Financial guru Paul Clitheroe calls all his boats Balance; as in balance sheet, balanced portfolio, bank balance and balance in life.
This year he graduated from racing a Beneteau 45, a displacement, more or less family friendly cruiser/racer to a TP52, a noisy, high speed jock’s sort of boat which could never, ever take the family out for a weekend cruise. So, on balance, what are the differences?
“They’re more expensive” is the first thing he has to offer.
That figures. It’s not just the fact that TP52’s are bigger, made from more exotic materials, and with bigger sails. The golden rule of sailing is that the cost to waterline ratio rises exponentially with each extra foot, but buying a TP52 is a statement.
“You’re serious about racing. You’re serious about winning. Why else would you bother?”
Clitheroe and his crew are determinedly Corinthian, which means amateur; so were all his competitors in the Beneteaus. The racing was intensely competitive, that was its great satisfaction, but TP52’s are grand prix boats, many with quite a few professional sailors on board for the big races. For the time being, anyway, Paul is resigned to being a follower more often than a leader.
“At least when we get lost we’ll have someone to follow,” he jokes. “Take Onesails Racing, (Ray Roberts’ Farr 55) – the talent on that boat,” Clitheroe says. “We are on a learning curve. We won’t push the boat as hard as they will. If we see a screaming sou-wester coming towards us and think it’s faster to go out, we’ll probably stay closer to the cliffs. It’s less pressure, but we’ll feel safer.
“Sometimes, when it’s marginal, the other TP52’s will stick with a bigger kite than we will. We know we’re amateurs, so we race a bit more conservatively.
“People say we could win this year because we have done so well in the Blue Water Point Score, but it’s all been pretty easy sailing. We haven’t had to cope with a big storm, and I’ve yet to be in a Rolex Sydney Hobart without at least one big blow. We have to be sensible.
“In the Beneteaus we all went as hard as we could, but this year we’re still learning, and the first priority is to get to Hobart safely.”
Of course he expects to have a ball on the way. TP52’s are just great fun. Beneteaus go through the water, these go over it. “It takes me back to my windsurfing days. In 20 knots you can be sailing downwind and consistently reaching speeds of 16 to 20 knots in 20 knots of wind! We all holler with joy, it all feels so effortless.
“We’ve gone very fast on the Beneteau 45, but down waves, wondering what will happen at the bottom…”
And this is where it gets curious. On Balance, Clitheroe rates these speed machines safer than the more wholesome cruiser/racers.
“These are designed as tough ocean racers. There is no darned spinnaker pole, and if anything is going to get you it’s a spinnaker pole.
“We’ll get to Hobart a day earlier than we would with our other boat. That means less time for another front to come through and get us and less fatigue.
“The guys in the TP52’s think it’s a big step up, but they forget how hard it is to race a displacement cruiser/racer. When the wind gets up you try to get as square as you can (the wind right behind you) because you don’t want to create any apparent wind,” he says.
“But the loads are terrifying. At 180 degrees to the wind, you get the death wobbles. A Chinese gybe in Bass Strait is bloody awful. TP’s never go lower than 150 degrees. They may broach – there will be a lot of flapping about – but you get it under control quickly.
“And when you’re pushing 11 tonnes through the water in 20 knots, a 5 knot gust puts the boat under tremendous extra pressure and strain. But if a TP is doing 17 or 18 knots over the water, and a 5 knot gust comes through, it just goes 5 knots faster. There’s no extra strain.
“We are finding this boat easier to sail than our 45. They guys in the Beneteaus will have a tougher job than us.
“But we are respectful, very respectful. The kites on these things are huge. You could wrap a house with one. Bearing down at 20 knots on the rocks or a mark and if you get a halyard jammed would be terrifying.
“Everything is happening at high speed. When we won the Cabbage Tree Island race (in November) we crossed the line at 19 knots and then realized how little space there was beyond the line. I thought we were going to collect one of the navy ships at Garden Island,” he said.
“On a Beneteau, bad things happen, but they come up on you slowly. On TP, stuff comes at you really quickly. You can be going along fine and then bang, you’ve got a crisis,” Clitheroe ends.
In our conversation Clitheroe has used the word terrifying a few time. I point that out to him.
“Yes,” he concedes, “I’ve gone from one terror to another.”
Oh and there’s one other thing the new Balance has going for it. As it happens, TP52’s tend to get around Tasman Island and up the Derwent before the river’s infamous shut down. That really matters.
“A couple of years back, we were rounding Tasman Island with Victoire, another Beneteau 45, and Ed Psaltis in his AFR Midnight Rambler and we were winning the race,” Paul recalls. “One of the crew remarked on how nice the Tasman Light looked in the dusk, he’d like to see it one day at dawn.
“‘Don’t say that’, I told him. Sure enough, we drifted away from Tasman Island (near Storm Bay) for a few hours and then we drifted back. He got to see Tasman Light at dawn.
“For me Storm Bay is more Lake Placid.”
The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.
By Jim Gale, RSHYR media