Mick MacRobb (1966-2016)

(by Rob Mercer)












In one of the myriad tributes, Mick was lauded as a raconteur.

And this is a fairly unusual word, so I checked it out to make sure I actually understood what it meant. The simplest definition I could find was ‘a gifted storyteller, able to spin amusing tales from everyday life’.

There is a lovely photo of Mick sitting under a tarp at Mystery Bay, in very heavy weather.

Before breakfast that day, we decided to sty until gales & blinding rain eased. Just to give you an idea of the lost of topics covered BEFORE breakfast, I can clearly recall the following:

Handcrafted knives, and the temper of various steels; The alloying process; Fencing & the use of the sabre; How much he missed Lyn & the family; A brief counterculture of youth counter culture in the ’80’s including mods & skinheads, leading to a detailed discussion of Doc Marten boots, the politic of racism, and how various groups opposed or supported it and How much he missed Lyn & the family; The music & bars of the inner city at that time contrasted with rural life in & around the Gippsland area when he was younger; The benefits of owning Daschunds as pets, and how much he missed Lyn & the family & the dogs; Various weather prediction services; The difficulty of setting up your camera to take really good shorts on the ocean, including several possible custom camera mounts on the drawing board in the Flat Earth loft; Radio operation for local Coastguard and the risk of crossing the bar at Lakes Entrance; The merits & drawbacks of various sail materials, including tear resistance, UV stability, ease of use, and suitable for kayaks & other craft; He then dismantled a kayak light, to assess the merits & likely serviceability of the product & he came up with several possible tweaks to make it better.

The he mentioned how much he missed Lyn & the family.

We then had a in depth chat about what to have for breakfast, including the nutritional merits of different diets for sea kayakers, and sitting under 3m of thin nylon ripstop nylon, in the pouring rain, with gale force winds blasting the tops off the waves just across the beach, we really couldn’t have been happier (albeit a little homesick).

What is the value in all this you may ask? Well the gift of the raconteur & certainly one of Mick’s many talents was to be able to see the extraordinary within the ordinary, to celebrate the detail & the nuances in a world of overstatement and hyperbole. And to help us enjoy the many simple pleasures of our lives, and see the real value in many everyday things. It was always done with humility & humour.

Later the same day we heard about the trial of being a dyslexic printer and typesetter, at a rural newspaper and the antics of his pet Daschund, both of which had John & I trying not to fall off the picnic bench laughing, into the deluge that awaited us at beyond edge of the tarp.

The stories were always kind & not critical of others, usually creative involving a novel approach to solving a problem.

Another accolade or tribute that resonated strongly for me was of Mick as a gentleman & also a gentle man. But this is not to say he wasn’t capable of grit & grace under pressure.

A couple of days later on the same trip our southerly wind had only just eased a little, it was still blowing hard enough to steepen the waves, with frequent spilling crests making for quite wild surfing rides up the coast past Bateman’s Bay. Just off the Tollgate Islands, our mate John capsized & much to our relief he rolled straight back up. Unfortunately the force of the water against the sail damaged the rigging, but to John & my amazement Mick was able to calmly raft alongside John’s kayak, and re-rigged & adjusted the sail stays to perfection. This is a task I find difficult in my lounge room, yet Mick did a better job than I could ever manage, despite being surrounded by the fury of wild day at sea.

Mick’s incredible success with his simple, yet ingenious Flat Earth Sails, took a unique & longstanding aspect of Australian sea kayak culture & took it to the world. It’s no understatement to say that he is the guy who globalised sea kayak sailing, all the way from his humble loft at Eagle Point. It wasn’t just his technical skill, he readily acknowledged the pioneers of kayak sailing both in Australia, and Scotland, and would accept advice from anyone willing to give. He was a great collaborator, and very skilful at providing tutorials to those less confident with the installation & application.

To give you an idea of how wide Mick’s reach into the world of sea kayaking high achievers went, here’s a list of how extraordinarily successful Mick’s sail designs have been.

Each & every one of these paddlers embraced Mick’s sail as a vital piece of equipment in ensuring the success of their expedition.

The first ever Greenland to Scotland paddle with Olly Hicks & George Bullard earlier this year.

The first Aleutian Island Chain Traverse across the Bering Sea with Justine Curgenven & Sarah Outen, 2014

Stuart Trueman’s circumnavigation of Australia, 2011

The water tribe extreme open water event in the US, where they’ve even included a racing class based entirely around the specifications of Mick’s .8m sail.

As well as these stellar achievements, it has been the universality of Mick’s sails, their ability to equalise the speeds in a group of different strengths & abilities, effectively lightening heavy kayaks, and increasing the range & thereby the safety of ordinary paddlers, out there every weekend, doing extraordinary things.

And finishing basically as we speak on Sabai Island in the Torres Strait, a lady who Mick has supported for the past 5 years on her odyssey paddling from Germany to Australia, Sandy Robson. Here’s what Sandy had to say to Mick on hearing of his passing:

“Rest in Peace my lovely friend. Your spirit will live on in the wind blowing in my sail Mick”

Sandy Robson

“With his innovation and skill, Mick changed the profile, not to mention the speed, of modern sea kayaking. A generation of adventurous kayakers mounted sails on their kayaks and turned wind into a joyous excuse to play. Mick’s sails made a long expedition day more pleasant. With his productivity and vision, he shared his passion and helped kayak sailing gain recognition worldwide. With his genuine kindness, he made friends and loyal fans who will miss him deeply, even as we celecrate the joy he brought to our lives by being himself, following his heart, and working doggone hard. Sail on, Mick. In the wind we will feel your spirit.”

Ginni Callahan

“Mick did not invent paddle sailing but what he did was design a rig that was easy to handle on the water and could be retrofitted easily to almost any kayak. If you try paddle sailing, you will almost certainly become hooked on its fun. It all looks so simple but that is always the key to any successful design. From his tiny workshop Flat Earth kayak sails have almost single handedly reintroduced paddle sailing to mainstream sea kayaking in the the UK and Europe. So Mick, thanks for putting so much fun into our World and being such a great example of how to lead a good life.”

Douglas Wilcox