Boating's Ben Gladwell savoured the chance to be aboard for the final miles of Steinlager II's homecoming.
When Steinlager II crossed the finish line in Southampton to win the 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Race, I was a two-year-old, just getting my sea legs on my parents cruising yacht.
For the next 22 years I listened with rapture to stories of the unbeatable Steinlager II, and her demolition of the rest of the fleet, in what remains the only clean-sweep of a round the world yacht race.
The most stirring tale of all is the epic offshore match-race between Sir Peter Blake's crew and Grant Dalton onboard Fisher & Paykel, on leg three from Fremantle to Auckland.
The 80-foot plus ketches were locked together for days on end, surfing side by side through the massive southern ocean swells at over 20 knots, often within a boatlength of each other.
The boats stayed in sight of each other all the way to the finish, with Steinlager II sneaking ahead after a well timed sail change cued by hearing of a wind-shift on a public radio station.
It was incredibly special to be onboard the old maxi, sailing with original crewmembers, as she retraced the final steps of what is perhaps her most legendary win.
The sense of pride that these sailors still feel in their boat and their achievement was plain to see as they walked around the boat together, reminiscing, telling old jokes and stories, or just gazing fondly at the boat that took them around the world.
Since her departure from New Zealand shores, she has spent her days competing and cruising around the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
She has been meticulously cared for by her most recent owner, Setfan Detjen, upon whom the significance this homecoming was far from lost. The Swiss stood at the helm and shook his head in disbelief as he gazed around, through tear filled eyes, to see the welcome of nearly 100 vessels of all kinds, trailing in the wake of the boat he loves.
"This is a very, very special moment. And it's a moment that started eleven years ago, because when I first saw Steinlager, I knew she had to go back where she belongs. And now we are at the end of this mission, of this dream, I am so happy for me, for you, and for all the friends of Steinlager."
The NZ Sailing Trust will now take over as custodian of Steinlager II, she will join her older sister Lion New Zealand (sailed by Sir Peter Blake in the 1985-1986 Whitbread) in youth development programmes and will contest the 2012 Auckland to Noumea yacht race, commencing June 2.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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