Billionaire sailor Bob Oatley dead at 87

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SYDNEY (AP) — Bob Oatley, an America's Cup Challenger of Record aspirant in 2014 and owner of eight-time Sydney to Hobart-winning yacht Wild Oats XI, has died. He was 87.

His death was announced in separate statements on Sunday by Matt Allen, president of Yachting Australia, and John Cameron, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

Oatley died at his home Sunday of an unspecified illness.

He began his working life as a 15-year-old office boy without qualifications and went on to make a fortune estimated at $1 billion as an exporter of coffee beans, a winegrower and the owner of the Hamilton Island resort.

His success allowed him to indulge a passion for sailing which began in small sailboats before he bought the 100-foot Wild Oats in 2005.

Oatley became a generous patron of sailing, supporting the Australian Olympic sailing team.

"Bob contributed so much to Australian sailing over so many decades," Allen said. "He introduced many to the sport via his campaigns with a series of Wild Oats and the impact of the Hamilton Island regatta has been unbelievable.

"He will be missed on and off the water as an incredibly gracious and generous man."

Cameron highlighted Oatley's success in the Sydney to Hobart, on two occasions taking line honors, the handicap title and the race record.

"Twice he got the triple: line honors and broke the record both times, a record which still stands as far as the time to complete the race is concerned, so a terrible loss to our sport," Cameron said.

Hamilton Island was the first foreign yacht club to challenge Oracle Team USA, which successfully defended the America's Cup in September 2013 over Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay. Oatley later decided not to proceed with the challenge for financial reasons.

Oatley's entrepreneurial success began in the 1950s and 60s when he exported coffee and cocoa beans around the world from Papua New Guinea. In 1969 he planted the first vineyards in Australia's Hunter Valley which grew into Rosemount Estate which he sold in 2001 for $1.4 billion.

In 2003, the Oatley family bought Hamilton Island which won the Conde Nast Traveller's Best Resort in the World title.

Oatley is survived by his wife Valerie and three children Sandy, Ian and Ros.

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