As if skippering the smallest boat in the fleet isn’t daunting enough, Wilparina’s owner Nick Cannar will also be embarking on his first keelboat contest when he takes-on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race aboard the 33-footer.
It will be a bouncy and a long race aboard the S&S 34 - and Cannar knows that. But what’s important to the 66-year-old is getting his four dinghy sailing mates and one experienced offshore crewman safely to Hobart.
“It’s a huge challenge,’’ Cannar admits. “I’ve never raced a keelboat before; we’ve cruised, but never raced. As part of the qualifier, we crewed the Tasmanian entry in the race, Martela, up to Sydney. We had 50 to 60 knots of breeze; it was a shock but it gave us a good understanding of what it will be like.”
You’d be hard struck to find a better boat to start the learning curve of offshore keelboat racing. The American designed and Australian made yacht is as sturdy as they come. The yacht’s association boasts that they’ve completed more long distance voyages, especially solo, than any other design.
Most Australians might not know it, but the S&S 34 features prominently in the country’s maritime history. It was the boat of choice for Jesse Martin and Jessica Watson on their endeavours to become the youngest to sail non-stop, solo and unassisted around the world. It was also the boat of choice for Jon Sanders too - and for the same reason.
“These boats have a long history of being seaworthy,’’ Cannar said. “Sure it will be bouncier than most boats, and we won’t be planing downwind, but there’s comfort in just how solid it is.”
Joining Cannar is a crew as diverse in background as they are in age, varying from 19 years to 68. It includes Tim Knox, an adventurer known for building a homemade raft and navigating the Murray Darling and Hawkesbury Rivers.
The most experienced crewman is American Brian Caldwell, who in 1996 at 19 was the first person under 21 to sail around the world single-handed with stops. He’s since become a veteran of numerous Sydney Hobart’s, Mini Fastnets, Trans Pacs and other ocean races.
Having Caldwell aboard has reinforced Cannar’s sense of adventure. “It’s a great comfort having him on board,’’ Cannar acknowledged. “You know, we’ve a lot of sailing experience between us, and we’ve been training and working hard to get the boat ready. You might say some of us are old, but even when you’re old you still have dreams and look to challenges. This is one for the list.”
The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, the Australia Network throughout the Asia Pacific Region and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7 from 12.30pm until 2.00pm on Boxing Day.
By Danielle McKay, RSHYR Media