by Jim Gale
At 12 minutes past noon today, a beautiful varnished timber yacht sailed back into the winner’s circle of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race after an absence of 37 years.
Ray White Koomooloo
As Ray White Koomooloo crossed the finish line and entered Constitution Dock to take Division E handicap honours in the race, old heads thought back to the same location in 1968 when Koomooloo won the Sydney Hobart after four days, 10 hours at sea.
Another old head looked on and thought it was a job well done. Don Freebairn (73) restored Koomooloo after she had passed through seven other pairs of hands since Dennis O’Neil won the Hobart race with the Kaufman 41 design all those years ago.
Freebairn had wanted to be aboard Ray White Koomooloo this year, having missed out last year when he dislocated his shoulders after tumbling through the forward hatch of his boat before the 2004 race. Ray White Koomooloo retired last year after leading her division into Bass Strait.
Today, Don Freebairn saw the fruits of his labours – an eight-year restoration program to bring Ray White Koomooloo back to her glory days, including 20 coats of varnish on her Honduras mahogany hull.
Don Freebairn has a love of timber boats. Eight years he would sit on the waterfront at Manly in Brisbane and look at Koomooloo.
‘I bought it off an owner who had had it for 13 years,’ he said. ‘It was a little bit tired and needed a new owner.’
He and son Michael re-laid the deck, refurbished the mast, and replaced every nut and bolt.
Today, they beat Koomooloo’s 1968 time by 12 hours. ‘It surprises us, but they sailed the boat pretty well then and we sailed it pretty well now,’ Michael Freebairn said.
‘We’ve kept the boat pretty original. It is pretty much as it was - same mast, same keel.’ Ray White Koomooloo suffered no damage – to its gear or to its sails. ‘It’s as we got on it,’ he said.
At one stage, the old yacht challenged the new maxi Wild Oats XI for lead on corrected time in the race. ‘They had pretty good weather but we were out there for a bit longer so we saw a bit more weather,’ said Freebairn.
‘Running downwind on this boat, its lock to lock (steering) and after about half an hour you are pretty much buggered.’
Though his ocean racing days are over Don Freebairn will get as much satisfaction from the win as his son. ‘Now I sit on the dock and watch her - I get a buzz out of that,’ he said.