Gillian pictured second from right

Vale Gillian Carter-Bracken

Many members from the mid-1970’s onward will remember Gillian Carter-Bracken who passed away on 16th June 2020.

I first met Jill Carter – I have difficulty writing Gill because we always pronounced it Jill – after she returned from London in the mid-1970’s and joined the CYCA, having somehow become interested in sailing. Not just sailing but ocean racing, a sport which had very few active women participants at the time.

She became the first female full member of the club which, in those days, was code for offshore sailing member as distinct from associate member.

Jilly threw herself into offshore sailing with her usual enthusiasm and raced short ocean races with Geoff Lee and Rolf Mische on Natelle II and Taurus II. I took her on as cook on my boat, Quadrille II, for her first long ocean race in the 1979 Sydney – Noumea. The first 24 hours of the race were easy sailing but then we ran headlong into a 30+ knot sustained blow on the nose that included heavy seas and lasted for 4 days.

In those conditions we would have been grateful if the cook had provided us with cup-of-soup or cup-of-noodles or wives’ fruit cake or maybe sandwiches at a pinch, but we had forgotten to tell Jill.  The first and worst night of the storm, one by one, we were called below to be served roast leg-of-lamb with mint sauce, gravy and 3 veg. As far as Jilly was concerned, it was on her menu, storm or no storm.

When my turn came, I watched in wonder as  Jilly, with one foot holding the cooker oven closed, one hand holding a pot in place on the stovetop, the other hanging grimly to a hand hold against extreme heel, braced herself against the bulkhead, occasionally sipping from a glass of champagne. We ate well that race.

After 6 days or so at sea, we finished the race at night and had to anchor behind Amedee Island at Noumea’s outer reef because the channel through the lagoon to the port was not lit back then. It was beautiful night and we decided to broach the case of French wine provided by the Cercle Nautique Caledonien welcoming boat. Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

During this bacchanal, Jilly fell down the main hatch and split her upper lip wide open. Without formal anaesthetic, her lip was expertly stitched up by one of the crew – also well lubricated – and she didn’t utter one whimper. Later, in Noumea, Jilly, with a patched lip and a black eye and displaying no hint of embarrassment, met her boyfriend as he came off another boat. Our crew, hardened offshore wallopers all, were impressed!

Jill made a name for herself in Sydney’s money market, brokering corporate loans for Bain and Company, a saleswoman par excellence. One year, Bains sent her on an all-expenses-paid holiday as a bonus. During this round-the-world junket she was departing Toronto, Ontario, airport for the U.S. west coast when the aircraft broke down and there was a long delay.

Jill and her travelling companion, a young lady who was her partner-in-crime at Bains, had spent some time in the business class lounge before the flight and, further fuelled by more free business class grog on board, became a touch unruly.

The Captain was called and was attempting to smooth talk Jilly and her pal into behaving themselves, desperately tried to make a weak joke. “You’re from Australia, you must know my old buddy, John Brooks”. That stopped them both in their tracks! The Captain and I were both ex-Canadian Air Force and had served on the same fighter squadron together. Small world! Jilly dined out on that one for years.

A talented writer and a raconteur of note, Jill told jokes at the Quiet Little Drink and Don Mickelborough’s annual birthday bash. Anywhere Jilly was, gales of laughter followed. However, in the 1980’s, Jill had a very bad car accident that wrecked her foot. The orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Barry Bracken, also a yachtie, did such a good job repairing her that Gillian married him, but the injury ended her offshore sailing.

When Barry and Jill sold up in Sydney and moved to the Hunter Valley, they both gave up regular sailing and the vineyard and winemaking became a large part of their life. I tried to talk her into using the internet for communication and for writing but, to the end, for some reason, she stubbornly resisted the medium I thought was made for her.

A sad loss. She will be much missed.

John Brooks

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