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Imparting love of sailing his greatest legacy

Sailing master Ashley Chapman was one of Australia's great dinghy sailing enthusiasts, and mentor for more than 40 years to hundreds of young NSW sailors. He raced his 4.8-metre Corsair class dinghy Sadie Too at Budgewoi Sailing Club until just 18 months before his death.

Chapman talked with the American pilot Amelia Earhart before her fateful take-off from Lae in the then mandated territory of New Guinea in 1937. After the Japanese invasion of New Guinea in 1942 he trekked to safety across the forbidding Bismarck Range in one of the epic escapes of the war.

However, it is as a passionate dinghy sailor after he and his wife Sadie retired to Budgewoi in 1968 that he is remembered.

Ashley Leonard Chapman was born on July 29, 1913, in Hounslow, London. His interest in sailing was first sparked by the fishing smacks he loved to use to explore during annual family seaside holidays in Kent.

His widowed mother emigrated to Australia in 1926 and her children joined her as opportunity and funds allowed. Chapman arrived in 1930 aged 17.

He became a cadet court reporter earning 12s/6d a week. When the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened for traffic in March 1932, his was the first bicycle through the barrier on his new Malvern Star, claiming cycle Ticket No 1 at a cost of threepence.


He graduated as a court reporter in 1933, then parlayed his excellent shorthand into a stenographer/clerk job at Burns Philp's trading post in Salamaua, on the north coast of New Guinea, at £18 a month, tax free.

When the Shell group separated its Salamaua petroleum agency from Burns Philp in 1934 to better meet growing demand for fuel following the discovery of gold inland, Chapman, just 22, became Shell depot manager. His new responsibilities still left time to develop his sailing skills in dug-out catamarans on the waters of the Huon Gulf.

At Salamaua he met (and had a crush on) the anthropologist Margaret Mead. He would swim with her, infatuated with both her beauty and her sense of independence. Feminism, when it arrived years later, always had an unalloyed supporter in Ashley Chapman.

In 1937, Chapman took a launch across the Huon Gulf to Lae to see Amelia Earhart as she passed through in her attempt at a record circumnavigation of the world.

He met her at her hotel and attended a dinner party for her that night. On the morning of July 2, 1937, he was in the small crowd that watched Earhart nurse her heavily laden Lockheed into the air, headed for tiny Howland Island in the mid-Pacific. She was never seen again.

Chapman met and married Russian-born Sadie (nee Romanov) in New Guinea in 1938. After the Pacific war broke out, she caught one of the last trading ships to Australia but Chapman stayed to help refuel RAAF aircraft stationed at Salamaua airstrip.

When the RAAF pulled out he destroyed his depot and struck out inland on January 25, 1942, the last civilian to leave. He watched the Japanese land from a coastwatcher's camp in the hills above.

After a six-week trek across the mountainous spine of the island and an open-canoe voyage to Port Moresby, Chapman was repatriated to Australia, where he enlisted in the RAAF.

Because of his local knowledge and fluent pidgin he was then sent back to New Guinea as a coastwatcher and intelligence operative in the Milne Bay and Bougainville theatres.

Ashley and Sadie developed a pioneering self-serve general store at Malabar after the war and prospered, retiring early to the central coast, where he co-founded Budgewoi Sailing Club in 1972 and devoted the rest of his long life to imparting his love of sailing to others.

In a speech in 1990 he observed: ''Hundreds of youngsters have gone through my sailing classes over the years. I cannot recall one who became a social liability.''

Sadie died in 1997. Ashley Chapman was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000.

This weekend, from 11am on Saturday, there will be a regatta, Calling All Skippers, at Budgewoi Sailing Club in memory of Ashley Chapman.

Kathryn Bourkeand Tony Maiden