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Sydney Hobart winner Peter Packer dies in Rome

by Peter Campbell on 18 May 2012
Rampage - now races in Sydney n/a Bashford
Peter Packer, OAM, founder of a Western Australian dynasty of ocean racing yachtsmen and the first WA yachtsman to win the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, has died while holidaying in Rome, aged 86.

Packer, who was also a noted surgeon in Perth until his retirement, skippered the Ben Lexcen-designed Rampage to victory in the 1975 Sydney Hobart after placing third in 1973.

With two sons, Ron and Chris Packer, in the crew, Rampage sailed before hard following winds of up to 40 knots to cover the 630 nautical mile course in 76 hours 43 minutes and 3 seconds, a remarkable 8.2 knot average for a yacht of her size.

Both Ron and Chris and their youngest brother Willy have gone on to become noted international yachtsman. Ron and Chris crewed on Police Car in the winning Australian team at the 1979 Admiral’s Cup, also a test of their seamanship in galeforce weather.

Peter Packer was born in Capetown, South Africa, in 1926, the son of Admiral Sir Herbert Packer, RN. After service with the Fleet Air Arm during World War II, he studied medicine at Capetown University.

He and his wife Glen and their four sons, Ron, Chris, Tony and Willy, moved to Western Australia in 1961, where Peter was appointed Consultant Otologist at the Royal Perth Hospital the following year.

He performed the first successful stapedectomy in Peth and later in 1980, with colleagues carried out the first Cochlear implant in that State.

Outside of medicine he was a keen sailor, campaigning his yacht Corsair in offshore races in WA waters before having Ben Lexcen design him the Sydney Hobart winner Rampage.

Peter retired in 1994 after 32 years service at the Royal Perth Hospital and was appointed Emeritus Consultant. In recognition of his work he was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2003.

According to the West Australian newspaper, after enjoying one of the best days of his life visiting the Colosseum and the Senate in Rome, Piet (as he was known affectionately by his family) fell down some steps on his way to breakfast the following morning.

Over the next week he was lovingly cared for by dear friends, Rae and Peter Breidahl, and his eldest son, Ron. Sadly, he never recovered and passed away on 9 May.

Coincidently, American Jim Kilroy, who took line honours in record time with his maxi ketch Kialoa III in the same 1975 Sydney Hobart that Peter Packer won overall with Rampage, celebrated his 90th birthday on 1 May.

Rampage is 37 years old. She was designed by Bob Miller and built in Freemantle for the Packer family in 1973 to enter in the 1973 Sydney Hobart. Rampage is a 40 footer, triple diagonal cold moulded mast head sloop.

She was entered and won her division in the 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. She won the race on handicap in 1975 when Kialoa won line honours. Rampage went on to competitively race in numerous coastal races in Victoria and Queensland. Rampage became a cruising yacht in the early 1990’s and her current owner bought her in Mooloolaba in January 1997.
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