The 1998 fleet comprised 115 starters. Of these, only 44 yachts completed the race, after severe weather conditions struck the fleet off the south-eastern Australian coast. An unusually strong low pressure depression developed which resulted in mid-summer snow across parts of south-east Australia. The weather system built into an exceptionally strong storm with winds reaching up to 70 knots, similar in strength to a lower-category hurricane. The rising storm produced an enormous waterspout perilously close to one yacht, ultimately causing the sinking of five boats and the deaths of six sailors. Additionally a record 66 yachts retired from the race, and 55 other sailors had to be airlifted from their yachts by rescue helicopter. Overall, the rescue efforts involved 35 military and civilian aircraft and 27 Royal Australian Navy vessels, and proved to be Australia's largest ever peacetime rescue operation.
As a result, the crew eligibility rules were tightened, requiring a higher minimum age and experience. G. Bruce Knecht wrote a book about this race called "The Proving Ground" (ISBN 0-316-49955-2), and the Australian yachting expert and commentator Rob Mundle wrote "Fatal Storm". A coronial enquiry into the race was critical of both the race management at the time and the Bureau of Meteorology.
The results of the coroner's inquest were released on 12 December 2000. New South Wales Coroner John Abernethy found that the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia had "abdicated its responsibility to manage the race." "From what I have read and heard, it is clear to me that during this crucial time the race management team played the role of observers rather than managers and that was simply not good enough." But he acknowledged the club's actions to upgrade safety precautions and sailor qualifications.
Abernethy also criticised Australia's Bureau of Meteorology for making no effort to inform race officials of a dramatically upgraded weather forecast about the severe storm developing south of Eden, when it was common public knowledge the race was scheduled to begin. As a remedial measure, he required the Bureau to add maximum wind gust speed and wave height to their forecasts.
The day after the coroner's findings, the club's Race Director Phil Thompson resigned his position. According to the coroner's report, "Mr Thompson's inability to appreciate the problems when they arose and his inability to appreciate them at the time of giving his evidence causes me concern that (he) may not appreciate such problems as they arise in the future." (Via Wikipedia)
There are 5, 10 minute parts to this movie on Youtube if you would like to watch them.