A legendary racing yacht and an example of Australian maritime history too valuable to sink into ignominy, Bumblebee 5 has been expertly repaired and returned to the water, in a process that has taken her full circle back to the hands of those who originally crafted her.
The 60ft racing yacht, Bumblebee 5 was designed by Iain Murray and among her many racing victories is the 2001 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race under the ownership of John Kahlbetser.
En route from Sydney to compete in Hamilton Island Race Week in August 2017, Bumblebee 5 ran aground on Kings Beach, near Ballina. All crew arrived to shore safely and uninjured, and Bumblebee V was eventually washed up onto the beach amid a profusion of expanded polystyrene bean bag filling – probably the most environmentally hazardous aspect of the entire operation.
Thanks to her carbon fibre hull, which was expertly built by Sydney Yachts in Nowra, the yacht was structurally sound, but required salvaging and a full professional assessment to determine the extent of her damage.
Sven Runow, a veteran of Wild Oats XI and a seasoned insurance assessor, was appointed by Club Marine to oversee the salvage and determine the cost of repairs.
“I arrived just as the salvage company was deciding whether to break it up or cut it up to remove it,” said Sven. “Fortunately, I arrived in time and organized for the vessel to be refloated and towed to Rivergate in Brisbane to be cleaned up and assessed.
“Bumblebee 5 is unique. She was designed and built from scratch in Australia by an Aussie legend and his team. She certainly deserved to be salvaged and repaired,” he continued.
“It wasn’t catastrophic damage and every winner by handicap should be considered significant and worthy of preservation as part of our maritime history. The year Bumblebee 5 won the Sydney Hobart, she was leading the Race on handicap at every radio schedule, which is an achievement in itself.”
The yacht was cleaned inside and out. “I was impressed that there wasn’t more damage,” stated Sven. “(Naval architect) Andy Dovell and I were blown away at the minimal hull damage, which is testament to the quality of engineering and build.”
According to Sven, a boat builder by trade and marine surveyor and loss adjuster since 2000, the damage could be considered minor. “There was substantial water damage to electrical systems and engine, and a lot of cosmetic damage internally.”
The keel had to be removed, and the rudder had been cut in half, later to be rebuilt by Tim Webster in Sydney. In bits, the venerable champion racer was trucked down to The Boat Works at Coomera and passed into the capable hands of Iain Smith at Everything Marine Australia, who it turned out, was Project Manager on the original build.
“Iain was the perfect match for the job,” said Sven. “The owner, Jim Cooney, approved and would be satisfied that Iain and his team would return her to the way she was prior to the loss. He trusted us to do the job.”
In yet another coincidence, Iain and Sven sailed as part of the Bumblebee 5 crew when it launched in October of 1998. Sven and Iain were crew mates on board Windward Passage II in 1998 and again on the Wild Oats XI program from 2005 onwards.
Bumblebee 5 has been under the care and expertise of onsite Shipwright and rigging specialist Everything Marine Australia to complete the repairs and refit works.
“The work list included repairs to areas damaged on the topsides during the grounding, repairs to the existing lead bulb which was badly damaged, being the only part of the yacht to hit a rock on the beach, full re-fair and repaint to the topsides, repairs internal damage, repairs to the steering system, new rudder, repairs to damaged deck fittings, stanchions, stern and bow rails,” said Iain Smith, adding that a new keel, currently in fabrication in New Zealand will arrive in Sydney in early June.
Marine Mechanical Services at The Boat Works has supplied and fitted a brand new Yanmar Engine and Electric Systems in Sydney will replace all the damaged electric and electronics when Bumblebee V will arrive in Sydney by truck.
The next step, will entail sending the yacht via truck to Sydney to have her new keel and rudder installed and fin put on the bulb. Iain Smith will be in charge of installing the new mast, rudder and keel, after which he will sea trial the reincarnated Bumblebee 5 and make sure she’s ready to roll!
“It feels good to resurrect her again!” said Iain. “The job went smoothly and for a boat that’s nearly 20 years old, she’s in bloody good nick.”
Along with pride in workmanship, Iain and his team derive pride from delivering a job on time, to schedule and to budget.
As to whether or not Bumblebee 5 will race again, Iain won’t speak for the owner, but said “It was on its way to race, so you never know”.
“These boats are built to be used and have to be maintained. It is great to see her in tip top condition once more and know that she has many good years ahead.
“Not too many boats get washed up on the beach and live to fight another day. Bumblebee 5 has proven herself many times over. Whether she races properly again or just does Twilights and day sailing, it does not matter, as long as somebody is getting pleasure out of it.”