Ray Haslar first realised his pride and joy might be up to the rigours of a Sydney to Hobart as he tried to maintain his balance on deck when Christchurch was devastated by an earthquake on February 22, 2011.
"I was standing by the hatch and it knocked me to my knees," Haslar recalled as his Reichel/Pugh 42 sat becalmed at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
"It was in a steel cradle, the construction was all finished, then it just started jumping across the workshop floor.
"All the machinery was up- ended, it was a hell of a mess. I thought the boat was going to tip over, I was getting ready to jump."
"[An earthquake] comes in waves like the ocean but it was more violent than being out in the water. It dropped me straight down."
Fortunately everything turned out shipshape at the boat building yard near the city's estuary and the 12.9-metre vessel, 7000 hours in the making, is primed for its blue water classic debut on Boxing Day.
"The staff down there wanted me to call it Southern Shaker," said Haslar, who instead christened his fourth yacht Rikki after the Steely Dan song about not losing a number.
At 69, Haslar is tackling the 628 nautical mile journey for the 15th time, and realises this is the last boat he will skipper in Australia's iconic - and sometimes treacherous - race.
"It is a challenge - but this is my aim in life," he said.
"This is my last racing yacht. I'm 69, so I want to do as much as I can. I've got five years more at this level, maybe."
Haslar made his Sydney- Hobart debut in 1966 and he was the navigator on Pathfinder when it won on handicap in 1971 - his next best finish was a fifth aboard Jenny H in 1977.
He was understandably relieved to miss the 1998 race when six sailors died but made the start line 12 months later, undeterred by the tragedy.
Rikki was launched in July last year and has already provided a return on Haslar's investment when it won the 2011 Round White Island race.
In June Rikki finished the Auckland to Noumea race second on the IRC rating, 13 minutes behind the Gary Lewis- owned Akatea - New Zealand's other Sydney-Hobart contender.
Haslar said the trip to New Caledonia was an ideal preamble for his next assignment.
"It was an extremely rough race: cold, overcast and terrible. I was happy to come out of it with no damage."
Work commitments mean Haslar's crew bears little resemblance to the group that made it to Noumea but he was confident seven Sydney-Hobart debutants - including London 2012 yachting silver medallist Blair Tuke - were up to the task.
"As long as the skipper has done at least one or two, that's the main thing.
"The crew just sail hard no matter which directions you're going it.
"The fact it's a Hobart is neither here nor there."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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