The return of Koomooloo

Mike Freebairn has a new steed for this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart

Sunday December 23rd 2007, Author: Jim Gale, Location: Australasia
At 9.30am, on the second day of last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, about 60 miles off the New South Wales town of Narooma, Queenslander Mike Freebairn’s world began to come apart at the seams. Koomooloo, the beautiful timber ocean racing veteran that he and his father had so painstakingly restored was sinking.

The news rocked the sailing world. This former Hobart winner was a legend, a
living piece of Australian ocean racing history. Even at 38 years of age,
Koomooloo was still competitive. During the night she had been leading the 2006
fleet on corrected time, and the race was shaping up as one ready made for the
strong, up-wind IOR style boat of her era. In the end another IOR veteran, Love
and War
was to take the silverware. Mike Freebairn was shattered.

“I always knew we could win a race with Koomooloo and we were in a great
position” Freebairn says. “To have the chance of winning taken away was
almost as bad as losing her. We are all here to win.”

In the days after the disaster an ashen Freebairn roamed the docks of Hobart. It
all seemed so surreal. But even then he was beginning to think about where to
go next, and what it would take.

Koomooloo was our life. It wasn’t disrespectful. I put every penny I ever had
into her, but we wanted to keep going. And another racing legend had come
onto the market. Margaret Rintoul ll.

Margaret Rintoul ll was built in the same boatyard and in the same year as
Koomooloo- 1968 - and started its life as the first of Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffins.
He had sailed her to victory in the 1971 Fastnet Race. She represented
Australia in three Admiral’s Cups and has raced to Hobart 21 times. An S&S 49,
with trademark Sparkman and Stephens tumblehome and refined reverse
transom, she is as much sculpture as sailing boat.

“Every time I came down to Sydney with Koomooloo I used to walk along the
CYCA dock to look at her,” Freebairn says. “We searched all round the world
for a replacement for Koomooloo but really it was just to confirm that Margaret
Rintoul ll
was the right choice.” So Margaret Rintoul ll became Spirit of
Koomooloo
.

“We’re very lucky she was available, otherwise I might be sailing Etchells now.
Fortunately the boat is in pretty good condition, with plenty of work left in the
sails. Our first race with her was the Southport and we won our division.

“It was good when we sailed her as our own boat for the first time. It made
everything feel concrete. There is a life after death.”

Spirit of Koomooloo is a bigger, more powerful, heavier boat than her
namesake. “She is more comfortable in a breeze. In Koomooloo we got thrown
around a lot. She is also nicer to drive downwind. Koomooloo was fast to
windward but she was a real arm wrestle down hill. You always felt there was
a potential for disaster.

“Because of the way the new boat rates, though, it has shifted our potential
from winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart overall to winning our division. We
always felt that given the right conditions we could win in Koomooloo, so it feels
different coming to Sydney this year. We have put in the same preparation but
we are more relaxed.

Koomooloo gave us a lot. She was our life. We lost a lot but we’re grateful for
the opportunities she gave us. We put so much work into her, when I stepped
off her for the last time I looked at her and thought she was looking as good as
she was ever going to be. We had finished restoring her. Now the new boat
has given dad a new lease on life.”

Freebairn says he thinks about his old love every day. He’s not sure what will
go though his mind when he and his crewmates sail past Narooma this year. He
still has a picture of Koomooloo as a screen saver on his mobile phone. “So
have most of the other guys.”

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