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The 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race disaster

Robert Matthews was at the helm of Tasmanian yacht Business Post Naiad both times it capsized in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Both times he was flung into the raging seas, the second time he nearly drowned under the upturned yacht.

Two of his crewmates didn’t survive the capsize. A decade after the disastrous race, Robert Matthews told his story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and how he came to be in the eye of a fatal storm in his book CRUEL WIND.

The drama started to unfold on Sunday, December 27, 1998, as the 115 yachts competing in the famous yacht race were hit by a once-in-a-100-year storm in Bass Strait. Winds of up to 160 kph funnelled through the notorious stretch of water that separates Tasmania from mainland Australia generating gigantic seas that wreaked a deadly toll on the race fleet.

Five yachts sank, a dozen were dismasted and only 44 boats made it to the finish line. Six sailors died and more than 50 survivors were winched to safety by rescue helicopters in appalling conditions. It was Australia’s biggest ever peacetime marine rescue operation.

Business Post Naiad was one of many yachts which made a desperate Mayday call after their boat was capsized and dismasted in the mountainous seas. Five hours later the yacht was rolled a second time. It remained upside down for five minutes with two crew held under the yacht by their safety harnesses.

The remaining seven crew members were trapped inside the badly damaged hull. When another huge wave smashed into the upturned yacht and knocked it back upright crewman Phil Skeggs lay dead on the deck and Naiad’s owner Bruce Guy suffered a fatal heart attack as he tried to stop the sea from inundating his damaged boat.

For another eight hours the surviving seven sailors on Naiad fought for their lives in a boat just barely afloat in the midst of the terrible storm.

More than 12 hours after they made their Mayday a rescue helicopter was despatched to Naiad. In the early morning gloom of Monday, December 28, the seven surviving sailors were winched to safety in an operation that earned bravery awards for the crew of the NRMA CareFlight helicopter.


ROBERT MATTHEWS has been sailing for 45 years and covered more than 50,000 nautical miles of yacht racing in Bass Strait and cruised extensively around the Australian coastline with his wife Carmel in their various yachts.

JULIAN BURGESS was the Associate Editor of the Launceston Examiner newspaper before retiring and has written about yachting for more than 30 years. He edited Australian solo circumnavigator Ken Gourlay’s book One Man’s Journey and is author of The Australian Three Peaks Race: The First 20 Years.

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