Australia mourns entrepreneur Bob Oatley
His yacht won Sydney-Hobart race eight times
Founded winery in Hunter Valley in 1969
Redeveloped luxury Queensland island resort
He cultivated two fortunes from winemaking and was worth more than $900 million, but sailing – and particularly the Sydney-Hobart race – was the real passion of Australian businessman Robert Oatley, who has died aged 87.
“Bob” Oatley was best known in sailing circles for his record-setting Wild Oats XI yacht, which won line honors eight times in the prestigious Boxing Day dash from New South Wales to Tasmania.
The 100-foot maxi still holds the course record for the 630-nautical-mile race across the brutal Bass Strait of one day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, which it set in 2012, beating its own 2005 mark by 17 minutes.
Wild Oats was forced to retire from the 2015 Sydney-Hobart with a damaged mainsail after hitting a southerly squall.
Oatley, who died on January 10 following an illness, began his business empire trading coffee and cocoa beans from Papua New Guinea in the 1950s and ’60s.
But it was his vision to pioneer winemaking in Australia’s Hunter Valley in New South Wales in 1969 that made his name.
His Rosemount Estate wines became famous around the world and the second-biggest-selling Australian wine brand in the United States.
In 2001, Oatley sold the company for 1.4 billion Australian dollars ($778 million) before launching the Robert Oatley wine brand with son Sandy in 2006.
He also moved into tourism and paid $A200 million for Queensland’s Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays in 2003, pouring in almost twice as much again to redevelop the luxury resort.
Oatley was a keen supporter of Australian Olympic sailing and helped raise significant funds ahead of the Beijing Games in 2008, leading to two gold medals and a silver in China and Australia’s best haul of three golds and a silver at London 2012.
Last year, Forbes magazine ranked Oatley as Australia’s 34th richest person with a net worth of $910 million.
Oatley was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 2014 for his services to the country’s wine and tourism industries and the sport of yacht racing.
Following his death, his family posted a statement on the Wild Oats XI Facebook page.
“It is with profound sadness the Oatley family announces the passing of Robert Ian Oatley, AO, BEM. Known affectionately to all as Bob, he was a proud and passionate Australian recognized for his outstanding contributions to the Australian wine, tourism, coffee, sailing and thoroughbred horse industries. Bob was also well-recognized as a philanthropist who supported Australian Olympic activities, medical research and the arts.
“The Oatley family has been touched by the many kind words and tributes that have already been received from friends, colleagues and the wider Australian community. They thank everyone for their love and condolences.”
Oatley is survived by his wife Valerie and three children: Sandy, Ian and Ros.