Steinlager II heads back home for good

By Denise Montgomery

Aucklanders are being called upon to welcome back one of New Zealand's most famous yachts.

Steinlager II is permanently returning home after more than two decades overseas. The 84-foot vessel is best known as the yacht skippered by the late Sir Peter Blake when he won the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race.

Big Red, as she became known, won every leg over the line and on handicap, an unprecedented record that still stands.

Swiss owner Stefan Detjen has had her for 12 years, and agreed the time was right for the boat to be returned.

Owen Rutter, who sailed with Sir Peter on Ceramco for his first Whitbread attempt, recently had the chance to sail on Steinlager II in Alicante, Spain. Mr Detjen had entered her into the Volvo Ocean Race Legends Regatta with a mix of original crew on board plus supporters.

Two of those supporters, Tony Stevenson and William Goodfellow, were trustees for the NZ Sailing Trust, which has now bought the yacht.

"Stefan and his wife were delighted she was coming back to New Zealand," Mr Rutter says. "They cared about its future."

Steinlager II had sailed as "Safilo" and "Barracuda" for various owners in Italy before Mr Detjen returned her to her original state, keen to preserve her history.

Mr Rutter says it's great for our sailing history that she's kept here.

"It's awesome that they have managed to pull this off, because the boat is iconic in terms of New Zealand's involvement with the Whitbread, now the Volvo.

"It's been talked about for a long time. Rumours heated up when the boat was returned to its original colours and livery and now it's been done."

Mr Rutter's Events Clothing business is getting in on the act, putting out a line of retro Steinlager II sailing gear to commemorate her return.

Steinlager II is on her way to New Zealand from Tahiti now and will sail past North Head on May 5.

Few could forget the boat's most exciting entry into the harbour 22 years ago, when Sir Peter on Steinlager II was neck and neck with fellow Kiwi Grant Dalton, skippering Fisher & Paykel, coming into Auckland before just taking the third leg. It was one of the most dramatic leg finishes in the history of the event.

This entry to Auckland's waters will be a little less dramatic, with a Swiss/Italian crew delivering the boat.

But the people behind the boat's purchase would like nothing more than a flotilla of yachts to meet Big Red as it comes in around midday, before it berths at Viaduct Harbour.

And on Sunday, May 6, between 10am and 4pm the public will get the chance to see the boat up close, and go on board, when she goes on display at the Viaduct, joining Lion New Zealand. Both yachts will be berthed at Karanga Plaza next to the Viaduct Event Centre.

A gold coin donation to view the yachts goes towards the NZ Sailing Trust and its youth development programme.

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- The Aucklander

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