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Kialoa patriarch, Jim Kilroy dies at 94 years

by Sail-World, Peter Allison and Andy Rose on 1 Oct 2016
Jim Kilroy (1922-2016) (helm) created the Kialoa legend on the ocean racing circuits of the world . ..
One of the legends of sailing, Jim Kilroy died on September 29, 2016 at the age of 94 years.

From humble beginnings in Alaska, Kilroy and his siblings were raised by their courageous and loving mother in Southern California during the Great Depression. As a contributor to the household income a young Jim Kilroy quickly learned the value of hard work and resourcefulness.

His self determination and insatiable curiosity proved to be the keystones to his future success.

He learned to fly in the US Army Air Corps Reserve in 1945 and this led to long standing friendships with key players within the aviation industry. His engineering background and innovative eye led him into construction, including design of high tech facilities for the aerospace industry.

His highly successful business interests and a growing family did not prevent him from taking on civic leadership roles. He was a political insider for the Republican party and witnessed first hand the political careers of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He was also the Chairman of the committee in the Los Angeles bid for the Olympic Games.

Kilroy had extraordinary success in campaigning a series of five yachts, all named Kialoa, in ocean races around the world, beginning in 1956 with Kialoa I and followed by the launching of the 73ft Kialoa II in 1963.

Before the completion of Kialoa III in 1974, Kilroy and his highly skilled, fiercely loyal crews had circled the globe on Kialoa II, winning races and breaking records in many of the blue water classic events.

The performance of Kilroy and his crews on Kialoa III from 1975 – 1977 was unrivalled and their list of victories culminated in winning the World Ocean Racing Championship. During this period they set new standards of excellence in maxi yacht racing with their winning ways.

To see the long crew list who sailed with Jim Kilroy aboard the Kialoas click here and to read the individual impressions and recollection, click any name that has a hypertext link.




Former Kialoa crew member Peter Allison gives a personal perspective on what it was like to be involved in the Kialoa team and sailing with Jim Kilroy in particular. He writes:

On reflection, sailing with Jim Kilroy was a remarkable experience. I had the good fortune to sail on both Kialoa II and Kialoa III between 1970 and 1978.

The New Zealander Bruce Kendell had only recently taken over as the sailing master on Kialoa II when I first sailed on the boat in California. It was during the summer of 1970 that Kilroy decided to do the 1971 Transpac from Los Angeles to Honolulu and then cruise through the Pacific to Australia to compete in the ’71 Sydney-Hobart race.

On meeting Kilroy for the first time I was impressed by his physical presence and pleasant, engaging personality. On getting to know him better I soon understood why he had already been so successful both in business and on the water. He was a dynamic man with a huge raft of talents.

In coordination with Kendell, Kilroy was always fully involved in crew selection and ensuring the boat was match fit for forthcoming races. He was a standout owner/skipper and the primary helmsman on board. He always captained a watch and had an intimate understanding of how his boat handled and performed in all conditions. From a crew perspective, he always encouraged us to look for ways to increase boat speed, particularly in light air.

On the few occasions that we experienced either gear failure or a stuff up due to human error he always remained very calm and his only demand was to keep the boat moving as fast as possible while the problem was being remedied.

Routine tacking, gybing and sail changes invariably slow the boat down. Mistakes made by crew during any of these manoeuvres has a multiplying effect in reducing boat speed, sometimes for prolonged periods. To reduce the risk of error, we always had clear communication on deck to ensure all crew were in position and ready to carry out the change.


Executing headsail changes or spinnaker gybes on big boats in heavy conditions can be fraught with danger and can sometimes lead to pandemonium on deck if things go wrong.

There was an expectation on Kialoa that crew would maintain sharp visual awareness in carrying out their individual functions to reduce the distraction of everyone shouting at once.

From my personal experience both Kialoa II and Kialoa III were great boats to cruise and race on. We sailed to remote parts of the globe that some people could only dream of seeing. Kilroy always had high expectations and more often than not we enjoyed success in winning races for line honours in major ocean racing events. Kialoa III had an outstanding record for a maxi yacht in also winning races on handicap and shattering course records.

The wonderful crew camaraderie had a galvanizing effect in maintaining crew loyalty to Kilroy and his Kialoas over many years.


The collision between two US-flagged maxi yachts, Windward Passage (Fritz Johnson) and Kialoa III (Jim Kilroy) during the first race of the 1977 Southern Cross Cup sailed ahead of the 1977 Sydney Hobart Race, was a talking point around international sailing circles for several days.

Then followed the Herculean effort to get Kialoa III back into trim for the Sydney Hobart.

Following are two perspectives on the incident. The first from the book released in 2012, Kialoa US-1: Dare to Win, written by tactician Andy Rose, and the second by crewman Peter Allison, positioned further forward in Kialoa.

' Kialoa US-1: Dare to Win' has many contributions from her crew along with the story told by owner/skipper Jim Kilroy.

Tactician Andy Rose's view:

We all were looking forward to the Southern Cross series in Sydney before the Sydney-Hobart Race, especially because our archrival, Windward Passage, was also competing. The first race was a triangle, windward leeward course and it was blowing! As I remember, it was probably about 18-20 knots at the start and increased from there. I was tactician and Jim was steering. We got the start and had an intense weather leg with Passage but led her to the weather mark. She was a bit faster on the reaches but we held her off to the next mark and then sailed down the second of the reaching legs on the triangle with a large chute, and full mizzen (we were still a ketch in those days).

As we approached the leeward mark, Passage was threatening to get an 'inside overlap' on us which would have required us to give them room to round the mark and would have resulted in them passing us. My crewmate from the America's Cup on Australia, Michael Summerton, was on the bow of Passage and both boats were going about 13-14 knots.

As we approached the 'two boat length circle' by which time the overlap would have had to be established, they did not get quite close enough to us to establish it. I stood on the back of the boat and yelled to Mike that there was no overlap and he agreed. (They were about a half boat to a boat length or so behind us at the time).

The crew did a great job of hoisting a storm jib, dousing the chute and preparing boat to go upwind. I then turned back to Jim and asked that he not get too close to the mark at first, and instead to turn slowly so that when the bow reached the mark, the boat already be established on its 'close hauled' course going upwind.


That makes it a certainty that the boat behind will have to sail in disturbed air and then will have to tack away at relatively slow speed. It would allow us to gain back part of what we lost on the reaches right away. But, if you didn't expect us to do a good rounding, it would seem to open up a space between the mark and us ... even though when our turn was complete, there would be no such space. As Jim turned up into the wind, I happened to look back and saw that Mike was waving his helmsman to come 'up' to a course that would put them between us and the mark. Or, as it turned out, a course that would put them right through our cockpit!

David 'Fang' Kilponen was our navigator and he told me later than when I saw Passage intended to go in between us, I said something like, 'I'm getting the heck out of here!' (My words may have been more vivid.) In any event, as it was clear that they were headed right at us, Fang had seen enough and jumped overboard, reckoning as he said later that I had 'saved his life' (it would take more than an 80,000 pound boat hitting us to kill Fang).

Evidently, I ran forward to get out of the way (Sorry, Jim!). A couple of seconds after that, they 'T-boned' us, that is, hit us on a perpendicular course almost right at the steering station.

Passage had a bowsprit with a large steel bobstay that fastened the sprit to the hull and allowed the headstay to be attached at the front of the bowsprit. The solid bobstay had a diameter of an inch and a half or so, and acted like a can opener on our strong aluminum hull, punching a hole a couple of feet down from the rail and about the same distance into the deck and cockpit. They were far enough in that the bowsprit tore our mizzen.

One of our grinders was a doctor, and when he looked back and saw their bow in our cockpit, our wheel bent, and no sign of Jim. His first thought was that Jim was dead.

Meanwhile, on the bow, Jim's son, John Kilroy, Jr., was thrown overboard by the force of the collision, which pivoted the boat about ten to fifteen feet into the wind and literally took the bow out from under him. He was so busy with getting the chute down and tidying up that he didn't even know that we had been hit and instead thought he had just clumsily fallen overboard. Far from it!


A couple of us tried and eventually succeeded in pushing Passage out of our cockpit and freed the boats, which allowed Jim to struggle up from where he was huddled under the badly bent wheel to leeward. Not only was he not dead, he wasn't even hurt. His first words to me were something like, 'Well, Andy, I told you I'd do anything you told me to do.'

At that moment, as I have told many people over the years, I decided that I would sail around the world backward with a blindfold on if Jim asked me to. Talk about grace under pressure!

Once we got everyone back on board and returned to the dock under power, we protested Windward Passage and the race committee agreed with what was pretty obvious to us, that Passage had no overlap and therefore had no right to go inside of us. While it didn't help us much, she was disqualified from the race and would have had to pay for the cost of our repair although I don't know if Jim ever charged them.

We obviously couldn't sail in the rest of the Southern Cross Series but Bruce 'Goose' Kendell quickly assembled his welding equipment and some new aluminum plates and patched the holes in plenty of time for the Hobart Race. Now, we had even more reason to want to beat Passage in that one.

Peter Allison saw the crash off Sydney Heads and its aftermath this way:

Moments before the collision at the rounding mark, I recall being on the mid deck and seeing Windward Passage heading towards our port quarter at about 12 knots.

My first thoughts were that they were going to dip under our stern at the last moment, but they closed on us so fast and hit with such enormous impact, that they mounted our cockpit.

Jim was driving and narrowly averted serious injury as he threw himself clear of the helm. It was just as well as the bow sprit of Passage severely damaged the wheel. John Kilroy Junior was on the foredeck tidying up after the spinnaker drop, and the violent lurch threw both he and our Aussie navigator into the water.


There was quite a big sea running at the time and once we established that there were no serious injuries to anyone on either boat, we assessed the damage as Passage slowly slid off our cockpit combing.

Kialoa had a large hole in the hull above the waterline and significant deck damage. This was caused by a combination of the bow and the sawing action of the heavy wire bobstay which connects the bowsprit to the waterline.

The impact was so heavy the bobstay parted and put Passage at serious risk of losing their main mast as the bowsprit and headstay were no longer supported.

The two boats limped back to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and work began in earnest to repair the damage in time for the Sydney-Hobart Classic only days away. In the meantime, the drama on the water continued into the protest room. Kialoa won the protest but little did we know that there would be a further close encounter between the two boats as we raced neck and neck down the NSW coast towards Hobart and a ‘Southerly Buster’ brewing in Bass Straight.

The close quarter duel we had with our arch rival Windward Passage was scintillating stuff, but the tactical blow dealt from our afterguard was legendary.

We were tight reaching under spinnaker and well within sight of Passage who was pretty much abeam to weather and close in shore. At this point, the water was flat and we were enjoying beautiful sailing conditions but we knew it was all going to turn to custard when we encountered the forecast SW gale.

A call was made from the cockpit to get the number 5 on deck and start to reef the main. The wind intensified very quickly but we fortunately dumped the kite before it became too difficult to handle.

We can only surmise that Passage thought we were premature in our shortening of sail as their delay in dropping their spinnaker was very costly. They crossed our stern fighting with their spinnaker and within half and hour we had gained a healthy lead in the fight for line honours. The weather deteriorated and the seas built significantly over the next 30 hours as we crossed Bass Straight, but any discomfort was more than compensated for by knowing Passage was behind and well below us in equally ugly conditions.

The weather abated, the sun came out and spirits soared as we sailed across Storm Bay and into the Derwent River. Into the evening, the conditions lightened considerably and we finally drifted across the finish line, all sharing that feeling of elation in being on Kialoa and finishing first.

Jim is survived by his wife, Nelly; his children Sue, Anne, John, Trice and Dana, his stepchildren Bea, Michele, Mike, Rick and Cece, and all their families including 17 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren.






X-Yachts AUS X4 - 660 - 2Jeanneau Sunfast 660x82Zhik AkzoNobelb 660x82

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