Anger Management – why the entire town of Esperance will be watching this year's Sydney Hobart

When multi-millionaires enter their supermaxis in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, they throw money around like confetti. Professional boat managers handle every aspect of the preparation and during the race, well-paid rock star sailors and professional navigators get the boat to Hobart – fast!

It was a very different proposition for Tim Stewart, the owner of the 44ft Salona Anger Management when he decided to enter this year's race.

Anger Management represents the Esperance Bay Yacht Club and the beautiful town of around 15,000 people that nestles at the edge of Great Australian Bight, on Western Australia's south coast. By the time the starter's gun fires, Tim estimates he will have spent around $150,000 getting the boat ready and delivered to Sydney, completing all the paperwork and getting his crew of 10 qualified to take part.

Back from the Dead

It has been a long journey and one that started in 2017 when Tim and his partner, Priscilla Davies, bought the boat, then known as Zaney Waney, in the Whitsundays. She had been damaged by Cyclone Debbie and had sunk at her berth on Hamilton Island.

Before trucking the boat back to Esperance, Tim and some mates decided they may as well do Hamilton Island Race Week. They competed in PHS Division 2 and placed second, just two points behind the winner.

“I guess it’s just come from that,” Tim said. “I think what happened, perhaps I had a boat that was capable of doing it and I just started asking around some of the good guys in Esperance and said ‘look, would you be interested in doing the Hobart?’ It’s never been on my bucket list but it has been on a few others so a few guys put their hands up.”

This was the first example of small town co-operation. EBYC has an enthusiastic group of boat owners and crews, sailing cruising yachts of around the 35 to 45ft range, who battle for bragging rights every weekend over summer.

Tim was going to need more than the normal six or seven crew who race Anger Management in Esperance, so he called for volunteers from among the other boats. Included in the 10 doing the Sydney Hobart are Robbie Johnston and Russell Bridge, who own boats that try to beat Anger Management on a weekly basis. There are two “ringers”, Geoff Bishop from UK Sails in Fremantle and Mark Wheeler, also from Perth, who is the navigator. They have done nine Sydney Hobarts each and will provide some much-needed offshore experience.

Once the crew members were settled, fund raising and training began. There is not much need for Sea Safety and Survival qualifications when racing in the magnificent Esperance Bay. Nor do many crew put their hands up for radio operator exams*. But the Sydney Hobart crew certifications are unequivocal, followng the fatal 1998 race. So it was into the classroom.

Pilates

Sponsors were locked in and a fitness guru was engaged to conduct pilates classes. This made many in the club smile as 'pilates' has long been yacht club code for a boozy Friday lunch at the Pier Hotel. “See you at Pilates” has now taken on a new and literal meaning.

Crew member Dylan Pinchin summed it up in an interview with a local radio station. “We have sacrificed ourselves for almost eight months in preparing mentally and physically,” he said. “Preparing for this race in just eight months around our everyday lives has been a challenge personally for all of us.

“We’ve had to do intense sail training and preparation for our sea survival qualifications and we’ve all really hit it quite hard, but we’re definitely ready.”

News that a local crew was doing the famous race spread quickly, and local companies and individuals rallied to the cause. Local media plugged the campaign every step of the way and on Boxing Day the whole town will be glued to their TV sets hoping for a glimpse of “their boat” as she leaves Sydney Heads.

Across the Bight

Anger Management was trucked from Airlie Beach to Esperance but she made the return trip to eastern Australia on her own keel. A delivery crew set off in November and delivered her to the CYCA in Rushcutters Bay, where the race crew have now assembled ready for the big day.

As Boxing Day approaches, so does the onset of nerves. “I've been known to get quite seasick, which is ironic really, considering I've owned a boat for eight or nine years and been sailing most of my life,” Tim Stewart said. “But it's been a while since I've been sick and I'm going to have all the best pills money can buy, so I think I'll be okay.” 

The West Australian and his crew are realistic about their chances of winning. “Our primary goal is to finish the race and we'll be relying on our two gun Perth sailors to help us do that. But we saw the divisional list and to challenge ourselves we'll gauge our performance against the three Beneteau 45s (Black Sheep from Tasmania, Dreki Sunna from NSW and Audere from Victoria).

 

“We have really good group of guys on the crew, they are really close and know what each other is capable of. We have assembled all the local rock stars from Esperance for this and are just about ready! We can’t wait for the race.”

Anger Management is one of only two Western Australian entries in this year's race. The other is the modified Farr 40 Enterprise, which has been campaigning in the CYCA's Blue Water Pointscore over the past months and is rated a “smokey” for handicap honours if conditions suit her.

Anger Management is also only the second Esperance-based yacht to compete in the Sydney Hobart. The other was Tim Ratten's S&S 39 Pilgrim, which was a regular Sydney Hobart competitor in the 1970s against sister-ship Mark Twain. Pilgrim was later sold to Jon Sanders and became Perie Banou II.

* Two radio messages the author heard while sailing in Esperance in 2009 perfectly illustrate the laid-back approach to yacht racing at the EBYC.

The first occurred during a race that took in a turning mark in the beautiful Blue Haven bay. On arriving in the bay, Eagle Rock, the race leader, noted that the mark had washed ashore in a recent storm. A crew member went below and simply broadcast, “Calling all yachts, the Blue Haven mark has washed ashore. Just turn where you think it used to be.”

All the other boats duly made their turn at the approximate place, all returned to the finish line and nothing further was said. There were no protests. Having raced at some of the big city clubs, this memory always makes me laugh. I know several where the incident would have cost the PRO, and probably the Commodore, their jobs.

The second incident happened a few hours after the start of the Remark Race, the club's longest race of the year. We were all drifting around in approximately 0 knots of wind on a rare calm day, still facing the prospect of around six hours sailing, even when the afternoon breeze filled in.

Finally, the radio crackled and we heard the following announcement: “Calling all yachts, this is Rosie. We have experienced an eski lid malfunction and are retiring to Gull (a nearby bay) to effect repairs.”

I looked at my crew, they looked at me, and we immediately announced that, as the closest yacht to Rosie, we would stand by to assist. I am pleased to report that said lid had been repaired by the time we reached Gull, and we set about continuously sampling the contents, just to ensure the problem had not returned. Others continued in the race, which was won that year by Hellfire, owned by Robbie Johnston, a crew member on Anger Management for the 2018 Sydney Hobart.

– Roger McMillan, Editor (with additional material from RSH Media).

Footnote: I called into Esperance while heading east in my 37ft Van de Stadt in 2008. I intended to be there for three days before heading across the Bight, but stayed for five months. One of the reasons for the long stay was the incredible hospitality shown to me by members of the yacht club. If you want to see the other reason, go to Google Images and enter the word Esperance.

The crew of Anger Management:

Owner

Tim Stewart

Navigator

Mark Wheeler (9)

Crew

Mark Quinliven, Collin Maloney, Chris Ratcliff, Dylan Pinchin, Geoff Bishop (9), Robbie Johnston, Russel Bridge, Stuart McIntyre.

Windcraft
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GME GPS
Ronstan
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GME GPS