Skippers, sailors, supporters and plenty of locals finally got to soak up some Tasmanian summer sun in the Willie Smith Race Village in Hobart on Sunday afternoon for the presentation of trophies for the 2023 Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race (the Westcoaster).
This year’s fleet had a quick but intense race to Hobart, battling wind gusts of up to 50 knots, five to six metre seas, with close rivalry on the race course, but the overall winner of the event was sailing itself, with the exhaustion, smiles, relief and enormous satisfaction etched on the faces of this close-knit group.
Cyrus Allen, Commodore of the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria (ORCV), and David Schuller, Race Director, officiated proceedings and awarded the prizes.
Alex Toomey, skipper of Ryujin from the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, accepted the Wrest Point Abel Tasman Trophy as line honours winner for monohulls from the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Hobart, Anna Reynolds.
Justin Brenan, skipper of Alien and twice-crowned the ORCV Offshore Champion, graciously accepted the prestigious Heemskerk Perpetual Trophy awarded to first place overall on corrected time on AMS handicap.
Brenan, from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, and his crew of Allison Wilson, Andrew Vincent, Glen Cowan, Benjamin Tyrrell, Katrina Hartman, Michael Noy and Paul Neilson now have the enviable record of four Westcoaster titles along with a win in the Melbourne to Hobart Eastcoaster Race in 2008.
Brenan’s experienced crew includes long-term Westcoaster sailors with over 75 races between them.
Brenan credited the race win to his ‘evergreen yacht’, a Lidgard 36 design, his loyal, skilful and seasoned ocean racing crew, and his onshore support team.
The Edward Henty Perpetual Trophy was awarded to Ginan, skippered by Cameron McKenzie and Nigel Jones from the Mornington Yacht Club, for second place overall on AMS, with the team also winning on ORC handicap.
The double-handed entry, Maverick, co-skippered by Rod Smallman and Leeton Hulley, received the Batman Perpetual Trophy for third place overall on AMS.
Maverick had more trophies than hands by the end of the presentation with the team winning the City of Melbourne Perpetual Trophy for first on corrected time on performance handicap as well as the Double-Handed Perpetual Trophy.
Charles Meredith and the crew from the multihull, Peccadillo, sailing in their first Westcoaster, won the Port Phillip Sea Pilots Trophy for the first yacht to exit Port Phillip Heads and won line honours for the first multihull home, setting a new race record for multihulls along the way.
Michael Graham, skipper of Santana from Newcastle, New South Wales, received the Alan Collins “Rookie Skipper” prize which is selected by the Race Director for the best performing ‘first-time’ skipper.
Graham and his crew sailed from Newcastle in NSW – a distance greater than the Sydney to Hobart course – to get to the start line just in time for the race. They then sailed their Swan 43 safely and steadily to Hobart in the first Westcoaster for the boat and skipper and were a popular choice for the Rookie award.
The Zeehan Trophy was awarded to Andrew Vincent and Katrina Hartman as co-navigators on Alien, the boat first on corrected time in the premier AMS division.
ORCV Commodore Allen also presented the Robin Hewitt trophy and the coveted yellow 10+ Westcoaster cap to Chris Webster, an award for sailors who have achieved the milestone of competing in ten Westcoaster races.
Commodore Allen noted how tough this year’s race was.
“Like many of you, in the deep of the night with the wind howling through the rig and seas tumbling over the deck, I wondered about ocean sailors who keep coming back year after year to race offshore.
“The answer I came to was that we do this for the adventure and the challenge”.
“But mostly we do this because of the camaraderie that develops between people racing in an offshore race.
“Existing friendships grow stronger, and new friendships are forged.
“Each skipper and crew who made it to Hobart this year – including those who tactically withdrew for safety reasons – displayed seamanship and determination in line with the very best of Ocean Racing Club standards,” said Allen.
The 2023 Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race was one of intensity and diversity, and of personal and team achievements.
This year saw the return of the first multihull in 35 years and continued representation in the double-handed division, a division the ORCV has been promoting for over 20 years.
The exhausted but relaxed award-winning co-skippers of Maverick talked with ORCV Media about the tough conditions experienced on the last night of the race.
“The last night was a cracker, an absolute blinder – it was the most frightening, and the most fun at the same time, that I have ever had.
“This year we had access to the BOM [Bureau of Meteorology] access models and they were unbelievably accurate which helped us go in the right spot, because there is no use being the best sailor if you aren’t in the right wind,” said Smallman.
And on sailing down the West Coast of Tasmania double-handed?
“One word, awesome. When things are running smooth then it’s a lot less hectic on a two-handed boat.
“What makes us work is that we think the same,” said Smallman.
“When you are two-handed, you are solo sailing while the other person is having a sleep.
“You have to know every job on the boat. you’ve got to be a good steerer, you’ve got to be a good main trimmer, you’ve got to be a good bowman,” said Hulley, although both agreed they needed to do some work on their diesel mechanic skills.
Dark and Stormy, skippered by Tobias Swanson of the Royal Geelong Yacht Club, welcomed three Italian sailors to his crew for this year’s race bringing skill and enthusiasm to the team – and an antipasto platter to the onboard pantry.
Tommaso Mattia Pretto is a recent graduate of Monash University with a Master of Environment and Sustainability degree and works at the Climateworks Centre in Victoria. He sailed this year’s race with his father Giolio Pretto and Paolo La Face who had flown to Australia in September from their home in Ancona, Marche, on the East Coast of Italy.
“Since I came to Australia a few years ago, I did a fair bit of ocean racing with ORCV. It’s really different sailing [to the Mediterranean].
“I would say it’s not as easy at all…the swell and the way that it pushes you is a completely different experience,” said Pretto.
And on sailing with his father?
“We were looking after each other all the time. I was the youngest onboard and he [Giulio] was the oldest.
“We’ve never had an experience like this before. I grew up sailing with my Dad since I was in the womb of my Mum…going to Croatia, so more cruising then, but having him here with me was just fantastic,” said Pretto.
The Dark and Stormy crew is a close crew with affection across the team on show.
“We experienced gusts of 50 knots of wind, and as they predicted, five to six metre seas, and it was heavy. We struggled to gybe and struggled to put up all the other sails…and we tried not to have any accidental gybes.
“I’m really proud of my crew…a couple of key crew, Rob [Newman], Bart [Archbold] and Tommaso (Pretto] did an amazing job last night …with high speed downhill runs down waves, we had a great time, we really enjoyed it,” said Swanson.
This year’s race also had a focus on environmental sustainability with crews provided advice on what to take onboard, on local endangered marine life such as the spotted handfish, and on ways to recycle used or damaged sails.
Melissa Warren, ORCV Committee member and on the bow on Jaffa, sailed her first Westcoaster and was beaming from ear to ear after the race.
“Honestly, I feel great. This was my first Hobart race, I’m so glad that I had a really supportive team to do it with.
“I like to get the sport of sailing out there as much as possible, to put on lots of different events, talking to kids, and making sure we start from the ground up,”
And Warren’s final words of encouragement for sailors on the edge, contemplating sailing in a Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race.
“Don’t be on the edge. You want to be involved. It’s [the Southern Ocean] one of the hardest seas to sail and is just a privilege,” said Warren.
Next year’s event is shaping up to be another great race with interest growing from the multihull contingent in Europe and across the double-handed fleet.
In the words of Maverick skipper, Rod Smallman, “Give it a go!”
The race was run with the cooperation of the Derwent Sailing Squadron.
Jane Austin/ORCV media
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About ORCV: A leading authority on ocean sailing, racing and training in Australia, the Club was formed so that ocean races in Victorian waters could be efficiently developed and run by an organisation focusing specifically on the needs of ocean racers.
About the race:
The Westcoaster, as the race is affectionately known, is one of the world’s great ocean races, covering 435 nautical miles from the start in Port Philip Bay to the finish line in the River Derwent in Hobart.
The Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race is one of the world’s great ocean races providing fierce competition against a backdrop of extraordinary scenery and abundant sea life.
The race starts with a 125 nm passage across Bass Strait before the fleet sails 200 nm south down the West Coast of Tasmania, past Maatsuyker Island, east to South East Cape then turning northeast towards the more sheltered, but equally challenging waters of Storm Bay and the River Derwent.