Obituary: Bruce Dalling — sailor, lawyer, lifelong adventurer

2008-07-08 00:00

Pietermaritzburg advocate Bruce Dalling, most famous for winning the 1968 transatlantic single-handed yacht race from Plymouth to the U.S. on handicap in the yacht Voortrekker, died peacefully on his farm in Howick on Monday night.

He would have celebrated his 70th birthday on August 16.

Apart from yachting, Dalling also enjoyed sky-diving and was instrumental in establishing the Pietermaritzburg Parachute Club. He owned a four-seater aircraft named “Charlie”.

Dalling was described by colleagues in the legal fraternity as “colourful, adventurous, professional and well-liked”.

Judge Kevin Swain said Dalling was his Master at the Bar in 1977 and also sat with him as his assessor on many occasions.

“What I will particularly remember him for is his robust sense of humour, and I will miss him,” Swain said.

He said Dalling was “a compassionate, humble person who had a wonderful ability to forgive the shortcomings in his fellow man”.

“He was a fine judge of character and had an uncanny ability to extract what was the important issue in any case where he sat with me as an assessor,” he added.

Swain said Dalling’s modesty was evidenced by his reluctance to talk about his achievement as winner of the transatlantic yacht race. “He did amazing things in his life … I urged him to write his autobiography, but he never did.”

Dalling studied agriculture and law at the then University of Natal, and practised as an advocate in Pietermaritzburg from the mid-1970s.

He gave up due to ill health and then turned to lecturing at the University of Natal, where he taught his future son-in-law, Pietermaritzburg Judge Piet Koen, during his final year in 1982.

Dalling was born in Johannesburg, and was the son of a mining captain, William Dalling, and his wife, Catherine. He went to school at St John’s in Johannesburg.

After matriculating he sought adventure through the sport of sailing. It was during this period that he spent two years as a policeman in Hong Kong, having landed up there in his yacht.

Advocate Alistair Dickson SC said that when Dalling joined the Pietermaritzburg Bar in the mid-1970s he made his mark as an expert in various fields, including agricultural compensation.

“In these fields, he worked with the late Professor Peter Hunt and now retired Judge Piet Thirion.

He was a very well-liked member of the Bar. He was known for his highly professional disposition and he appeared in many high-profile cases.

“He really was a colourful character and an unbelievable chap. What I admired most about him were his yachting exploits. It is an amazing person who can pull something like that off,” he said.

Dalling leaves his wife Carol, a son, William, who is a pilot in Namibia, and two daughters, Cathy and Kerry. He was the devoted grandfather of three grandchildren.

Carol Dalling said yesterday her husband lived life to the fullest. He was a natural sportsman who excelled at rugby, tennis, golf in addition to his more exotic sports. “He had broken almost every bone in his body,” she said.

His funeral service will be held at St Luke’s Anglican Church in Howick on Friday at 10.30 am.

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