IT was one of those great pairings, taking them both around the globe, into deep trouble and high adventure for the best part of a decade. They parted ways 11 years ago, but one couldn’t forget about the other. And now they’re reuniting.
Lake Macquarie sailor Tony Mowbray has bought back his beloved Solo Globe Challenger.
“It was like my left arm,” said Mowbray of the connection to his sailboat.
How the yachtsman and his vessel have come to be together again is a sailor’s tale. But first, a little history of how they both ventured into local maritime legend.
Mowbray had bought the Cole 43 in 1997, with the aim of sailing it around the world solo, non-stop and unassisted.
Before that, he and his crew sailed Solo Globe Challenger in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race, in which the fleet was smashed by a ferocious storm. Six competitors died. Mowbray, his crew and yacht only just survived.
“Quite simply, for 15 hours, we thought we’d found out how we were going to die,” he recalled.
While he had vowed to abandon his round-the-world plan after that ordeal, the call of the blue wouldn’t subside. So Mowbray and Solo Globe Challenger set off from Newcastle harbour in October 2000 and, 181 days later, they sailed back past Nobbys, to a crowd of thousands along the shores.
Over the next few years, Mowbray and his yacht sailed again in the Sydney to Hobart race, around Lake Macquarie as part of a fund-raiser, and to the ice, on an epic Antarctic voyage.
In 2006, he accepted he had to sell his partner in adventure to buy a bigger yacht: “I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to.”
Mowbray sold Solo Globe Challenger to a Sydney professional, Peter Barker. The yacht provided Mr Barker with new experiences. He sailed it across the seas, and he met his future wife, Cindy, on the water in the United States. They voyaged around the Mediterranean, through calm waters and tempests.
“She took over and took care of us,” Cindy Barker told the Herald in an email from the US. “The boat was our lives. She was our home. We loved her.”
All the while, Tony Mowbray thought about his old travelling companion. A few years ago, he even emailed Mr Barker, saying, “if you ever think about selling the boat, let me know”.
Then a couple of months ago, Mowbray recalled, he received an email from Cindy Barker with tragic news. Peter had suddenly died in August, and she wanted Tony’s advice on what to do with the yacht. It was in Sicily, where the Barkers had been living.
After several conversations, and a lot of thought, Tony Mowbray and Cindy Barker came to an agreement. He would buy the yacht.
“I was excited but nervous and tentative at this prospect,” he said.
For one thing, Mowbray didn’t have the money. But his daughter, Holly, who had sailed on Solo Globe Challenger, and good mate and crew member Graham Murphy, lent him money to reach the sale price, which is confidential.
So in early November, Mowbray flew to Catania, to meet up with Holly, who is working in Europe, and Cindy Barker, and to be reunited with his old yacht, which was out of the water.
“When I saw her, it was surreal, unbelievable,” he said.
There had been some changes. The boat had been renamed Bowtie Lady - “an interesting name!”, said Mowbray diplomatically. Cindy Barker explained it was because her husband had always worn bowties.
But he was stunned to find so many reminders of their adventures together; electrical tape wrapped around the ropes, grooves and holes from when he was desperately fighting to save the mast during the round-the-world voyage.
In response to being asked how hard was it to part with the boat, Cindy Barker replied, “How hard is it for me to part with Peter? It’s the same”.
“However, going back to Tony, it is all in the family. It is not an ownership thing. Seriously, because of the boat, we are family.”
Tony Mowbray will return to Sicily early next year, and he and his partner Carolyn will go sailing. He plans to eventually sail the yacht home. And this time they will stay together.
“I figure this is going to be my last boat,” he says, adding he’s selling his current yacht, Commitment.
As for Tony and Solo Globe Challenger’s next great adventure, he hasn’t looked that far over the horizon and isn’t even sure if there will be one, “but I never say never”.