Please select your home edition
Ronstan 2020 - Sailmon MAX - LEADERBOARD

Rolex Sydney Hobart Race - Distilling Rolex Sydney Hobart history

by Jim Gale on 19 Dec 2015
Graham 'Scooter' Eaton and Keith Batt next to Maxi Ragamuffin Jim Gale
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - She was one of the greatest maxi yachts of her day; winning line honours three times, first as Bumblebee IV in 1979, and then as Ragamuffin in 1988 and 1990 and she last raced to Hobart in 1993.

For the last 20 years she has been thrilling charterers in Queensland, but in 2015, Maxi Ragamuffin has been painstakingly brought back to full racing trim. On Boxing Day spectators can marvel again as the 36 year-old German Frers design punches her way out through the Heads, bringing back so many memories of one of the great eras of this remarkable race.

The big boats fighting it out for line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart have always held an irresistible glamour. These days it’s the mesmerizing speed of a Wild Oats XI, the jaw-dropping acceleration of Comanche. Lithe, athletic, not an ounce of fat to be found anywhere in their exotic carbon-fibre hulls, these giant blue-water skiffs epitomize the modern, professional aura of elite sport in 21st century Australia.

In the 80’s and 90’s, the age of the great aluminium hulled maxis, it was all about resilience and power. The stately American Nirvana may have wrapped that power in Newport Rhode Island elegance; the pretty Siska in brash West Australian bravado, but it was still raw power.

When John Kahlbetzer‘s Bumblebee IV burst onto Sydney Harbour in 1979, she oozed brute force. A prize fighter, uninterested in a point’s decision when a knockout would do.

These big, heavy maxis roamed the world, from one big race to the next. They were little ships. Be it Valetta, Monaco or the CYCA marina in Rushcutters Bay, we plebs would gaze in wonder at the wealth, and yes, a different kind of power, that these giants represented.

“She is a very powerful boat, and she bites if you let her get away from you,” muses Graham ‘Scooter’ Eaton, Maxi Ragamuffin’s tireless boat manager come skipper. “She is a tank, state of the art in her day, no compromises. But a cruising boat compared with today’s V70s.”

Kahlebetzer won line honours in 1979, then took her overseas to beat the best in the world. In 1984 Syd Fischer bought her, called her Ragamuffin, and campaigned her in six Hobarts, winning line honours twice; in 1988 and 1990. However, soon the first carbon-fibre maxi, Windward Passage II, would bring the curtain down on the aluminium age.

It has been a mammoth job getting Maxi Ragamuffin back to racing trim. “She’s been fully stripped and rebuilt from stem to stern,” Eaton says “We took 95 percent of the deck gear off. All the winches were stripped and we found that 50 to 90 percent of each winch had to be rebuilt and there were no spare parts available anymore. Everything had to be custom made in Sydney.

It hasn’t come cheap. Keith Batt, the CEO of Nant (Whisky) Distilling Company and Maxi Ragamuffin’s owner, thinks there hasn’t been much change out of a million dollars. Buying the boat was the cheap part. But he has no regrets.

“It’s been just incredible, the enthusiasm and passion that everyone involved has brought to this project, which started as a marketing idea. I do some sailing and I asked if we could sponsor a boat in the race. When they came back with the cost, I thought we might just as well buy a whole boat. I googled boats for sale and there was Maxi Ragamuffin. I flew up to Queensland straight away. “

For Batt, his attitude to the boat is similar with his approach to whiskey making. “We make our whiskey in traditional ways, in restored stone buildings, built by convicts in the 1820s. We like tradition.

“This boat represents something about Australia. Everywhere she goes people come to see her because they remember her and tell their kids about her.”

And in keeping with the whiskey tradition, Maxi Ragamuffin will carry a very unusual cargo: two barrels of whiskey will mature on the way to Hobart.

“In the past they used to mature whiskey by putting it in barrels as ships’ ballast,” Batt explains. “They discovered that this gives the whiskey lovely colour.”

Of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, Batt says: “We’re going to be trying hard, she is stunning to sail. To see our helmsman, Roger Snell, put her through her paces is amazing. He throws her around like 20 footer. She loves going upwind.”

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts on Boxing Day, December 26, at 1pm AEDT .

X-Yachts AUS X4 - FOOTER - 2Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW FOOTERSelden 2020 - FOOTER

Related Articles

America's Cup Rialto: Nov 30 - A revealing day
On the basis of what was seen on Monday, currently there are no standout performers The Practice racing expected to start in a week or so, will give some inkling as to how this Cup will unfold in 2021. But on the basis of what was seen on Monday, currently there are no standout performers.
Posted today at 3:07 am
Shattered dreams
It's impossible not to feel sorry for Alex Thomson having to pull out of the Vendée Globe It's impossible not to feel sorry for Alex Thomson having to pull out of the Vendée Globe. He cut a dejected figure in the cockpit of his Hugo Boss IMOCA as he made his way towards Cape Town following the damage to his starboard rudder.
Posted on 30 Nov
Kevin Escoffier (PRB) activates Distress Beacon
Jean Le Cam alters course to assist Kevin Escoffier, 40, who is racing in third place in the Vendée Globe solo non-stop around the world race, positioned some 550 nautical miles SW of Cape Town, has triggered his distress beacon.
Posted on 30 Nov
News from X-Yachts - Launch of the X56
Now a thorough series of sea trials will be conducted Yesterday late in the afternoon, the X56 was launched for the very first time! It was a tremendously glorious sight to see the new beauty hit the water!
Posted on 30 Nov
A message from Alex
Speaking for the first time after his dreams of Vendée Globe victory end Alex Thomson speaks for the first time after his dreams of Vendée Globe victory end in heartbreak.
Posted on 30 Nov
Vendée Globe Day 23 morning update
The big chill: The sailors are now in a strong south-westerly flow The leaders of the Vendée Globe fleet are now in a strong south-westerly flow approaching the Cape of Good Hope. Leader Charlie Dalin, is expected to cross the first great Cape this afternoon.
Posted on 30 Nov
PredictWind's new weather routing algorithm
Completely new code that offers unparalleled performance PredictWind has announced a new weather routing algorithm with completely new code that offers unparalleled performance.
Posted on 30 Nov
Vendée Globe Day 22: Be thankful for small merci's
Huge support for Alex Thomson as he heads for Cape Town Charlie Dalin, the Vendée Globe race leader, should pass the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope on Monday, the first of the mythical 24,296 nautical miles solo round the world's three Great Capes.
Posted on 29 Nov
Extreme Sydney SORC tests crews
A gale warning moved racing inshore on the Sunday Middle Harbour Yacht Club's Sydney Short Ocean Racing Championship coincided with Sydney's record-breaking hot weather weekend, 28 crews enduring 40 knot gusts for race two and brutal temperatures in the low 40s both days of the longstanding annual series
Posted on 29 Nov
MC38 2020 Season Act 6 on Sydney Harbour
Lazy Dog looms over Act 6 and MC38 season pointscore Middle Harbour Yacht Club's Lazy Dog team closed out the 2020 MC38 calendar with a third series triumph, giving Shaun Lane and Quentin Stewart's crew the overall season trophy from six acts.
Posted on 29 Nov