Steinlager 2 was famously skippered by the late Sir Peter Blake to win the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race, and is now owned by the New Zealand Sailing Trust. Nigel Sharp steps on board
In 22 May 1990, Steinlager 2 – skippered by Peter Blake and crewed by 14 fellow New Zealanders – crossed the finish line off Southampton to win the fifth Whitbread Round the World Race, with an overall time almost a day and a half quicker than the next boat.
Having dominated the race from beginning to end, Steinlager was first to finish and the winner on corrected time of all six legs: an unprecedented and unsurpassed feat in Whitbread/Volvo history. Twenty-three boats took part in that race. Whereas in the early Whitbread years many competitors considered it more of an adventure than a race, by the fifth edition they were taking it very seriously indeed.
Steinlager 2 was designed by Bruce Farr with significant input from Blake, who was able to draw on his own experience having taken part in all four previous Whitbread races. Farr initially produced a ‘base’ design following tank testing at the Wolfson Unit, the costs of which were shared between four syndicates.
Four designs were then developed to suit the different needs of each syndicate to create Steinlager 2, Fisher & Paykel (another Kiwi entry, skippered by Grant Dalton), The Card and Merit.
It was initially intended that they would all be sloop rigged but, as this race would include more downwind sailing than the previous races, Blake asked Farr to investigate the relative speed potential of a ketch. Farr’s research revealed that a ketch had potential to get around more quickly – but Blake then discovered that Dalton also favoured a ketch.
Blake went one stage further by suggesting that a fractional ketch might have a rating advantage over a masthead ketch and he persuaded a reluctant Farr to alter Steinlager’s design again.
As it turned out, Steinlager 2 nearly never existed. After the pre-preg composite hull was completed in the autumn of 1988 it was found to have delamination problems that were so catastrophic it had to be rejected and disposed of.
But thanks to the unequivocal support of the sponsors a new hull was built (often referred to as Steinlager 2b), and just 17 weeks later Auckland’s Southern Pacific Boatyard launched the completed boat.
After five months of sea trials – sometimes with Fisher & Paykel as a sparring partner – Steinlager 2, which by now had acquired the nickname ‘the Big Red’, was shipped to Europe. She took part in the Fastnet Race, winning just two minutes ahead of Fisher & Paykel.
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Steinlager’s winning ways continued with the Whitbread Race, though the first leg half-a-day victory over Merit into Punta del Este would turn out to be their biggest leg win. Fisher & Paykel finished barely half an hour behind them in three of the subsequent legs, and the margin on the Fremantle to Auckland leg – the one they both wanted to win more than any other – was a little over six minutes.
On the last leg Steinlager might have lost her hard-won advantage when, four days out of Fort Lauderdale, a chainplate for a mizzen shroud and mainmast backstay failed. It was only quick thinking helmsman Brad Butterworth’s immediate gybe that saved the rig.
After the race finished Steinlager 2 remained in the northern hemisphere for two decades, under three different owners. She was variously known as Safilo and Barracuda before Swiss sailor Stefan Detjen bought her in 2003.
He restored her original name and distinctive original livery, sailing her six Atlantic crossings (including a Huelva to La Gomera race record), three Middle Sea Races and various Mediterranean regattas. She also took part in some Whitbread reunion races, including the Volvo Legends regatta in Alicante in 2011.
The New Zealand Sailing Trust had been established in 2008 to purchase Lion New Zealand – the boat Peter Blake had skippered in the 1985/86 Whitbread – and use her to provide sail training experiences for young New Zealanders.
There was a growing feeling that it was time Steinlager also returned to New Zealand and the following year the opportunity to purchase her arose, so the Trust immediately did so. She was then sailed back to Auckland via the Panama Canal.
Steinlager needed a good deal of work to make her fit for her new role and this was entrusted to Yachting Developments at Hobsonville just outside Auckland. The original accommodation included a semi-enclosed nav station on the centreline beneath the cockpit and a single heads compartment abaft.
Otherwise she was almost completely open plan with pipe cots outboard and forward, and with a U-shaped galley (complete with an athwartships gimballing cooker) on the centreline forward of the main mast.
The number of pipe cots has now been doubled to 30, each named after one of the original crew or another prominent Kiwi yachtsman of the time, and the galley has been moved further abaft. While a single heads compartment might have been considered adequate for 15 all-male Whitbread sailors, it certainly wouldn’t be for the boat’s new role and so two more have been added.
Steinlager’s original engine was a 130hp Volvo Penta 4-cylinder diesel, fitted forward of the galley. This was replaced with a new engine of the same model in 2005. Yachting Developments later overhauled it and, to avoid the need for an excessively long shaft, moved it aft to a position under the cockpit.
Refit and retention
Other refit work included a new electronics package, new lights throughout the interior and the installation of a Maxwell VC3500 capstan. Almost all of the original deck gear has been retained, including the three coffee grinders, which drive the Barient winches.
When Steinlager was built, Blake had two sets of spars made for her. He used one set for the first three legs of the Whitbread race and then replaced them with the spare set in Auckland. The original set remained with the boat when she was sold, and in 2009 Detjen unstepped the second set and replaced all suspect components with those from the original spars.
During the Yachting Developments refit, the spars were overhauled with all fittings undergoing crack testing and being repaired or replaced as necessary.
New sails were produced by Doyles in Auckland using Stratis sail cloth and replicating the look of the originals – 110 of which had been made for the Whitbread campaign. With the work complete, Steinlager was relaunched in November 2013 to take up her new role. Since then, the focus has been on taking New Zealand schoolchildren on voyages all over the Hauraki Gulf.
Despite her years Steinlager is, on average, out sailing every other day of the year. Almost 1,000 children had the opportunity to sail on her last year. They’re all too young to remember the phenomenal achievements of Blake and his team almost 30 years ago, but sailing on this iconic boat is a chance to get inspired by a true Kiwi legend.
LOA: 25.48m (83ft 7in)
LWL: 20.27m (66ft 6in)
Beam: 5.74m (18ft 10in)
Draught: 3.96m (13ft 0in)
Displacement: 35,177kg (77,552lb)
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