This aricle first appeared on www.theaustralian.com
Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI will continue to race the Rolex Sydney-to-Hobart despite the passing of the respected sailor on Sunday at 87.
The Oatley name is woven into the history of the ocean classic courtesy of Wild Oats XI’s eight line honours wins since 2005. Such is the family’s passion for the sport the supermaxi will chase more Hobart glory.
“With the sailing we will continue, that is what Dad wanted us to do,” Bob’s son Sandy told The Australian.
“Life continues on, we will just miss our mentor and our patriarch.”
Chief executive of Oatley’s Hamilton Island Enterprises Glenn Bourke, himself a world champion and Olympic sailor and coach, said Sandy was keen to uphold the legacy of success Bob had created.
“Sandy is very passionate about it. He and Bob prepared the boat this year as thoroughly as they prepared it every other year but unfortunately they had the mainsail damage and had to turn around,” Bourke said. “But the boat is in tiptop condition. Wild Oats will be ready to go again and I’m sure it will.”
Bob Oatley’s skipper Mark Richards, who has won the race more than any other aboard Wild Oats XI, said he’d be honoured to continue racing in memory of his great mate.
“Wild Oats was Bob’s passion without a doubt,” Richards told The Australian. “It’s going to be totally up to the family what they decide to do in the future, but it would be a huge honour to myself and the whole team to honour Bob’s passion. There’s no doubt it was a very special part of his life and they all fully appreciate it.”
In a message to staff Bourke remembered Bob’s unheralded generosity to the Australian sailing team that “made the largest contribution to the greatest era in Australian sailing that we’ve ever had”.
Australia won three golds and one silver medal at the London Olympics.
“He was philanthropic to the end … starting way back with me in the late ’80s and all the way through, he never stopped,” said Bourke, who described Bob as “loyal to the core”.
“He was always a patron, a sponsor and a supporter and he loved seeing young Australians do well. He just loved the sport.”
London Olympic gold medallist Mat Belcher, currently training in Rio ahead of February’s world championships in Buenos Aires, also benefited directly from that generosity.
“When the team really was going through a difficult transition period just after 2004 (the Athens Olympics) when Australia didn’t produce any medals and was trying to rebrand itself and restructure itself, his sponsorship really led to the pathway to the success we have today,” he said.
Belcher was also asked by the Oatley family to captain the ultimately withdrawn Aussie tilt at the America’s Cup, an experience to work with Bob that he described as “inspiring and humbling”.
“I remember doing the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge at the end 2013 and it was really windy,” he said. “He was getting to the stage where it was very difficult for him to be on-board and race. But he didn’t care, he just wanted to be on the boat and enjoy the race experience with the crew. He just had really loved every moment on the water.”
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said Yachting Australia and the Australian Olympic Team were “hugely indebted to Bob for his contribution to sailing and our Olympic effort”.
“His drive has paved the way for our excellent results in sailing at the 2008 Games in Beijing and again at London in 2012,” Coates said. “He purchased four of the world’s best 470 class sailboats for the team and he provided one of his buildings in Sydney to Yachting Australia, rent free for three years, as their headquarters.”