Written by Di Pearson
Taylor’s son Andrew (Drew) did his first Sydney Hobart at age 16, and has raced all his 26 with his dad, a record that is unlikely to be beaten. Navigator Kingsley Piesse has done 26 of his 35 Hobarts with Taylor, James Permezel 28 of 31 and Gavin Gourley 29 consecutively of 31. Collectively, including Taylor’s 37, team Chutzpah’s mainstays have done 232 Sydney Hobarts – incredible for a relatively small crew.
The Melbourne-based orthodontist cut his sailing teeth back in his native New Zealand: “I grew up in Wellington and started sailing a P class at age eight. We lived near the water and my father was always interested in sailing. We moved to Melbourne when I was about 15, and continued to sail.
“Steve Shields, a university mate, built a keelboat, and we started sailing at Royal Yacht Club of Victoria. Then I sailed Sunburst [Taylor did his first four Hobarts on her from 1980]; I sailed in 1984 with Peter Rowsthorn (Challenge II) and then started building Chutzpah, ready for the 1987 race.” He was hooked.
A recent highlight in his yachting life came in August, when Taylor and six of his regular crew won the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race with his sixth Chutzpah, a Caprice 40.
“Winning is important, but sailing well is just as important. The race was great because the guys got a buzz out of winning it – and I got a buzz out of them winning it. We sailed well and the boat did the rest for us,” Taylor recounts.
“It did give us satisfaction to beat the TP52s and others,” he says. TP52s, including second placed Ichi Ban, filled the next four places.
Taylor is, however, still pursuing the elusive Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race win. As an owner, the Victorian has placed second overall in 1990 and in 2014, as well as fourth (twice), fifth and sixth.
GUNNING FOR GLORY
With so many placings up his sleeve, what were the most frustrating outcomes? It is perhaps surprising that for Taylor, watching Ed Psaltis sail his previous Chutzpah, to victory in the fatal 1998 Hobart, while Taylor himself retired with his new Chutzpah, was not one of the great blows.
“It would’ve been a hell of a lot harder if I didn’t think Ed was such a good sailor. He’s like us, an amateur, and with a similar long-term crew. He’s a great ocean racer. The sport needs more guys like Ed,” Taylor states.
“I’m just relieved that more people weren’t killed – and delighted that Ed got the boat home in one piece. We had a lot of input into the design,” he says of the Hick 35, designed and built by Victorian Robert Hick.
The toughest to take was “The race that Hicko – Roger Hickman – won, 2014. It knocked us around mentally – we did all we could. Then we sat around in the pub waiting for all the boats to come in. He won, we were second.
“The year Sovereign got the double  was hard too. We had it won at the Iron Pot, but stopped and drifted in the Derwent – and watched the win go by.”
Sovereign’s skipper, David Kellett, remembers: “24 hours after we finished, Beyond Thunderdome had failed to beat us, but we had to wait another six hours before Chutzpah was ruled out – a tense 30-plus hours.
“That was only one of Bruce’s near misses, I can’t remember the year, but do recall watching him drifting in the river just south of Wrest Point when his time ran out. He was that close. I hope his luck turns, as it did in the Gold Coast race,” Kellett says.
“My very first boat was a Davidson. They were fantastic boats – you could sail against boats like Brindabella and win. They were hard to sail on the ocean, but a lot of fun. To beat the maxis if you sailed well was something,” Taylor says.
“The latest boat [a Caprice 40 launched in 2007] was ahead of its time when we built it. I asked Reichel/Pugh to design the best off-the-wind boat they could – I love sailing fast,” he says. That boat won its Hobart division in 2007, was second in 2009, third in 2010 and 2013, then first in 2014.
The Chutzpah team has won its division 12 times in over 30 years of campaigning, but Taylor confesses to disillusionment with the IRC: “It’s okay for boats 50 feet and up, but not for the rest. The [IRC] rule really destroyed the entry level keelboat. I’m sure the administrators didn’t mean that to happen, but it did. Now things have changed a bit; the newer 40-footers are getting more like mine.
“But 10 years ago, when we built, the others were like caravans. I think we lost a generation of sailors when IRC came in – they moved off to sail one-design boats, Etchells, etc.”
On crew longevity, Taylor says, “Everyone needs to realise they are as important as everyone else – that’s how I hold onto crew. Everyone respects each other, and as a crew, we work well together.
“We’re amateurs. There are no rock stars – but we’ve done a lot of miles together – so I can sympathise and understand what it’s like for the bow person, for instance.”
Gavin Gourley explains that Taylor is not just a skipper, but a friend. “He was very kind when I first started yachting, dragging me along at 18 or 19. All the guys are friends, and we’ve been exceptionally spoilt by Bruce. He’s looked after us from the word go – always been extremely generous. He’s very good at working out people’s strengths and knows where we all fit and how it all works. And out of all the boats he’s owned, this is by the far the best to sail.”
Permezel agrees, adding: “He’s a very good sailor, and over the years, has become a great friend. We’ve done a lot of miles together. He is terrific to sail with.”
Coming up for his 38th Sydney Hobart, and approaching his 70th birthday next year, Taylor says, “Racing is attractive to me because of the bunch of guys I do it with. Offshore racing continues to evolve, and even when you become geriatric, you still count.
“The smaller the boat, the longer you’re out there – and the more violent the motion. We get belted around a lot more. I don’t know how many more Hobarts I’ve got in me, but as long as the guys want to front up and do it, I will. I won’t do it with people I don’t know.”
Taylor owns and races two yachts – the Caprice 40 and a Sydney 38, which he raced to Hobart seven times and continues to race in one-design events with some success.
“The beauty of the 38 is you see instantly whether you’ve done well or not. You know when you’re on the money.”
And the Taylor dynasty will continue, through son Drew, who lives in Hong Kong where he races his own boat with success, sometimes joined by Bruce. “And I’ve got a couple of granddaughters (Drew’s daughters) who sail, and one is really getting into it.”