STORIES How to win the Sydney Hobart with a 116-year-old boat


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Bill Barry-Cotter found half-destroyed Katwinchar, the 1904 ketch he went on as a boy with his father, and decided to bring it back to life. After two years of painstaking restoration, the boat wowed everyone at the legendary Australian offshore classic Rolex Sydney Hobart

(photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi)

Nt was unheard of for a 115-year-old (now 116) boat to take part in the Rolex Sydney Hobart (one of the most legendary and challenging offshore races, 628 miles from the Australian capital to Hobart, Tasmania). Imagine the surprise, then, when scrolling down the final standings found her first in the “Grand Veterans” category and second in the IRC 7 division. Katwinchar, a 32-foot (9.75 m) Canadian cedar and oak ketch by Bill Barry-Cotter, built in 1904, proved that at sea and in Bass Strait … age doesn’t matter.


The story of the boat is peculiar and deserves to be told. It was made for W. Watney, brewer, in the sheds of his factory by master coopers. And this is not her first Sydney Hobart: in 1951 the boat was brought to Australia by owner Eddie Mossop to participate in the race. The figure was not the best: the boat was given up for lost, until it reappeared a week after the start in Hobart, withdrawn from the competition.


Traces of it were lost until Barry-Cotter, the current owner, found it a few years ago in an insane state of disrepair on Gumtree, a popular Web ad platform in the English-speaking world. He decided it should be his primarily as a matter of affection: from 1960 to ’65, his father Frank (with partners Bob Chapman and Eddie Shaw) had been Katwinchar’s owner. Bill, who is a well-known name in Australian boating (his family boatyard, since the late 1960s, has been an institution in the world of luxury motor cruisers: Mariner, Riviera, Maritimo) never forgot his father’s boat and searched until he found it.

Katwinchar before restorations: photo via

The boat was in bad shape, no trace of the mast aft (mizzen), the deckhouse had been raised and made it look like a fishing pilot boat, the hull a mussel farm. But from the slings of the hull, it was clear that this was a thoroughbred model. Bill flew her from Hexham (South Wales) to the marina on Hope Island where owns its yards and spent two years restoring it.


Painstaking work, performed together with his brother Kendall, has restored her to her former glory: in fact, he has done better. He has made Katwinchar a boat in step with the times and capable of taking part in a regatta that is considered the “elite” of offshore sailing. A health problem forced Bill to forgo being aboard, but Kendall was able to make it run (thanks in part to the presence on the crew of veteran Michael Spies, 43 editions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart to his credit), juggling moments of becalming and gusts of wind up to 40 knots.

And on the spinnaker, towered the brand name of Black Hops, one of the largest breweries on Australia’s Gold Coast. There could not have been a more apt sponsor for a boat built in a brewery….


1. The sails, both on the main and mizzen masts (made of aluminum alloy and not wood as they were originally), are of the latest generation: specifically, 3Di North Sail with square-top trim.

2. Candlesticks, drapes and pulpits were added by Bill Barry-Cotter: In the early 1900s you sailed without but in an offshore regatta it is forbidden (besides being crazy!).

3. A spinnaker with tri-radial seams (and therefore nice and durable) ensured good aft performance in a stiff wind. In becalmed conditions Katwinchar relied on a Code Zero North Sails.

4. Winches were added and installed so that they are easily operated from the cockpit. The two sterner ones are electrified (noted by the adjacent black keys).

5. All maneuvers were deferred to the cockpit. A key solution, especially in offshore racing.

6. The hull initially included a lifting keel, which Bill replaced with a fixed bulb keel.

7. The delfiniera is one of the most functional additions: it allows to tack asymmetrical and Code Zero type sails further forward and thus increase the surface area.




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