Sydney-Hobart Race veteran

John Walker, skipper of Impeccable, the oldest skipper ever in a Hobart at age 86 was presented with a special cake from Matt Allen, Commodore, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

As his yacht Impeccable motored quietly to its berth in Hobart, a media scrum teetered on the narrow quay, for this was an important moment. Apart from Walker being the oldest skipper ever in the history of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, it was his and the boat’s, 25th race.

His hand firmly on the wooden tiller, Walker was distinguished by his grayish white goatee and his longish silvery hair, resplendent in his weathered and fading red wet-weather gear. He is tiny, courteous, his smiling eyes showing no sign of the fatigue of four days of hard racing at sea, and completely relaxed. Yet there is no question who is in command of this little Sydney-based yacht.

‘At the age of 86 you are an inspiration not only to all yachtsmen and women but to everyone around Australia,’ Allen told the venerable sailor.
His yacht Impeccable is no comfortable cruiser. At 33 feet it’s always one of the smallest boats in the fleet. Walker began offshore racing at 60 and contested his first Sydney Hobart in 1981.

‘I’m a very conservative person,’ Walker says. ‘I’ve been sailing this boat 25 years. I’ve been married to the same lady for 60 years. I started a business 55 years ago, I still have the same business, and my son has been in the business for the last 35 years. I’m a very conservative person.’

So how did he find this, his 25th race?

‘It was a beautiful race. Most of it was spinnaker runs which doesn’t suit Impeccable,’ he said. ‘She is at her best going to windward but we had a lovely finish, a lovely welcome. What more can I ask? It was special because of the crew that have been with me for many years. I never set out to create any records. I sail because I love it, the camaraderie with my crew and everything that goes with it.

‘I love sailing because it is a freedom out on the water in ocean racing. You rely on yourself, your crew, your boat. It’s a wonderful way of getting away from your everyday work. You get out there and you couldn’t care less what happens in your business.

And will he still be racing next year, at 87?

‘I have said many times before that this is the last one and I am saying the same now.’

Photo: © Rolex/Daniel Forster