American yacht designers, yacht builders, sail designers, yacht owners and professional and amateur sailors have made a major contribution to the international status and development of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race since the early days of the ocean classic.
US maxi yachts have taken line honours seven times and one, Kialoa III, held the elapsed time record for 21 years, but Rosebud is only the third US-owned yacht to win the Tattersall’s Cup for first place overall on corrected time.
Rosebud follows in the illustrious wake of the converted 12-metre American Eagle and the maxi ketch Kialoa III, both of which took out the rare double of line and handicap honours in the 1970s.
The success of the Transpac 65 against a crack international line-up of IRC racing yachts augurs well for future American participation after somewhat of a drought in recent years.
Designed by Bruce Farr & Associates, Rosebud’s win further strengthens the position of the now US-based New Zealander as the most successful designer of overall winners of the Sydney Hobart.
However, famous American naval architects such as Phillip Rhodes, Britton Chance, Sparkman & Stephens and Bill Luders designed many early line and handicap winners. In recent years, successful US designers have been Nelson/Marek and Reichel/Pugh, highlighted by the hat-trick of line honours by their canting keel creation Wild Oats XI.
Ondine II, owned by the prominent American yachtsman S. A. (‘Huey’) Long, technically was the first US yacht to contest the Sydney Hobart in 1962, taking line honours that year and again in 1968. A cruising yacht from Hawaii, Bachelor’s Wife, took part in the 1950 Sydney Hobart, but Hawaii had not yet become a State.
Unquestionably, the two outstanding American skippers to win the Hobart have been Ted Turner with American Eagle in 1972 ((first on line and handicap) and Jim Kilroy who won line with Kialoa II in 1971 and then with Kialoa III in 1975 and 1977 (, setting a record in 1975 and winning the double in 1977).
Turner, of course, went on to become the successful defender of the America’s Cup in 1977 with Courageous against Alan Bond’s Australia.
Back in 1972, after getting the gun with American Eagle, Turner had to a nervous wait before the Bill Luders-designed converted 12-metre was confirmed as overall handicap winner.
Turner made a colourful image as he paced the dockside in Hobart, chomping on a cigar and constantly checking his watch as the time margin for on corrected time narrowed.
In the end, American Eagle won by a mere 19 minutes with calms at the entrance to the River Derwent costing Australian Gordon Ingate victory in his veteran Caprice of Huon.
This was the first of many encounters between Ingate and Turner although, unfortunately, Ingate as skipper of Gretel II did not reach the America’s Cup challenge at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1977.
Ingate, now in his 80s, will be sailing on the Derwent again next month, helming his International Dragon class yacht Whim in the prestigious Prince Philip Cup. Turner has long retired from yacht racing.
I well recall Kialoa III’s record-setting victory in the 1975 as she glided up the Derwent in the early hours of a dark December night in 1975 to set a time of 2 days 14 hours 35 minutes and 56 seconds, a record that was to stand for 21 years.
However, the Sparkman & Stephens-designed maxi ketch’s double win in 1977 was a remarkable performance in a race full of drama.
A then all-time record fleet of 130 boats lined up for the start with one of Kialoa III’s big boat opposition, the Australian yacht Helsal being forced out of the fleet before they even reached Sydney Heads after a collision with a ferry.
A sharp southerly change hit the fleet on the second afternoon of the race, with winds of 50 knots. Millions of viewers later saw the effect of this change on the two leaders, Kialoa III and another US maxi ketch, Windward Passage, when the official film of the race was shown on television.
The camera crew in a helicopter recorded some remarkable sequences of the crews of the two yachts struggling to drop their spinnakers and then reef their working sails as the southerly ‘buster’ came blasting out of a clear sky.
Kialoa III crashed her way through mountainous waves to lead the storm-depleted fleet home and also hold her time to win on corrected time, a remarkable effort for a maxi-rating yacht.
It is interesting to note that the runner-up to Kialoa III that year was Syd Fischer in Ragamuffin. Thirty years later, Fischer’s latest Ragamuffin, a Transpac 52 is again runner-up to an American boat, the Transpac 65, Rosebud in the 63rd Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race!