VALE MATTHEW OWEN – CHAMPION SAILOR AND GREAT BLOKE
Sadly, Matt passed away 7 October 2018 at the age of 48, after being told in late 2014 that he might have only 6 months to live. Matt had been diagnosed with cancer of the gall bladder and a secondary cancer in the liver. He knew the prognosis was far from good but told us at the time that ‘he is not the stereotypical person who has cancer, a 65 year old; I am fit (and devilishly good looking) and an attitude of fighting problems head on’ – and that is just what Matt, Karen and their medical team did for nearly four years. Matt’s involvement in sailing and sailing-related management undoubtedly helped to keep him going for as long as he did.
Matt joined the junior sailing program at the Black Rock Yacht Club in the 1980s. The Wilson brothers, Ross and Kevin, took him under their wing and taught him to sail in a competitive environment where teamwork and interpersonal skills were paramount. He carried those attributes through to later life.
His early, competitive sailing years were in the 18 foot skiffs. He sailed with a Canberra based team for three seasons, from 1993-1996, firstly in a boat sponsored by Telecom/Ansett, then on the Grand Prix Circuit sponsored by Schiavello, with Andre Webster and Adam Scott. Matt managed the campaign for the team and found a particular flair for dealing with the media. Matt continued sailing 18 footers on the Grand Prix Circuit for a number of years after the Schiavello campaign ended, sailing with John Boyd on Schneider and Prudential with Sean Langman. He then teamed up with Chris Nicholson on Club Marine and they won the Australian Championship in 1998, the first of Matt’s many National titles
Matt started work at the Canberra Yacht Club (CYC) in September 2000, initially as Assistant Director of the recently formed Sail School. He became Director of the School and CYC Manager in May 2001. Under his guidance the Sailing School became one of the largest sailing schools in Australia with a special emphasis on the younger age group with the Tackers programs, and Buoyed Up with Tackers, using the Optimist Dinghy.
Buoyed Up with Tackers is an initiative which assists vulnerable, at-risk children aged 7-12 years to participate in sailing as a way to build confidence, self-esteem and engage in an active lifestyle. The program provides children from disadvantaged backgrounds with a unique fun-based opportunity that will enhance their general life skills and capabilities. Since the program started in 2011 some 1120 students from 9 different schools in Canberra have participated.
Matt Allen, President of Australian Sailing, wrote the following:
‘Matt had an enormous impact on sailing in Canberra and throughout the whole of Australia. Not only did he run the most prolific Tackers centre in Australia he was asked by me to lead a review of the program for the whole country. His approach was welcomed by all and his ability to inspire people and think about the big picture and how to roll it out in detail was unique. …..The success in Australia of the Tackers Programs is due to a few, one of whom is Matt. Matt will be missed as a huge contributor to sailing in Australia and being instrumental to get more people to sail and to enjoy the sport and the pastime’.
In addition to numerous club championships and awards, Matt won the Elliott 7 Australian championship in six consecutive years and five Australian championships in the Flying Fifteen class, one of those being as crew for World champion Steve Goacher from the UK. He is the current Australian Flying Fifteen champion and won the NZ title in 2017. During his tenure at the Club the CYC won a number of sports awards and been a finalist for others. Matt won the Australian Sailing Sport Professional award in 2010-11 and in 2012-13, the Club won the Australian Sailing Sports Promotion Award, for its adoption of the Buoyed Up program.
His one consistent crew for 18 years, especially in the two person Flying Fifteen, was Andrew Reed, of whom Matt was always quick to say ‘Reedy is the brains of the operation’. The personal relationship and teamwork between Reedy and Matt deserves special mention. They worked so well together on any boat in a variety of race settings with Reedy picking the wind shifts and Matt calling the shots. No yelling, just quietly working together to put their craft at the front of the fleet. A winning combination that I was privileged to sail with and that some of you saw in action at the Noelex National’s in 2016 (2nd), 2017 (4th), and 2018 (2nd). Matt took me under his wing in 2008 when I first joined Canberra Yacht Club, worked hard to help me improve my sailing, and encouraged me to sell my Farr 6000 and buy a Noelex! After purchasing Quo Vadis(952) in late 2015 he was the driving force to go to Melbourne to compete the boat. Even though he was mid-cycle in his medical treatments he was very keen again this year – going as far as taking my car and trailering the boat to Melbourne with Reedy when it looked like I could not get time off work to drive it down myself. At the end of this years National’s I think he was asleep in the back of the car before we had even left Williamstown for the trip home. Matt always enjoyed the high standard of racing and the camaraderie of the weekend – in his affectionate words “Winnebago racing at its best!”
I had the opportunity to crew with Matt at Hamilton Island Race week for a number of years. His race results were astonishing. In the eleven regattas between 2008 and 2018 he scored six firsts, three seconds, a third and a fourth – a scorecard most would be very envious of. He loved sailing against the best and meeting with a wide range of yachties at the event
Matt is survived by his wife Karen, their son Will, parents Pattie and Keith, and sisters Bindi and Lizzie. The Australian sailing community and the community in general have lost a great bloke and a great contributor to the life of many.