Trygve & Magnus Halvorsen

Trygve & Magnus Halvorsen

Trygve and Magnus Halvorsen are among the most successful ocean racers ever to have sailed out of Sydney Heads. Their records in the Sydney Hobart, some of which still stand, overshadowed their distinction in yacht design and boat building.

  • Magnus and Trygve Halvorsen with one of their winning Sydney Hobart trophies, the Trans-Tasman Cup Magnus and Trygve Halvorsen with one of their winning Sydney Hobart trophies, the Trans-Tasman Cup

Their record performance in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is unlikely ever to be broken and overshadow their unquestioned distinction in boat building, yacht design (Trygve’s great talent) and ocean yacht navigation (Magnus’s self-taught speciality).

Trygve joined the CYCA in 1946 serving on the Board of Directors and Rear Commodore 1953-54.  Magnus joined in 1947 and had an active role in the Safety Committee

The brothers designed and built all their boats meeting great success in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with five overall wins (1954 Solveig, 1957 Anitra, 1963 - 65 Freya), in addition to five second-place finishes.

Magnus went on to win the race again in 1974 as navigator on Love & War, as well as Line Honours twice, 1971 (Kialoa II) and 1975 (Kialoa III). The race record, set by Kialoa III in 1975, stood for 21 years.

An extract of some material on the Halvorsen brothers in Ratbags to Respectability (A history of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) may be accessed HERE.

In 2012 Trygve sat down with Peter Shipway for a wide ranging interview, covering the early days of the CYCA, their Sydney Hobart boats and the 1962 and 1965 America's Cups, plus much more.  The interview may be accessed here.

An obituary published following the passing of Magnus in 2015 is reproduced below. 

Date: September 7, 2015

By: Randi​ Svensen​ (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Magnus Halvorsen​ 1918–2015

"In 1959, I did a crash course in celestial navigation, self-taught from a book I picked up at a ship chandlery (marine supplies shop) in Honolulu. I did not turn a page until I fully understood it." 

This determination and attention to detail characterised Magnus Halvorsen​ in sport and throughout his career. He was the last of that generation of revered Halvorsen​ brothers.

Magnus Halvorsen on the Norla.

Magnus Halvorsen on the Norla.

Magnus Halvorsen​ was born in the small southern Norwegian town of Helle​ on August 18, 1918, the son of boatbuilder Lars Halvorsen​ and his wife Bergithe​. Magnus grew to be the tallest of Lars and Bergithe's​ seven children, his strong physique seeing him in good stead as a sailor, rugby player and, later, as a mainsail trimmer on Australia's first America's Cup challenger Gretel, in 1962.

In 1922, the family moved to Capetown​ to find a better life, but two years later, on the advice of an Australian neighbour, they sailed to Sydney. Magnus left school at 14 and joined the family's boatbuilding business, sweeping and making the tea, before his father taught him how to draw line plans and make mould loftings​ (in wood) from the drawings. He inherited his father's eye for detail and drive for perfection.

Lars had looked forward to having his five sons working with him in Lars Halvorsen​ and Sons but died in 1936, aged only 49. The family was determined to continue his legacy and after his death they formed Lars Halvorsen​ Sons Pty Ltd, named in his memory.

During World War II, Lars Halvorsen​ Sons built more than 250 vessels for the war effort, from 38-foot air-sea rescue boats to 112-foot Fairmiles. Magnus was responsible for production planning of the Fairmiles. But his dream was to be an air force pilot. While he passed the entrance exam, he was rejected because his work as a boatbuilder was deemed essential to the war effort.

Lovewar Crew

The Crew of Love and War

In 1948, Magnus met Paula Wilson at a party and was smitten. The couple became engaged on August 18 1948 – Magnus's 30th birthday – and were married in 1949.

Magnus was a stalwart rugby player and competed in more than 60 First Grade matches for the Northern Suburbs Rugby Union Club. But, in 1947, he gave up the game to concentrate on sailing. His brother, Trygve​, was also a keen sailor and together they made a formidable team. They collaborated on and off the water, designing and building a number of yachts for competition and family cruising. The brothers' Sydney to Hobart Race debut came in 1946, in the 34-foot engineless​ Saga. Their maiden race saw them battle a storm in Bass Strait that lasted for days, with winds in excess of 60 knots and seas of around 7.5 metres. They were then becalmed in the Derwent River but still managed second place on handicap.

Peer Gynt​, Solveig, Anitra​ V (their fifth yacht), Norla​ (named for their wives, Noreen​ and Paula) followed and, finally, the famous Freya on which Magnus and Trygve​ acted as joint skippers. Freya is still the only yacht to have delivered three successive Sydney to Hobart wins on handicap: in 1963, 1964 and 1965. In 1965, the brothers shipped Freya to Britain for the Admiral's Cup and, in 1966, Magnus and Trygve​ shared the Ampol Yachtsman of the Year trophy.

Freya Crew 1963

Freya Crew 1963

The brothers raced together in many 'Hobarts' but Magnus, including his later career navigating maxi-yachts, was able to boast five Hobart wins on handicap and two for line honours, as well as five wins from five starts in Tasman Sea racing. Writing in Yachting in Australia after the fourth Trans-Tasman win, veteran yachting journalist and author Lou d'Alpuget​ said "After 1951 no one seemed especially interested in organising another demonstration of the Halvorsen brothers' skill as ocean racing designers, builders and sailors, and Trans-Tasman competition between top class craft and crews lapsed for ten years."

Each yacht the Halvorsen​ boys built was based on the experiences of the last. One of the most innovative builds was Anitra​ V, whose silky smooth hull was glued, with no nails or caulking​. Yet another technological advance, watched closely by the yachting fraternity, saw Anitra​ carrying sails made from the new fibre, Dacron. Anitra​ came second in the 1956 Sydney to Hobart in hurricane-force winds and finished first in 1957 (even though her rudder had been damaged by a sunfish) and second in 1958 and 1959.

But it was Freya's design that represented the culmination of all the brothers' experience in design, building and sailing. Freya's hull evolved from the designs of Solveig and Anitra​, with emphasis on strength and fitness for rough water sailing. Despite being designed and built with tough conditions in mind, Freya delivered wins in both heavy and light conditions and could carry full sail to windward in a 30-knot blow.

In the mid-1960s, Magnus and Trygve​ left Lars Halvorsen​ Sons. Along with long- time Halvorsen​ employee, Trevor Gowland, and steel fabricators, Jim and Jock Morson​, they formed Halvorsen​, Morson​ and Gowland. Magnus became the firm's Managing Director. Their first commission was to make alterations to Gretel in preparation for the 1966 America's Cup.

Soon, however, Magnus decided to go out on his own as a marine surveyor, an exacting job that he relished. And, when Trygve​ retired as an owner-racer in 1969, Magnus sailed Freya to San Francisco for sale. Today, it's still said that no Australian was brave enough to buy Freya, because failure to win in her – after her outstanding successes – would be put down entirely to the crew's ability. Magnus went on to navigate successfully on a number of yachts, notably Kialoa​ III which, in 1975, established a line honours record that stood for 21 years. It says much for Magnus and Trygve's​ original attention to detail and standards of quality that Freya is still afloat, as are most of their yachts, lovingly looked after by a new generation of owners.

Magnus became more and more concerned about the quality of new yachts being built. He called them "cocktail shakers" and, in 1979, he went public with his concerns, predicting a disaster in the Sydney to Hobart Race if standards weren't improved. His concerns were proven prescient when, in the 1998 race, six men died and five yachts sank.

Magnus was a Foundation life member of the Sydney Rugby Club and Northern Suburbs Rugby Union Club and a long-time member of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. He was the official race starter of the Sydney to Hobart race in 2005 and 2009 and was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000. Perhaps Magnus Halvorsen's​ legacy to sailing can best be expressed in his own words. "I have lasting memories of some great sailing, with many staunch shipmates … but I must add that in matters like seamanship and my flair for celestial navigation, it pays to carry the right genes. These came through our mother's lineage, though our artisan skills came from father, Lars Halvorsen."

Magnus Halvorsen​ is survived by his children, Anders, Jan, Niel​ and Ruth, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Paula died in 1993.