Daryl Hodgkinson is looking for another Rolex watch

Hundreds of Australian sailors spend their lives trying to win the Tattersall’s Cup and the Rolex watch that goes with it; year after year they declare in Hobart that this was their last Rolex Sydney Hobart – definitely – for sure. But 12 months later you spot them again at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, tinkering with their pride and joy and nervously eying off Boxing Day.

It is with a certain relief that a number of those who do win the race pledge that, yes, it really is finished. No more Bass Strait for me. Whoopee.

The 2013 winner Darryl Hodgkinson understands the feeling entirely. “It was very hard to come back to the crew after last year and say ‘let’s keep doing this’.”

What turned everything around psychologically was winning the Gosford to Lord Howe Island race this year. His Cookson 50, Victoire, finished second across the line, just 2 hours behind the bigger, more potent Volvo Open 70 Southern Excellence II. “We looked at each other and thought maybe last year wasn’t a fluke after all,” Hodgkinson says.

Having a boat as exciting to sail as the canting keeled Victoire is a big incentive too. Hodgkinson traded up from racing Beneteau cruiser/racers last year, and the transition was a revelation. “It was the thrill of my life. You get a puff, the nose goes up in the air and you’re off. The acceleration is fantastic; you get down the Harbour real fast.

“We actually feel safer than on the old boat. She stays in the groove longer, and because the bow stays up, she’s not plunging into the waves. She takes water, but amazingly it doesn’t get into the boat, even in 30 knots, when we’re boiling along at 27 knots; it’s something else.”

When they won last year, Hodkinson said the victory was a year early. His was a two-year plan to win with Victoire and they’d done it in one. They were still learning about the boat, and the tactical differences between displacement and high-speed planning racing. 

“There are a lot more decisions to make. You can get to the shifts, and be where you want to be. Of course if you make a bad decision you also go a long way in the wrong direction pretty quickly.”

So does he really think they could win back-to-back Rolex Sydney Hobarts?

“It’s tilting at windmills,” he smiles modestly. He’s such a softly spoken, gentle man you almost believe him. But then he says: “In the last three Hobarts we won our division every time. We know we’re getting better. We understand the sail plan better and are better prepared than last year. I’m nervous, but we’re in a better place than last year.

“We have a planing boat with a canting keel and definitely have the weaponry. We gauge ourselves against the Volvo 70s. Pretty Fly II is identical to us. She is very well sailed, and it’s great to be up against Paul Clitheroe again.”

The two were great rivals in the Beneteau 45s, racing neck-and-neck, and now that Clitheroe has acquired a TP52, the two will be on the same piece of the racetrack again.

“When we were thinking about the new Victoire there were a lot of TP52s around, but the results Cooksons had had internationally convinced us she was the right one. If it’s light though, we are pushing a lot of lead through the water. In a regatta we’re pretty hopeless.

“But if the gods are with us…..

“Winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart does give you a lift.  It boosts your ego, your sense of self-worth. But you shouldn’t get too big.”

A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before A fleet of 118 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.

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.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2014 Notice of Race is online at: http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/competitors/online-race-entry/.

By Jim Gale, RSHYR media 

Race Yachts
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Jeanneau JY55