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Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race 1998

Tragedy at Sea

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  • 115 yachts started at Sydney Harbour on December 26, 1998, in the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Fierce storms and violent winds battered the fleet and only 44 boats made it to Hobart.
  • Five boats sank, 66 boats retired from the race, six sailors died, and 55 sailors were taken off their yachts, most by helicopter.
  • First across the line on December 29 was the US maxi yacht Sayonara owned by Larry Ellison.
  • Over-all winner on handicap was Midnight Rambler owned by Ed Psaltis and Bob Thomas which finished 10th across the line. It was the smallest yacht in a decade to win the race.
  • A coroner's inquest was held on the race deaths.

The winners

  • Overall winner: AFR Midnight Rambler, Ed Psaltis/Bob Thomas, NSW
  • Line honors: Sayonara, Larry Ellison, USA — 2:19:03:32

Coroner's findings

On December 12, 2000, two weeks before the start of that year's Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, New South Wales Coroner John Abernethy handed down his findings on the 1998 race deaths, saying the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia had "abdicated its responsibility to manage the race."

"From what I have read and heard, it is clear to me that during this crucial time the race management team played the role of observers rather than managers and that was simply not good enough," the coroner said.

Six deaths

The six sailors who died during the storm-ravaged 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race were Phillip Charles Skeggs (Business Post Naiad), who drowned on December 27; Bruce Raymond Guy (Business Post Naiad), who died of a heart attack; John Dean, James Lawler and Michael Bannister (all on the Winston Churchill) who drowned on December 28; and Glyn Charles (Sword of Orion) who drowned on December 28.

The Bureau of Meteorology was also criticised for not doing more to alert the club of an upgraded forecast on the severe storm south of Eden (close to the New South Wales-Victoria border) nearly a day before the fleet was due there.

Safety precautions

Coroner Abernethy praised the Cruising Yacht Club for having taken safety precautions after the 1998 race and made a number of recommendations. He also said the weather bureau should add maximum wind gusts and maximum wave heights to its forecasts.

Resignation

On December 13, a day after the State Coroner's findings, race director Phil Thompson resigned his position.

He was race director in 1998 and, until his resignation, held that position for the 2000 race.

The coroner had said in his report: "Mr Thompson's inability to appreciate the problems when they arose and his inability to appreciate them at the time of giving his evidence causes me concern that (he) may not appreciate such problems as they arise in the future."

The coroner found Thompson responsible for the error which saw the yacht Business Post Naiad allowed into the race despite having a poor stability rating than required.

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