Butterfly Effect

  • Club
  • NEWS
  • By Damian Maclennan
  • 17 Nov 2015 10:00:00
©Andrea Francolini

2014 CYCA Veteran Ocean Racer of the Year Phil Molony with CYCA Commodore John Cameron


A sound boat, good crew and seamanship - it is those three elements, according to Phil Molony, that make sailing both fun and competitive.

Growing up on the Victorian coast, Molony was born into a family who appreciated sailing. As a teenager he lived for chasing the rare sighting of  great white sharks and catching waves with his brother in their 10 footer. “When I think back about what we did in that small boat in absolutely ridiculous conditions, the size of the waves and unpredictable nature of it all, I guess we were just teenagers having fun,” Molony laughs. It is that element of fun and realisation that makes Molony such a respected sailor at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

It was in those ‘ridiculous conditions’ that he really understood and appreciated what he and his boat were capable of. All those crazy days off the Victorian coast getting to know his boat, has resonated with Molony who in 2014 competed in his 25th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and was awarded the CYCA Veteran Ocean Racer of the Year.

In 1975 Molony sailed in his first Sydney Hobart on board Lollipop with an experienced crew who all knew the capabilities of the yacht. When asked how he felt heading into his first Sydney Hobart, Molony simply smiled and said “excited.” “I had complete confidence in the yacht and crew as I’d been sailing on it before in other offshore events. In my first offshore race to Montague Island we had to retire, but so did the majority of the fleet so I knew the limits of the yacht.” Those two sailing elements; crew experience and boat limitations, were solidified in his sailing nature from the beginning of his offshore journey.

Molony believes that getting to know your boat and its limitations is the key to developing your seamanship skills. Understanding the correlation between your boat and seamanship combined with having a consistent crew is pivotal to successful offshore sailing.

“I have a great crew, a broad selection of males and females across all age ranges who are all more than capable and offer something to Papillon,” Molony said. “I feed them, I look after them, feed them Rum and Coke and appreciate the fact that they all sail for different reasons and sometimes they cannot sail because of family commitments.

“We are a family crew, we all go out on the Harbour on Australia Day and I’ll happily allow crew to take their families out on the Harbour when we are not racing.”

Believing in his crew is the foundation of sailing success of which Molony credits to learning from the best and being able to crew for other well-regarded sailors.

“I moved to Sydney 45 years ago, I had always wanted to live up here so when I was offered a promotion with work I drove up towing my Fireball and that was that,” Molony said. Growing up sailing Fireball’s, it only took one offshore ocean race for Molony to be hooked. “I first went out on Lollipop from Pittwater out of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. It was an amazing feeling and that is where is all started, I joined the CYCA in the 1980s and sailed on Witchdoctor.”   

As Molony reminisces about the boats he has sailed on, the people he has sailed with and the ocean he has encountered, you cannot help but be enchanted by the way he remembers events with such detail and utter admiration for those who he learnt his quality seamanship skills from. Those men he can count on one hand and speaks of in the highest possible regard: Patrick Kline (Lollipop), MaurieCameron (Witchdoctor), John Cameron (More Witchcraft), Kim Jaggar and Rob Makin.         

Rob Makin has been sailing with Molony for nine years after moving to Australia from the United Kingdom on the back of competing in four Fastnet Races and one Transatlantic.

“Phil is a man of energy, while he may not be in the spring of his youth, he has an incredible amount of energy and passion for offshore sailing,” Makin said. “He prides himself on good seamanship, safety and keeping his crew safe.”

Makin laughed as he alluded to the competitive nature of Molony. “He is definitely not afraid to put the odd spinnaker up and push very hard.”

For the last couple of years Makin has been Sailing Master of Papillion which is further testament to Molony trusting and empowering his crew to get the best possible results out of his yacht that he has prepared to the best of his ability.

“You always know with Phil that the boat you are getting on is extremely well prepared and he spends a lot of time making that happen,” Makin said. “He is well prepared and takes a huge amount of time to get ready for the blue water season but he does it all and it pays off.” Within that preparation Molony is well known for his punctuality and efficiency when submitting race documents, another valuable attribute towards his seamanship finesse.

The key to race preparation: “You find good people to look after your yacht, let them do their job and pay their invoices on time,” explained Molony. “I have a to-do list every month and it is not hard, especially getting documentation in to the sailing office on time.”

Molony’s efficiency, seamanship and experience in offshore racing are first class. No better teacher for Makin.

“Having sailed with the likes of Kim Jagger and Phil it is incredible the wealth of experience they have, they seem to know the smell in the air and call the changes accordingly,” Makin said. “They don’t always get it right but most of the time they do and it all comes down to their experience.”

That experience extends to all facets of Molony’s sailing résumé. When you board Papillon the first thing you will note is how tidy and organised everything is, experience has taught him to be organised. White labels clearing indicating what belongs where, Papillon is a well-oiled and maintained machine.

In 2006 Molony purchased his the first Papillon, an Archambault 40. Competing in CYCA races, Molony sailed in three Sydney Hobart Yacht Races before upgrading to an Archambault A40 RC in 2010. “Papillon is a great movie,” Molony explains. “It is the French word for butterfly and there was a movie made after a French convict who had a butterfly tattoo, Papillon.

“One of the great joys I have had in owning Papillon is that I have taken around a dozen people on their first Hobart and many came back for more.”

Papillion is a good all-round boat according to Molony who recalls leading the first day-and-a-half of the 2013 Sydney Hobart with a generous north-easterly filling the mainsail. “She is a good all-round boat but most of the offshore racing is more of a mind game that really hinges on the crew.”   

A man of logic and progression, Molony embraces technology but maintains that a sound boat, good crew and seamanship will always underpin the success of a yacht.

“I have always said that when I am in a nursing home that I want to be able to say that I had a boat called Papillon, we were competitive and we had fun. You have to have fun.”

Stacey French -CYCA Media

On board Papillon Image: Contributed

On board Papillon

Papillon in Action Image: David Brogan, www.sailpix.com.au

Papillon in Action


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