago Malcom Bryden-Brown, now aged 74, sailed as mate aboard Ripple, the overall handicap winner of the 1953 Sydney Hobart, earlier sailing on Bachelor’s Wife in 1950 and Ripple in 1952. He continued sailing on Dragon yachts on Sydney Harbour and for the past 12 years has been a member of the race committee team with the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club.

His elder brother Ted, 78, like his younger brother has sailed virtually all his life, apart from distinguished service with the RAN in World War II in which he served on cruisers and corvettes. His sailing has ranged from Mirror dinghies to the famous cutter Morna. He was aboard Morna when she took line honours in the 1946 Sydney Hobart and also sailed on another famous big boat of the 1940 and 1950s, Ada.

Firing the five minute cannon will be 83-year-old Bernard ‘Barney’ Davies, a 37 year member of the CYCA who skippered his own yacht, Unis J, a 40ft cruising ketch, in the second Sydney Hobart Race in 1946. Unfortunately, he was forced to retire, but he sailed in several more Hobarts as crew “because I could cook a good meal under any conditions, in any sort of weather. Yachts he sailed aboard included Sir Robert Crichton-Brown’s Pacha and Fare-thee-Well.