Kialoa II: The beautiful old lady competing in this year’s Sydney to Hobart

It seems silly to think of inanimate objects as people, with their own quirks and nuances, but that’s often what we do.
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The bridge, the opera house, even the harbour itself … in their own way, they are old friends to each of us. We have known them for a long time and we love them.

As you sit at the helm of Kialoa II, chatting to co-owners Paddy and Keith Broughton and other members of the crew, you think less of it as a yacht and more like a person.

Restored to former glory: From left, co-owner and skipper of Kialoa II, Keith Broughton, crew member Dallas Kilponen and fellow co-owner, Paddy Broughton. Photo: Jessica Hromas

“She’s a beautiful old lady,” Keith says. “We’ve had a lot of fun with her. But, like a lot of beautiful old ladies, she has some really unpleasant quirks at times and some absolutely wonderful attributes as well. It’s so much fun to sail her.”

The Broughtons have resuscitated this beautiful old lady, bringing her back to life and putting together a crew of respected figures, many of whom will wear terry towelling hats and sport handlebar moustaches in deference to those before them from the 1960s and ’70s when Kialoa II had a greater spring in her step.

And in extended support of Movember, raising more than $8000 for the charity that supports men’s health.

Kialoa II came into the world in 1963 as a 73-foot aluminium sloop, built for the legendary ocean racer Jim Kilroy, who won the Sydney to Hobart with her in 1971. Aluminium boatssat on the cutting edge of boating technology back then. Not so much now.

“She didn’t lead out of the harbour,” Paddy tells you. “But she took it that night and never lost it.”

Vintage crop: Three of the oldest yachts to compete in this year’s Sydney to Hobart – Dorade, Kialoa II and Eve – sail past the Sydney Botanical Gardens. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Two years later, when Kilroy upgraded to Kialoa III, he donated the yacht to the US Coast Guard and in all those years since she has been passed around from owner to owner, racing on and off around the world.

For the past decade, however, she has simply pottered around the Mediterranean, barely doing anything at all in virtual retirement along with her owners.

When she suddenly came up for sale last year, Paddy asked hisfriend Mick Mottl, an Olympian and America’s Cup yachtsman, to run an eye over her.

The message that came back was clear: “You’re going to love her. You’re getting a hell of a lot of boat … But just be ready. You’ll need to do some work.”

How much work?

“She was in pretty good nick aesthetically but she’d been cruising the Med for 10 to 12 years, the sails and systems had been let go,” Paddy says. “We’ve had to work hard on that. Some of the engines and electrics had gone. Suddenly, the costs were escalating.”

Is it rude to ask how much you’ve spent on her?

“Yes, it is,” Paddy says with a grin. “It’s a bit like asking an old lady how much she’s spent on plastic surgery.”

Those who sink millions into the bigger, modern boats, those that are a 100-feet long and made of lightweight carbon fibre and fighting for line honours, know better than anyone how quicklycosts can escalate.

There’s a familiarsaying in this intoxicating sport: it’s like standing under a cold shower, tearing up hundred dollar bills.

But this is something different for the Broughtons, and indeed the 18 crew members on board.

Flashback: American Eagle leads Kialoa II at the heads in 1971. Photo: Bob (Robert) Rice/Fairfax Media

One of them is Lindsay May OAM, who raced in his first Sydney to Hobart in 1973 and has been in every one of them –that’s 44 in total –since. And, yes, that’s a record.

“As a kid, in the 1960s growing up in Wollongong, I would stand in the lookout of the North Wollongong Surf Club and watch the fleet go past,” he says. “And I would look at the Kialoa boats over the years.

“It’s a tremendous honour to be on her this year, she’s got such a heritage. She’s a grand old lady but what’s remarkable is how modern the boat is. She’s in immaculate condition. She just looks good. She’s obviously heavy. But she’s a beautiful, classic boat.”

Another crew member is Dallas Kilponen, the formerHeraldphotographer whose father, David “Fang” Kilponen, won the race with Kilroy on Kialoa III in 1977 and then travelled the world with him as his trusted navigator for many years thereafter as various incarnations of the boat dominated blue-water classics around the world.

“Kialoa was the most successful ocean racing program in the history of the sport,” Dallas says.

Now, this beautiful old lady is making a comeback and she will have supporters all around the world tracking her progress when the race starts on Boxing Day.

When the Broughtons bought her last year, they received a message from one of the former commandants of the US Coast Guard: “Congratulations on buying her. We all remember her fondly. Please look after her. Best wishes with all your adventures.”

Those adventures have seen her traverse 15,000 miles in three months, most recently racing in the famous –and difficult –Fastnet Race off the coast of England.

She’s already revealed to those on board much of her personality;the wonderful attributes and the unpleasant quirks.

“She trucks along beautifully when the breeze isn’t too strong, just off on one side,” Paddy says. “She sails long and slender and cuts the water beautifully. But when the wind is really strong and behind you, instead of skimming over the water, she starts digging a bigger hole and gets a little bit crazy.”

Keith laughs: “It’s like being on a roller coaster”.

Many of the crew, including May, were for a long time part of the Brindabella family, the “people’s maxi” that took line honours in 1997 and has raced all around the world.

The Broughtons hope they will all follow them around the world in the next few years as they race in the sport’s headline races and chase past glories: the Transpacific from Los Angeles to Hawaii; the Newport to Bermuda; the Fastnet; and the Sydney to Hobart, including the 75th anniversary of the race in 2019.

“We want to do it all again, over and over, with the same crew,” Paddy says.

This Sydney to Hobart presents a great challenge. The forecast is for favourable downwind conditions, although don’t expect any records from short-priced favourite Comanche.

Those on board Kialoa II have a different objective, though.

“We want to beat the time from 1971,” Keith insists. “Three days, 12 hours, 46 minutes, 21 seconds … That’s the plan, to beat that.”

Kilroy passed away last year at the age of 94, but his daughter, Trice, this week also sent a message of support: “Good luck, hope you beat that time.”

Let’s hope she does, the beautiful old lady of this year’s Sydney to Hobart.