The sight of Wild Oats XI storming up the Derwent River under her black spinnaker, to take line honours in the 2006 Rolex Sydney-Hobart, was certainly impressive, but other events beat it for sheer drama.
In 2006, Volvo Ocean Race winner ABN AMRO One had entered the Sydney Hobart and everyone hoped for an answer to the question “Can a Volvo Open 70 beat a 100 foot maxi?”
It looked as though it might be close run, until both ABN AMRO One and Maximus dismasted. Maximus’ mast landed in the cockpit & several crew had to be airlifted to hospital.
The abandonments of ABN-AMRO II and Maximus disappointed many, but, in the eyes of most Hobart followers, the saddest event of the race was not, the demise of those two line honours contenders, but the tragic loss of one of the most beautiful boats in Australia.
Rob Mundle wrote: When the yacht they called "The Floating Steinway", the classic 38 year old timber sloop Ray White Koomooloo, surrendered to the Tasman Sea yesterday, a significant part of a glorious era in Australian ocean racing was lost.Her hull lines came from that Australian legend Bob Miller, who changed his name to Ben Lexcen and created Australia II,the yacht that ended the longest winning streak in sporting history and took the America's Cup in 1983.
Ray White Koomooloo was launched at a time when Australia was making its presence felt for the first time on the international ocean racing scene. Her rivals on home waters were other greats, like Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin and Arthur Byrne's Salacia II. They were all superbly crafted in laminated timber by the maestro of the period, Cec Quilkey, near Sydney's Botany Bay.
"It's a very sad day," the yacht's original owner, Denis O'Neil, said in Sydney yesterday, after hearing that the yacht had sunk while competing in the Sydney-Hobart race. "She obviously left an impression on a lot of people because I've had countless calls already from people telling me what a great yacht she was."
O'Neil sailed the yacht to the outright handicap victory in the Hobart race the year she was launched, 1968. She also represented Australia on two occasions in the world ocean racing teams championship, the Admiral's Cup, in Cowes, England, but it was how the yacht was presented, as much as her superb sailing form, that made her the standout.
She was exceptional, both internally and externally.
The hull, built from four diagonal laminations of Honduras mahogany, was richly varnished so the quality of construction could be appreciated. The plush interior also featured varnished mahogany, the taps were plated in gold and the lounge, in the main saloon, was a Chesterfield in dark green leather.
"She was a beautiful yacht." O'Neil said."We spared nothing when we built her.She was very strongly built, but I remember saying to myself as we bashed our way across Bass Strait for 35 hours in a southerly gale the year we won, 'I hope she holds together'. The seas were really big and we were crashing off wave after wave." O'Neil said that his crew, led by sailing master Colin Betts, loved the yacht so much that they pulled out chamois as we sailed up the Derwent River to the finish and started making her look like new.
Like a piece of antique furniture, or a classic car, Koomooloo has always held a special appeal within its own world. That appeal was enough to lure Brisbane yachtsman Mike Freebairn into buying her a decade ago. Over the years, he has done a magnificent restoration, working all the time to ensure the yacht retained her original charm, and she remained a competitive racer. Last year, she won her division in the Sydney-Hobart and, until the wind failed her in the closing stages, she stood a chance of winning overall on handicap.
Yesterday, 60 nautical miles off Narooma, Ray White Koomooloo - as she was known for this race - was revelling in her preferred conditions and again looking strong on handicap. Suddenly that all came to an end. Her hull was ruptured by the impact that came from crashing over a massive wave. Hours later, when the crew realised their effort to save the classic lady were in vain, they accepted rescue.
A short time later, Freebairn went through the gut wrenching and highly emotional experience of turning his back on his beloved yacht for the last time. It was inevitable that she would soon disappear below the surface of the Tasman Sea.