When Bill Solomons passed from our midst in September. he left the sailing world in mourning, for he was not only one of Australia's finest racing helmsmen but also a gentleman of the first rank. Those who had the privilege of knowing him were all infinitely enriched as much by his quiet demeanour and dignity ashore as they were by the memory of his outstanding racing exploits around the world.
One of the last of the true Corinthian Amateurs, Bill was proud to have successfully represented Australia at the helm of some of our most famous racing yachts. His personal and professional presence will be sorely missed and not least at Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron where he was a distinguished member for 58 years. The Squadron was one of seven yacht clubs to which he belonged but having grown up on Sydney Harbour.it was the one in which he naturally felt most at home.
I knew and admired Bill Solomons for over 50 years and yet at his farewell. as I stood among the many mourners on the Squadron's manicured lawns, listening to the lone piper playing him over the water in a fine Spring rain. I was gripped by a profound sense of loss and regret that I had not spent more time in his company.
There is no more plaintive sound in all the world than the slow and stately Gaelic rhythm of a MacCrimmon pibroch played by a master on the great Highland bagpipes and as the haunting notes sailed out across the greywaters of the Harbour, I was certainly not alone in weeping for a man who had made a deep and lasting impression. Bill Solomons had the genuine and engaging warmth of a diplomat and the impeccable good manners of a man of distinction, which he most certainly was. To his very great credit he treated everyone., no matter who they were, with equaI courtesy and respect.
William Robert Peter Solomons was raised by his paternal grandparents on the water's edge at Elizabeth Bay. As a boy he haunted the local boat shed and there imbibed the fundamentals of sailing that underpinned his life-long passion for boats. In exchange for rowing crews out to their moorings, he was given access to a small gaff-rigged skiff in which he learned to sail.
He was a bright boy who was academically gifted enough to be the youngest ever scholar at Sydney Boys High, the illustrious school in which he excelled in maths and long distance running. As a teenager he and a mate sailed an over-canvassed 10-footer, a cedar skiff with no buoyancy, in which they learned a lot about bailng and staying upright in a blow. In hard southerlies and westerlies they took turns at the tiller, enjoying the thrill of low-level flying as they broad-reached out and back.
Bill was lucky to have been taken under the wing of Sydney's veteran yachting journalist. Lou d'Aipuget. who built him a 12-footer and became something of a father figure for him, taking him aboard his gunter-rigged raised-decker Cherub as they cruised Pittwater during school holidays.
In his eulogy for his father, Bill's elder son, Dr Gregory Solomons, paid tribute to Lou d'Aipuget and a string of other luminaries who served as father figures and mentors and who encouraged and guided the young man. Among the notables was Eric Strain, the English Olympic yachtsman who had raced as a professional in Europe where he became famous as a light-air maestro. Eric insisted that Bill practise steering with his eyes closed and insisted that he not move the tiller beyond the edges of the centreline plank. Those light-air skills were well and truly learned by Bill Solomons who mastered the art of being able to keep a boat moving in little or no breeze.
Bill's talent as a helmsman was such that at the age of 29 he became reserve helmsman for Gretel. Australia's first America's Cup challenger in 1962.
In 1968 Bill skippered the 5.5 Metre Barranjoey at the Acapulco Olympics, crewed by Jim (later Sir James) Hardy and Scott Kauffman. They finished mid-fleet after a Mexican naval barge crashed into the yacht and almost sank her at the dock. Bill spent the 1970s racing Solings and the '80s and '90s in Etchells, and later the Star Class which became his favourite one-design, and spending many years as captain of the Sydney fleet. Bill's swan song was a second in the classic division of the 5.5 Metre worlds in Sydney in 2004. sailing with Mick York and Stuart Grey.
Greg Solomons drew warm smiles and approval when he told the farewell gathering at the Squadron that "Dad's greatest victory was in marrying Mum in Newport. Rhode Island. just 24 hours after the last America's Cup race. The Australian syndicate chairman, Sir Frank Packer, gave the bride away, Jock Sturrock, Gretel's skipper, was Best Man and Bus Mosbacher, Weatherly's winning America's Cup skipper, generously hosted a wonderful wedding reception in the Newport mansion that was the American crew headquarters. President John F Kennedy attended the festivities that "made the newsreels." "It was, Greg said. "a 20th century fairy-tale."
Bill Solomons and his bride.the lovely Athenian-born Faye Coroneos. who was then one of Australia's most glamorous fashion models. became a "brilliant team" whose marriage lasted for 54 years. "They loved each other dearly, Greg told the gathering. "They were perfect for each other. Dad enjoyed his sailing but his greatest love beyond all else was Mum and his family."
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