OSP: So, folks this week we are with Rob Mundel. We are onboard Rob’s catamaran ‘Toucanoes’ down at the Southport yacht club. Welcome along Rob and thanks for joining us on the ocean sailing podcast.
Rob Mundle: Thanks mate great to be here.
OSP: So, Rob has a really fascinating background that goes back probably closer to half a century, than to decades when it comes to sailing, writing, researching, commentating and really quite a fascinating background and they way it fits together explains why you are such an authority on writing and commentating and you do it on such a way that the layman can understand it. When I look back on your history in terms of your early days in journalism, what was the point on the road that the sailing in maritime became a passion for you and what drove that to the writing that you have done and the books that you have written?
Rob Mundle: Well, it was literally in the blood. My great great grandfather was the master of a clipper ship square-rigger, bringing migrants and cargo to Australia. Every other senior member of the generation of George Valentine Mundle, as they have been have all been masters or gone to sea to earn a living. I am the first senior member of the generation not to but I guess it was inevitable that I took this course and a pad and a pen and finished upon the water.
My first boat was a sandpit boat my father built at home when I was about 18 months old. I have photos of it with my brother, made out of a crate and a broomstick for a mast. I set that up in the backyard every time the wind was blowing and I was sailing around the world.
Then a mate of mine who lived for sailing was talking me about sailing. One day he came out of the blue and said do you want to come sailing with us this season; we have a spot in a 12-foot skip? And there we were 4 kids aged 11, 12, 13 and 14 in a 12-foot skiff at Middle Harbor in Sydney and that’s where the sailing side started.
As for the writing side it was never really on the horizon. I guess I just followed fate and that was the way it went. When I was at school we used to do these vocational tests to give you some guidance as to the way that you might go in the future. My number one guide was to become an engineer and that is understandable because my father was a maritime engineer on ships. That didn’t really surprise me, but somewhere there it also came up that I had an ability to write, which I didn’t see and didn’t really get excited about, it something I just did. And the when I left school I was sitting at home not having a clue (having got my leaving certificate) where I was going to go and what I was going to do.
I thought about going to university to study economics and things like that, but fate has always guided my life, I have just gone with the flow and I just said to my mother, “I am going to ring the Daily Mirror and see if they have got a job”. Now the Daily Mirror was the Sydney afternoon newspaper. I used to love going up for some unknown reason and buying it every afternoon, bringing it home and reading the paper, following the news and everything. So I just called them out of the blue and said, “Do you have any jobs?” and I think I was 17 and they said we are interviewing for copy boys, who are like messenger boys and they said “come in for an interview”. So I went for the interview on a Monday and I had this gut feeling this could be the start of where I am going and I went in and they called back the following Friday and said “you have got a job as a copyboy in the daily mirror and we want you to start on Monday on 28 pound a week” and away I went.
OSP: Wow! What a start.
Rob Mundle: So from there as a copyboy, you are messenger boy but it was really exciting in the newsroom. Zel Rayburn was then the editor of the daily mirror, but there was this excitement 24/7 because we are doing 3 or 4 editions in an afternoon and you are running copy around from the sub-editor to the editor and reporters. Then I started doing police rounds, which is monitoring police radios. We don’t say much about that, but we were doing that back then and guiding reporters to activities around the city and that’s midnight till 7am, 5pm until midnight and all sorts of ridiculous hours.
I was also working my hours so I could go sailing down in Middle Harbor every Saturday afternoon. And then Blanche d’Alpuget who is now Bob Hawkes wife was yachting writer for the Sunday Mirror and she came to me one day, when they knew I loved sailing and she said “I am going on holiday” and I was still a copyboy, “do you think you can write the full page yachting column in the Sunday Mirror? And I did it and that really started my journalist career and things just went from there and life just fell into line all the way through.
OSP: What an opportunity.
Rob Mundle: Yes and I am a great believer in fate. You don’t fight issues, it’s amazing if you just go with the flow and the opportunities open up. I have been extremely fortunate in doing that in life and I am very lucky that I have been able to combine my sport with my career and its paid huge dividends. So the things I have done over the years and the opportunities it’s presented to me, has led to so many things. I started the Laser class in Australia because of journalism and I started the J24 class in Australia because of Journalism.
I introduced both those classes to Australia because I was in a stage of life where I wanted a break from Journalism, because I looked at all of the journalists around me and said “my God do I want to be an alcoholic or a nervous wreck by the time I am 40? No I don’t”. So I had a bit if a break and again, that was a lucky opportunity for me where the director for the Mirror put me on a retainer to go around the world sailing full time and just doing the occasional report.
While I was in America I met up with Bruce Corby who was a journalist come designer and he said “come and see me, I am on Long Island and I have got this little sail boat you might like”. I was racing 18 footers back then. I went out and jumped on this little sailboat and it blew me away, it was the Laser. And I came straight back on shore and said to him and to Ian Bruce who was the builder out of Montreal; “I want this for Australia”. So, in 1973 I set up Performance Race Craft and started the Laser.
OSP: The laser is such a fundamental part of the stepping sailing from dingy sailing into high performance sailing.
Rob Mundle: Yes, absolutely.
OSP: It’s a great stable item now.
Rob Mundle: Yes. The great thing about the laser, it’s for any level of ability. It’s an Olympic class as we know but if you are a beginner, it’s so simple to sail and you don’t get overwhelmed by anything. It’s just the perfect boat and I saw that and was really excited even having come out of 18 footers and what we were doing. I thought this boat is so exciting and so good and simple to race, it was brilliant.
OSP: Simple to rig up and pack up.
Rob Mundle: Yes. Suited my intelligence.
OSP: You described as our nations maritime biographer and when you look at a book like First Fleet about a convoy of 11 ships that left England in May 1787, where do you go to start about researching the background and a back-story to put a book like that together?
Rob Mundle: Again good fortune and a stroke of luck. I never saw myself as a writer of maritime history. I did a book called Fatal Storm, which has been hugely successful for me internationally, the story of a 1998 Hobart Race and a few other books but then John Ferguson an old publisher guy, who was with Harper Collins “God bless him” said “I want to put some titles on the table for the publisher to consider” and he said “there are so many opportunities on maritime history, we are not really touching these days and I think there is a market there”.
And he said, “the first thing you should do is look at telling the real story of Captain Bligh, he was a great navigator, totally maligned by history and Hollywood. You should look at doing that book and you should get Rob Mundel to write it. Now I never ever thought about writing maritime history as I say and Helen Littleton rung me and said “this is who I am and this is what I am calling about” and I said “no”. And she said “but John Ferguson recommended you,” I said “no, I can’t see myself writing maritime history or biographies and I politely said no, but thank you for considering me, I don’t think I could do it to you or do it to me. I think I might embarrass everyone” and we left it at that and I said to my PA, “well, that was an offer to write maritime history, but I have said no” and she said “well fair enough”.
Anyway they rung back 3 weeks later with a 30% increase in the offer, so I suddenly found myself writing maritime history and it was very interesting. And so what happened there was they were right and I was wrong and I got into it and I absolutely loved it. And so I did Bligh, Flinders and Cook who all went together, because at some stage they would all sail together being involved in that.
And then the First Fleet was my idea and the publishers and I thought this is the glue to put it all together and it’s a big part of European heritage in Australia. So, I was thinking about writing that and coming off the Captain Cook book or my “Cook Book” as a lot of people call it and one day I was in Sydney and I was wandering through The Rocks area very early on a Sunday morning, in fact I was standing alongside a statue of Captain Bligh that I just realised was there.
I heard this big booming voice and it was a tour guide with people following him around with Circular Key. He started telling them about the history of Circular Key and the First Fleet and everything else and I thought to myself, “this guy really knows his stuff”. So I politely cut him out of the pack, when they were walking on and introduced myself and fortunately he knew of my books. His name was Brian MacDonald and long story short I said, “look I think I want to talk to you and you could help me with my research”. And again it was fate, just a total stroke of luck and he said, “Well, come home for dinner next weekend and meet the wife and we will have a chat about it as well” and that is what I did. So we had a lovely dinner and a nice chat about what would be in The First Fleet. He said look come into the office, which was his second bedroom and there were 7,500 books in his private library on early Australian history.
Rob Mundle: It was like striking gold. This guy is just a whiz. Most people aren’t remotely close to what he knows about early Australian history and he was a huge asset and he is currently working on my new book with me which is about the clipper ship era and the early Australian gold rush etcetera. So again that worked out. So that is where The First Fleet came from, but with my research, I go and contact him when I need information I am struggling with and with writing a book a year, its constant research and constant writing to keep it going and keep the flow going and a lot of that is back to my newspaper days as a journalist with The Australian in particular where you learn to write. I am different, I write newsy history, I write what people call readable history. It’s not heavy duty reading. It’s entertaining and factual and I have 5 best sellers in a row now, so I guess that’s is why, so it’s an energy and a form of entertainment, its factual.
OSP: It’s quite a gift to be able to catch a story in a factual way and then make it readable and entertaining without making it too heavy duty, too scientific and too hard to digest.
Rob Mundle: Yes, the big thing I learned in my newspaper days was if you can do that, you can be a journalist. You have got to have the reader interested in the first or second paragraph and if you haven’t got it by then you are going to lose them and it’s the same with the book. The first chapter really has got to be the tease so they say “I want to read this” and Fatal Storm was the classic example that I wrote. I thought I have got to give the book a chance for an international audience and it worked. The first person I introduced was an American and we had Glynn Charles the Englishman, but I wrote about a number of the people that would feature further down and the reader was saying, I like the sound of this guy, I hope he survives. So they want to read on to see what happens. It’s the tease again but it’s a desire to keep reading and I do that with all my books and fortunately it’s working for me.
OSP: It’s like a content marketing.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely, it is, so I love the writing. I am really enjoying it. I don’t know where I will go after this one if I do go anywhere, because I think after this latest book, the sixth, there is not a lot of maritime history left to write.
OSP: It’s a good stage to be at I guess. So, which of your books have had the most impact on you in terms of the creative process you have gone through and the things you have learned and the research you have done? Which has impacted you the most and been your favourite I guess?
Rob Mundle: Well, I would have to say Fatal Storm, because it was a real turning point for me and it put the Rob Mundle brand out there worldwide. The big thing was it was an absolute adrenalin pump and something I will never forget. I knew the book had to be the first out. I knew it had to be factual in every degree and this is where I was fortunate because I have covered 44 Hobart races and now I am in the thick of things. And when it all unfolded I had 30 mates, male and female missing and all their partners and parents ringing me because they couldn’t get information. “What do you know?” “What can you tell us?” And in an instant it was obvious that the story monstrous and it can’t be told in a newspaper, it can’t be told in a magazine, television can’t tell it, it’s a book.
And while I was doing the TV and newspaper work I rung my secretary and said “look, I don’t know where this is going to go, but just grab every bit of information you can, every newspaper or whatever for me because I think there is a book here”. And anyway Harper Collins the publishers had the same idea and with them being part of the News Limited organisation, when I was working for News Limited, we crossed paths.
Anyway they said, “we want to write and book and we want you to do it”, and that became Fatal Storm, but the most exciting thing about it was I could ring people directly involved and they knew of me, I knew of them and we were all on the same page where we could converse properly and the questions weren’t embarrassing and it worked. All of that worked. I did 144 interviews I think, to get all that book together and they were just nonstop and at the same time I wrote 120,000 words in 12 weeks and that was just massive to get the book done to be first out. We were out In July that year.
OSP: Wow, so out 7 months after that fatal race in the previous December.
Rob Mundle: I started writing at the end of January and just went for it and still doing a lot of what I am doing now, research. There were some people who said no to interviews but interestingly enough when they realised what I was trying to do with the book, they actually called me back and said look I want to be part of it because I think it can contribute. One of the great things I think about Fatal Storm is that a lot of people worldwide, not just here treat it as a bible, because that book just shows how quickly and how easily things can go wrong. How if you are not prepared for the worst, then you are not prepared at all for anything. And a lot of people I know have that book onboard their boat and say to newcomers “read this before you go sailing, because I want you to know how bad it can get.” The other thing, which I find quite remarkable with it, is women really love reading it and that really staggers me. I have a huge following. Women have come up to me and said I never thought I would enjoy reading a book like that and I enjoyed that. So, that’s been fantastic.
OSP: Having read more than 100 books on ocean sailing and offshore sailing, Fatal Storm is the only book that I have read that really brings together the power of the ocean and of nature and what can really unfold. Reading it prior to an ocean crossing trip I did a couple of years ago, it gave me a really good appreciation of the fact that you are not going to be deploying your safety gear on a nice sunny day, you are more likely to be upside down, in the middle of the night, in the dark and maybe underwater, where you can’t see or hear anything and it really puts a whole new perspective on what safety is really all about. And if you get yourself into that situation, even with all the safety gear in the world, it’s probably still a 50-50 ball game as to whether you will make it out alive, especially if you have to get into a life raft.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely.
OSP: The story of I read about the life raft in Fatal Storm turning upside down and then of a small cut ….
Rob Mundle: Just ripping apart.
OSP: …and all the things that happened that you really didn’t appreciate when you think about the ideal side of yachting.
Rob Mundle: Too true. And you don’t want to be saying, “why didn’t I?” and you shouldn’t be saying why I didn’t die. As part of your preparation, just expect the worst and go from there. So, that book now I think it’s now heading for 250,000 copies, it’s in 6 languages and they have just re-released it worldwide. So it’s been something special for me.
OSP: And hopefully it will never be superseded right?
Rob Mundle: Well no, I don’t want to be doing another book, but I think too where you mentioned the conditions and one of the great advantages for me is in being a sailor and writer, I can translate those conditions, after seeing some really bad weather and force 10 winds as a result of sailing from the Bahamas to Bermuda and it wasn’t pretty through the Bermuda triangle.
You can talk about and explain what the conditions were like so people get the picture, whereas if you have never been there, never been exposed to bad weather or any great deal of sailing, you can’t translate it into something that the sailor and the public can appreciate and I think again that is one of the things where I have been lucky in life is being able to write about the sport. I write about things that are happening but put it into layman’s terms where the yachtie can still appreciate it and the layman understands it.
OSP: I think it’s a very good point because if you have never been in those conditions and they are not normally captured on camera because of how remote you usually are in those conditions. I think when I read the book and you talked about 30 metre seas and I think “that’s 100 feet, that’s a 13 story building”, it’s just puts into another perspective, that you could never ever possibly visualise without that level of granular description and then the howling of winds on top of that which is often the toughest part.
Rob Mundle: Well there are two things in the book that really drive that point home to some degree. There is one photograph we sent to AMSA was taken from 1,000 ft from a light plane; we had a 40 ft yacht in the image and a helicopter. So AMSA could gauge, get the dimensions of what was going on in that image. The wave was going away from the camera and breaking and they estimated that that wave was 25-30 metres high and breaking. Now that’s pretty serious stuff. And the other one we did which put into a perspective the public could understand, was an idea of putting the Sydney Opera house in the picture and putting the wave heights alongside, overlaying the Sydney Opera house. So you get an appreciation and suddenly you realise how bad it was.
OSP: And one of the interesting lessons in the 98 Hobart which was also reinforced in the Fastnet 1979 race, was the yacht Midnight Rambler that lost their cabin top and the crew all abandoned the boat taking to the life rafts. Well that boat was found still floating three days later and it was repaired and is still racing in Australia today and it was a great example of not leaving a boat until you have to.
Rob Mundle: Always step up into the life raft and never get off the boat until you have to do that.
OSP: At the last possible moment.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely. In Fastnet Force 10, John Rousmaniere’s book about the fatal 1979 Fastnet Race, Harry Cudmore and some mates were onboard in that race (Harry was the world half ton champion etcetera) and they were in an interesting dilemma, as much as it was a seriously bad storm, not as bad as the Hobart Race, but it was right up there and the helicopter was hovering overhead and the message came down to the boat “this is your last chance to get off tonight, we can’t come back tonight, if you want to get off, you get off now, or you stay on the boat overnight.” When there is a helicopter waiting, that is when you may think of getting off, especially if you don’t know if the weather is going to deteriorate further. Otherwise you stay on the boat and don’t get into the life raft until you really have to.
OSP: Life rafts look more like outdoor paddling pools
Rob Mundle: That’s right, kiddy wading pools.
OSP: So in that example it’s one thing to write about history, but how difficult is it to interview families and crew members of sailors who lost their lives in the process. How did you find that?
Rob Mundle: That part was difficult. Again it was surprising how many people wanted to talk to pass on the information. The hardest part was I did an update 10 years later when I went back and interviewed a lot of the people who had featured prominently in the original copy and what that did was really imprint very firmly on my mind, on my life and a lot of other people was how bad that race was still impacted people.
Some of them were still a mess some of them couldn’t work anymore. There is one young guy in there who subsequently committed suicide. It’s just terrible stuff and I have no doubt at all, that its come from those experiences and there are worst cases of sailors you just couldn’t talk to, but their mates were saying “you got to know about Bill” or whoever, “he is not doing it too well and he never has since that day”.
But then there were others who have gone and done 10 or 15, Sydney to Hobart races since and just accepted that as just something extraordinary happened in that race and they have continued on. But I guess it’s just the experience you have had and for a lot of people, you think about family and friends and everything else and why am I exposing myself to this possible danger so they go back to playing golf and lawn bowls instead.
OSP: I couldn’t think of anything worse.
Rob Mundle: Yes.
OSP: Okay, that’s interesting, tell me about how you got involved in the American Cup in the early days, because I guess my first memory is listening to Australia II racing the USA in the final race of the Americas cup in 1983 on a transistor radio at school in the classroom. I never even knew what the America’s Cup was, but the entire class started listening to it in the classroom and suddenly it’s the most important thing and since then the last 30+ years have really been incredible. How did you get involved?
Rob Mundle: It’s interesting you say that because my first involvement with the Americas Cup was in 1963 when Gretel and Weatherly were racing and Gretel actually won the second race and in 1963 I was 16 or 15 or something 16, anyway I would wake up very early in the morning like 2:30 or 3 o’clock in the morning, lying in bed with a little transistor radio not much bigger than a mobile phone today, listening to the race live on the radio and it was just so exciting.
But when journalism came, my initial involvement was when Gretel and Vim were racing or sailing on the Sydney harbor in the lead up. But my first real media involvement came in 1983 and again I was absolutely blessed. I had done all my journalism and I had run Performance Sail Craft and then I set up a little sail boat marketing business in Sydney called Rob Mundel Sail Boat Centre, down near the Sydney Bridge in Middle Harbour and that was going rather nicely, but once journalism is in your blood you can’t get it out.
And I was still writing for magazines and things and this particular day, Peter Sutton, Kay Cottee’s husband, rang me and said “look (a journalist mate from back in the early days of the daily mirror) he said look “we are starting this sports show on Channel 10 with Ray Warren as our host and we want to be different we want to put sailing on it. Would you be interested in coming and doing stories on sailing?” I said, “I would love to, that will be great.” So I kept the sail boat business going and started doing that as well, but anyway long story short, suddenly the whole media bug was back and firing for me, so I got out of sail boat marketing and life went back to television and newspapers.
The Australian picked me up again and so that was 1982 and in early 83, Channel 10, I was doing more and more work for them and they were liking what I was doing for Good Morning Australia and stuff, t hey came to me and said “now Allan Bond has got this Americas Cup thing happening and we seem to think he might have a chance with this boat called Australia II, so we want to get involved, do you want to go to Newport Island and cover it for us?”
And I couldn’t get there quick enough. I was looking over my shoulder to make sure there was no one behind me they were talking to. Anyway so I went there to cover it for Australia and for Channel 10 and I had 5 months in Newport and that was the real turning point in my life as we now know; Australia II won and I was only live, there was 3 of us there Bob Lobel and a mate out of Boston who was a TV broadcaster for the American market and Dave Vitor who use to own Courageous and myself and we were on air for 8 hours and 10 minutes that day. No one apparently has ever been live on television for 8 hours and 10 minutes and that was the day we won the Americas Cup.
And suddenly my whole world exploded in front of me. Here I was, this new boy in television and suddenly I am worldwide and Australia-wide. But we didn’t realise when we were over in the USA, how big it was back here and to come back and start feeling it and I would walk down the street and people were coming up to me and saying, “are you Rob?” How exciting and so my whole television career went from there.
So, I went to Freemantle for 7 months in 1987 and so they were the glory days and they were back in the good days of television, where the budgets were unlimited and a helicopter was my taxi and all those sorts of things. It was a really good period in life and I think that launched me further up the track and that led to the book writing and everything else. Well I think my first real book came out as a consequence of 83 where I wrote a book about learning to sail, a very layman based book on learning to sail and that went pretty well and then my first real book was writing Sir James Hardy’s biography in 1992’ so now this latest book is my 16th.
OSP: Wow that’s a pretty good run rate.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely.
OSP: I read the book ‘Born to Win’ last year by John Bertrand and when you read about that event, they were almost the first sailing team that were semi-professional, where sports psychology was involved and they acted professionally and they went to bed on time. In reading about Australian teams in previous campaigns prior to 83 they turned up as a bunch of lads on a $20 daily allowance and went out late. So it’s like that was the turning point in which sailing started to become professional, when you see how they conducted themselves and that started opening the gate for sailing as a paid sport.
Rob Mundle: No doubt. Absolutely spot on. The big thing in 1983 was we played a psych game and we played it really well. The hiding of the keel was the best thing that could have been done and they played that game all the time. Bondy “God bless him” was just as much a part of it, but the real man was Benny Lexcen and what he did was brilliant. Warren Jones the manager just played the Americans to a break, it was super and I remember one day when it was happening, Bondy wanted to get involved because he was getting excited, so they had a press conference and they sent Bondy out to talk to the media and they said tell them that we are protesting the Americans under rule XYZ21b clause 4 or something.
So he has gone out there with the claim and the Americans fell for it. There was no such rule. It was just feeding them and just making it more and more difficult and just keeping the Americans guessing and the interesting thing was the Americans actually had a chance, an opportunity to go and see the boat when it was being measured and they didn’t turn up. It was their own fault in so many ways. They could have known what the keel looked like and they could have grabbed that opportunity.
OSP: It might have been complacency.
Rob Mundle: I must say it’s really sad now seeing the Dutch again sticking their heads up and saying we designed the keel and we deserved the credit for it. Benny was just a genius and back in those days a lot of people would have contributed but Benny would have been the driving force, I have no doubt whatsoever and it’s just sad that he is not here to say “hang on guys, here is the truth” so they tend to say “we did it” and there is no one there to argue, but we all know Benny made a massive contribution to it and as Jim Hardy says “when it comes to putting coal into a steam engine to blow the whistle we don’t know which bit of coal does it.” But the concept was Benny’s and a lot of other people worked on developing that concept.
OSP: I have been reading about Ben Lexcen, he was quite an interesting character, genius in lots of ways and troubled in other ways.
Rob Mundle: Brilliant story; born in a little house on the banks of Lake Macquarie with a dirt floor, self-educated essentially, he taught himself how to use a computer, just an amazing guy. He was a good friend for a long while. And where his thinking was coming from all the time, you look at 18 footers he did Taipan and Venom he revolutionised 18 footers and he was playing with N plates back then, he had a thing about centre boards and rudders and all those sorts of things and his mind was always out there. The first boat that he designed for Bondy back in 1969 for the first Hobart Race I did, was the wooden Apollo and she was built in Monavale and all the frames were up that Benny had designed and he walked and said “take a little bit of that frame there, just flatten that out a little”. He could feel the water going around the boat and decided just take a little bit off here and a little bit off there and bingo and she was a great boat, fabulous boat.
OSP: He was just really gifted, one of a generation.
Rob Mundle:A bit like Herreshoff. Herroshoff had a similar sort of feel.
OSP: Not many people have ‘out-connored’ Dennis Connor over the years. He has certainly been the master of his game.
Rob Mundle: And again that was a lot of psych there, a lot of psych and Dennis in the end started falling apart. It’s a bit like what Jimmy Spithill did in last Americas Cup, his psych on the Kiwi’s absolutely destroyed them and it was really interesting to watch, because he was telling porkies half the time, but the Kiwis fell for it. “Well we are working on our boat all night and we are modifying stuff” rubbish, it wasn’t happening at all, but they fell for it and then Spithill turned around and said to Barker “they are 8 -1 up, imagine if they lose it” Well Barkers turned around, well it absolutely smashed him and sadly again its all the psych. The Kiwis put the cart before the horse, they had the jet waiting to take cup to New Zealand, had the street parade planned and everything else, they still hadn’t won the cup.
OSP: After that they opted for a lay day when they could have carried on.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely. Yes, and again pressure and that’s the way to win these days. I hope that Australia gets back into it. I think we will one day and the next generation of boats is going to be really interesting.
OSP: When you think about the Americas Cup, the way its evolved and the way it continues to evolve, how much do you think the evolution of the cup and the deed of gift is around the holders raising the bar to make sure the next challengers find it harder to get a leg up versus the desire to keep Americas Cup yachts at the leading edge of sailing technology, innovation and advancement?
Rob Mundle: Well, it has never been any different since 1851. It’s the oldest trophy in the history of sport. It’s always about raising the bar, dirty tactics and all of that. That is beauty of the Americas Cup, its part of the intrigue. Some people have said to me “these catamarans are not the Americas Cup” but I think it is, that is where the world is going.
The Americas Cup has always been at the forefront of design, technology and equipment. We sailors really get excited about a lee bow situation, where the commentator is saying; “Oh they have gained a metre, they have got a lee bow situation” and we are going wow. Now the poor kids who we want to get excited about our sport and get into our sport don’t understand that terminology so there is nothing exciting about it for them.
That is why I think these catamarans are just sensational and I don’t know where it’s going to go from here, but they have had to bring the size of the boats down this year because it was getting scary as to where the performances was going to go, if they stayed with the same big boats. They would be doing 50+ knots downwind and 30+ knots upwind and people would be killed literally. I know we have had one tragic accident there and they are very dangerous. So they have reined them in and brought them down in size, but it’s still going to be spectacular.
One thing that’s really firmly imprinted in my mind about how good the last Americas Cup was the energy and excitement. I don’t if they have captured that same energy and maintained that towards this next cup. The classic was Thea Williams widow of Keith Williams who was a legend here on the Gold Coast. He founded Hamilton Island, Sea World, was the pioneer of theme parks here on the Gold Coast. I was up having coffee here in Tedder Avenue here in Main Beach one day and Thea said, “Rob, this Americas Cup, what are these boats all about?” I said, “Thea, its where it’s at, its where it’s going to go.” She said, “I have never seen anything more exciting in my life.” She was one who knew nothing about sailing but was getting up at 6am and watching the Americas up.
OSP: Yes, its interesting because in the end it was the fairy tale finish, because they set out to create this global spectacle that’s made for TV in 45 minute chunks and when it was 8-3, it was not looking like that would be the case, but they couldn’t ask for a better finish to the event and a better way of captivating people, it really was a fairy tale finish.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely, it was really exciting. The Americans, or the Australians really, because it was Australians in all the key positions. AUS or USA, it’s the same letters only turned around a bit. And again you see the talent that we have got involved there, it’s a shame in so many ways we are not involved. The next one is going to be exciting, I am looking forward to it. I just hope they get the right amount of breeze in Bermuda so we see them at their best.
OSP: Yes. Watching the last round of the AC45 fleets in Oman in maybe 7 or 8 knots of breeze, doing 3 knots round the marks was not exactly thrilling.
Rob Mundle: I know that’s like on Toucanoes, they were only just faster than that.
OSP: They need to get up and go.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely.
OSP: So as recently as a couple of weeks ago, there is a talk by Oracle of returning to monohulls if they win the 2017 Americas Cup due to the lack of match racing and tacking ability in catamarans. They have said that now they are in 45 foot Cats they are not exactly unique anymore with the other Extreme Cat Events also operating globally. Is there is future with a hybrid version of a Comanche-style 100-foot foiling monohull? Is that a possibility? What do you think the Americas Cup needs to do next in terms of direction?
Rob Mundle: Look, it’s a wait and see really. Let’s see how the 45’s go. I think they could be throwing a few dead fish out there as well because Tom Eman’s getting these new monohulls going in California and I think let’s get this one out of the way, but the one thing about sailing is we have got to have events where there is wind. What really made the Americas Cup television worthy was when it was in Freemantle. It was by far the best Americas ever with the monohulls there in windy conditions.
If we are going to make it entertaining we have got to where there is wind. And we had terrible problems in Auckland a few years ago where races were cancelled and when you have got a worldwide television audience and you have got to say “sorry we are not racing today because there is no wind” its not good. You have got to think audience, you have got to think marketing, you have got to think promotion and you have got to think the sport.
So I think it’s a wait and see here and I think who knows, if Oracle does win it, will they go again? They may say “we are not interested in going again”. Larry Ellison might say that’s enough for me. The Americas Cup will never die and I think it will be great to see the right sort of boats like a Comanche-style or whatever and sailing in big breezes, big spinnakers because the public and the sailors love drama. They love drama, they love excitement. You look at motor racing, half the time people watch it just for the crashes, they don’t watch it for the skill and they want to be entertained with the near misses etcetera. They call this concept “a thousand sadistic sports fans”.
OSP: It’s some interesting speeds now reached by 60 foot foiling monohulls with the big wide hulls.
Rob Mundle: The 60 footer around the world boat is unbelievable with what they do and where is it going to go? Who knows but I think I might have been born about 60 years too early.
OSP: So, tell me about your role on the Selection Committee for the Americas Cup Hall of Fame?
Rob Mundle: Wow, it just came out of the blue and yeah I am honored I am the only Australian on the Americas Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee and it’s a group of people who have had relatively long standing association with the Americas Cup and each year we have a telephone hookup worldwide, we have nominations. We will nominate who we think is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.
It’s at the Herreshoff Maritime Museum just outside Newport and we go through a voting process, a discussion process and we did that just 5 or 6 weeks ago and we were on the phone worldwide for an hour and a half to two hours and then finally we have a vote and work out our worthy winners. And that’s the way it happens. When I got involved in the early days Americans were very anti, surprise, surprise, Ben Lexcen being nominated for the Hall of Fame. So we had to drive that one and get him in there and we did. So that really helped the cause there. It’s a very interesting cross section of people and I think of the people they get in each year. This year, there have been a bit politics for one individual who will remain nameless, but he is on the way to being inducted in the Americas Cup Hall of Fame and not sure if it’s happening this year or if it’s happening next year, but it will happen. So, it’s great, it’s an honour.
OSP: Okay, that pretty interesting. Who are some of the most memorable personalities you have met in Americas cup community?
Rob Mundle: Oh wow! Benny Lexcen not hard to say, most intriguing. I love Iain Murray, I have a lot of time for Iain Murray. Tom Blackaller who was the equivalent of Dennis Connor in so many ways died way too young. He was my co-commentator at the Americas Cup in Freo and he and I had a great rapport. I had a huge level or respect for him. There are so many in it because it’s the elite, its the very very best. Heuy Trehan, tactician on Australia II. He and I were great mates, we had a little quarter tonner ‘Waikikamukau’ which was the first Bruce Farr keel boat ever come into Australia and we won Australian JOG championships.
Huey is just an absolute delight to sail with and you learn so much when you are sailing with a guy of that talent and Grant Simmer who was navigator for that final Americas Cup race. When you talk to those guys about what they did for that final downwind leg and how they calculated where to be and what to do, it was just brilliant and no disrespect to John Bertrand but their tactical and navigation contribution to that final leg downwind was just brilliant and they did everything expected of them and well done them. So, look I could go on and on and on Blakey (Sir Peter Blake) was there and the old red socks era out of New Zealand. So, yes there is just so many.
OSP: And it’s probably fair to say almost you are equivalent but not probably quite on the writing level but certainly on the broadcasting level in New Zealand; PJ Montgomery, have you crossed paths with Peter over the years?
Rob Mundle: Oh God yes, everywhere. The Olympics, the Americas Cups and everything, we are good mates and PJ does a fantastic job and he has been duly recognised in New Zealand. His energy and his enthusiasm and I think his contribution is one of the reasons for sailing being such a high profile sport in New Zealand. And I think New Zealand owes that man a lot when it comes to driving this whole Americas Cup, Whitbread and now the Volvo Round The World Race. He’s a good bloke.
OSP: His voice really created a legacy in terms of sailing for the layman and New Zealand has grown an industry off the back of that enthusiasm. I don’t think they would have had the same growth and demand without Peter.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely, no doubt whatsoever.
OSP: He has made sailing more exciting than it is most of the time.
Rob Mundle: Well that’s the talent of a TV commentator.
OSP: Okay, so jumping back to the Sydney to Hobart Race, this is only one of the most revered ocean races on the planet and you have competed in it 3 times.
Rob Mundle: Yes.
OSP: You have been a commentator for decades and you have been media manager for the last 8 years for the super-maxi Wild Oats. So what is it about this race that entrances a nation on Boxing Day as 100 plus boats sail out of Sydney Heads with many crew members that have completed that race many times, sometimes for decades and often well to their 80s from a competitive point of view?
Rob Mundle: Two things; timing, it’s the perfect time of the year for the media so it gets a profile and it’s in the holiday season but it’s a big part of the history of the racing as well. There is no race in the world to compare with the Sydney to Hobart. If you are going to tick every box as far as a sailor is being concerned, you haven’t ticked every box until a Hobart race is in there. It came straight off the back of World War 2. We had a very war weary community, an Australian society who were looking for new adventure, new things going on in their life and suddenly up bobbed the Sydney to Hobart Race which was going to be a cruise and Ellingworth turned around and said hey let’s have a race, 9 yachts in that first race and the newspapers promoted it, the public went to the headland, we had drama and as much as Rani disappeared of the face of the earth and suddenly bobbed up and got line honours and handicap honours.
Everything was right about it for the Australian community, so, it went from there. Right from the very first race its future was guaranteed. Where the race is unique is that it’s got so many elements to it and so many unknown qualities. It’s the only race in the world that starts in a harbour and finishes in a river. You have got a coastal element to it going down the New South Wales coast with currents with southerly busters, you go inshore and you go offshore so its very tactical in that respect. Then you have got one of the worst stretches of water in the world, which is Bass Strait, so shallow as we saw in 1998, massive waves, current coming down the coast, being compressed by a storm coming out of the west and just heinous conditions.
And then you have got the Tasmanian Coast where you quite often you get westerlies and you get all sorts of funny breezes down there and then you got a spectacular finish across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River. So there is no race in the world to compare to it, with what it can confront you with and what it offers in terms of excitement and it’s a fabulous way to get from one party to another.
OSP: It’s a special place to be.
Rob Mundle: Well, I have sailed in and I think I have covered 44 now, the first time I went down there, the plane had propellers so that tells you something.
OSP: So if someone is listening to this podcast and thinking about either competing in the Sydney to Hobart Race or Hamilton Island Race Week, how would you sum up the experience required?
Rob Mundle: Yes, I am one of the organisers of Hamilton Island Race Week and I think the only person to have been at all of them, its number 33 this year. The best way is like what we are offering here at the Southport Yacht club. Get into sailing through our twilight sailing, then into offshore opportunities and work your way up. To go and jump straight into a Hobart Race is really is dangerous more often than not and you are putting a lot of pressure on the other crew if you don’t have any real experience. So, work your way up, do twilights, do club racing, do weekend racing.
Hamilton island race week around the Whitsundays - there is no better place to sail in Australia or the world for that matter and you get all sorts of conditions, great people, great atmosphere but slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. And again as we discussed earlier when we were talking about Fatal Storm, the Hobart race can be incredibly dangerous and you have got to be really prepared for it. So, it’s not something where like people say “I am going to sail around the world”. There is a guy here on the Gold Coast who bought a yacht to sail around the world, 6 months later he sold the yacht because he suddenly realised how hard it’s going to be. So just work your way up.
OSP: And probably 90% of its in the preparation planning and training especially in the race to the south.
Rob Mundle: Yes and only go with people you know and can trust.
OSP: Yes that’s a good point because you are really going to have to count on them…
Rob Mundle: Absolutely.
OSP: … all sorts of situations.
Rob Mundle: …In any sort of sailing. I wrote Allen Bonds authorised biography and I said, “What is it about ocean racing?” and he said,” I could be sitting on the rail of the boat going windward and the guy next to me can be anything in life, a labourer, an accountant, a millionaire, he can be anything.” But when you are out there in an ocean race you are only as strong as the bloke next to you. It’s a chain of energy, a chain of people and you are only as good as the weakest link. And he said that is the beauty of this sport it’s a leveller and its just a very exciting experience.
OSP: It’s certainly a great leveller and with all the variables; every day is different, every race is different and every year is different.
Rob Mundle: Absolutely.
OSP: Ok, so Bob Oatley passed away recently and he has is an icon here in Australia in terms of his profile and his contribution obviously on the winery side of his life, but also on the sailing side, how would you sum up his contribution to yachting in Australia?
Rob Mundle: Bob is the greatest man I think I have ever met and very close friend for 40+ years. His contribution to the sport is enormous, (forget the boats), creating opportunities for young people to go sailing. Bob was a great leader and a great believer in people and if he saw talent Bob really encouraged it and presented the opportunities. And he has launched more young people into our sport who are now in the upper echelon I think than anyone. Sure he had a big boat but he went out of his way to provide those opportunities.
He was an absolute inspiration in so many ways and he really will be missed although I think Sandy his son, who is going to run the campaign, the boat is going to keep going, is pretty much a clone and is equally enthusiastic. So hopefully we will see the Wild Oats 11 campaign or if there’s going to be a Wild Oats 12 campaign who knows, will go on for some years to come. But what Bob did with his boats and he was adventurous, he essentially introduced the canting keel to offshore racing at the world grand prix level. He has never missed a beat with keeping ahead of, or up with the latest technology. Everything about what he has done personally has been nothing short of exciting.
OSP: Wow. That’s great summary of a great individual. I think we were cheated a little bit last year with Wild Oats tearing its mainsail having to pull out of the Sydney Hobart and not getting to see the outcome of that new bow section.
Rob Mundle: That would have been and I not saying because I am involved with Wild Oats 11, but I am not going to say if we had gone on, we would have won it, we can’t say that because it’s an ocean race, but it would have been a very interesting finish, I think it’s the best way to put it. And the guys were first to admit it was ‘operator error’ on the boat. They have dealt with countless reefing situations on the boat before but they got caught by a squall, which they couldn’t see in the middle of the night and there was a bit of operator error and ‘bingo’ the race is over. And you get that the mainsail just started shredding and sail makers on board, they got to onto the deck, and the sail makers just said we are going north, we are going home, there is no way we can go on with this.
OSP: Yes unfortunately and so do you think they will be back this year in the same format with the same hull?
Rob Mundle: Definitely. And I will give you a scoop because I am writing it next week so don’t put this in the podcast, but you probably will; Wild Oats 11 will be at Hamilton Island race week this year.
OSP: Great. Quite a spectacle.
Rob Mundle: So you better bring Ocean Gem.
OSP: I will be there.
Rob Mundle: Fantastic.
OSP: So, Rob I haven’t known you that well. I have been racing at the club for a couple of years. You have been racing here the majority of the time, I think on other boats and more recently on your own and your are doing surprisingly well with 5 wins from…
Rob Mundle: From 7 starts, not bad for a caravan
OSP: You are pretty understated in terms of what you do and honestly if someone was walking past you at the club, they wouldn’t know its you that’s lining the book shelves in the book shop and the voice on TV when it comes to Sydney Hobart and Hamilton Island race week and it appears you have crammed a hell of a lot into your life…
Rob Mundle: Still going, no stopping
OSP: So, what’s next?
Rob Mundle: And that’s the thing ‘fate’, just go with the flow. I have always gone with the flow and I was amazed how opportunities have bobbed up. To be philosophical I think too many people get to where they should be and they don’t stop to enjoy the roses and go with the flow, they have got to fight on and on and on.
If you go with the flow you can only ever have a good life and its stress free. And it’s amazing what bobs up because your subconscious is always looking for the opportunity, you are not driving yourself toward looking for opportunity. And I think thats where I have been very lucky and I will finish this book and I will do the Hamilton race week and I will do the Hobart Race and probably other nice things between now and then who knows what next year will bring, just let it happen.
As I say, the early days in my television career here, I was the new boy on the block and then within a year because we won the Americas Cup, there I am standing on the lawn of the White House doing live cross for TV back in Australia and I have got all these TV mates saying, “How come you have only been on TV for a year and here you are standing on the lawn of the White House with the President of the United States in front of you and you are doing live crosses?” It’s just the way it’s been, I have been very lucky.
OSP: Well I think you are a great example of; if you are passionate about what you do, you do it well and you can truly only master it, if you are passionate about it and you are really have combined your passion with your career.
Rob Mundle: It’s the old story, do what you know and do it well and don’t try to be something you are not.
OSP: Well, I think that’s a great way to wrap up this conversation and it’s been really fascinating Rob and I am sure there is number of other chapters and opportunities ahead when we could dive deeper into just some of the things you have done given the length and breadth of what you have done. Its certainly been a privilege to spend the last hour talking to you and understanding more about Rob Mundle and it’s been a real privilege to have you on the ocean sailing podcast. I am sure this will be extremely popular with our listeners as it unfolds over the next few months.
Rob Mundle: I really appreciate it and I wish you well with the podcast, I think it’s fantastic what you are doing.
OSP: That’s great, thanks Rob.
Rob Mundle: My pleasure.
Best selling Books by Rob Mundle
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- 3 Feb 2019 Episode 68: Vernon Deck
- 18 Jan 2019 Episode 66: Dennis Webster
- December 2018
- 18 Nov 2018 Episode 62: Nick Moloney
- 16 Sep 2018 Episode 57: David Young
- 23 Jun 2018 Episode 52: David Smyth email
- May 2018
- December 2016
- 28 Sep 2016 Episode 23: Lisa Blair Show Notes
- 28 Sep 2016 Episode 22: Hamilton Island Race Week Show Notes
- 28 Sep 2016 Episode 21: Ian MacKenzie Show Notes
- 18 Sep 2016 Episode 20: Roger "Clouds" Badham Show Notes
- 18 Sep 2016 Episode 19: Ocean Gem Crew Show Notes
- 17 Sep 2016 Episode 18: Elise Currey Show Notes
- 5 Aug 2016 Episode 17: Gerry Fitzgerald Show Notes
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
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