Fifteen top yachts have entered the Rolex Trophy Rating and Passage series

A classy field of 15 yachts, most of them entries in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, will front the start line of the Rolex Trophy Rating Series starting tomorrow, Thursday December 17.

Six of the yachts entered in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) organised series, limbered up in yesterday's SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour. Line honours victor, the 100ft Alfa Romeo, owned by New Zealand's Neville Crichton, is sure to be the focal point for all sailing lovers tomorrow, with its towering rig, by far the largest yacht in the event.

Crichton said yesterday he and his heavy-weight crew, including Noel ‘Nitro' Drennan, Peter Merrington, Stu Bannatyne, Michael Coxon, Murray Spence and McConaghy Boats' managing director, Jonno Morris, would use the series as a shakedown in Aussie waters, citing preparation and training as key to winning performances.

The businessman has been busy blazing a trail on the international big boat scene and can boast a plethora of line honours victories, smashing records along the way. This year alone, Alfa Romeo set a new record in the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic and the TransPac race. And 2008 was about as impressive as it gets with line honours victories in the Barcolana Race, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Boat International SuperYacht Regatta, Giraglia Race (new record) and others.

The CYCA's Principal Race Officer, Denis Thompson, has windward/leeward races planned for the first two days of the four day hit out. He expects to hold two races per day on courses inside and outside Sydney Heads.

For the final two days of the series, on the weekend (December 19 and 20), the CYCA has introduced a Passage Series, which has proved a winner, with 22 boats entered. A total of six races will constitute the Rolex Trophy Rating Series.

This is the first time RáN, Niklas Zennstrom's 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race overall winner, will sail in Australian waters, the Judel/Vrolijk 72 bringing with it a formidable reputation. Australians confident of finishing at the top of the overall field in the Rolex Sydney Hobart quote RáN as an unknown factor, as none have raced against her.

This series will be the first opportunity for the likes of Rolex Sydney Hobart favourites Loki, Stephen Ainsworth's RP 63, Alan Brierty's Reichel RP 62 Limit, Geoff Ross' RP 55 Yendys, Ray Roberts' Cookson 50 Evolution Racing, Syd Fischer's TP52 Ragamuffin, all representing the CYCA and Living Doll, Michael Hiatt's Farr 55 from Melbourne, to measure their performances against each other and the English based yacht. This is why the Passage Series, consisting of two offshore passage races – one race per day – is a bonus, as the yachts will stretch their legs on longer courses in the 17-27 nautical mile range.

According to Mike Green, Bob Steel's sailing master on Quest, which won the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge overall yesterday, “It's not just that we (Australians) don't know how we'll measure up against RáN. Some of the Australians haven't raced against each other either, so there's a few unknown quantities. There's at least 10 boats that can win the Hobart overall. It is the hardest fleet to win against in at least 10 years.”

Aboard RáN are some of the ‘heavies' of sailing; Steve Hayles, America's Cup sailors Adrian Stead, Andy Hemmings, Richard Bouzaid and Richard Meacham and Farr Yachts' Geoff Stagg.

The Australians have their own talent aboard. Loki has international yachtsman Gordon Maguire, who has competed in and won most of the world's major races, along with locals Anthony Merrington, Alby Pratt and Darren Senogles. Like Maguire, the former two have made their mark on the international scene while Senogles, who has ocean raced since he was a boy, is to be envied his talents and experience.

Limit will once again call on the services of Gavin Brady and Rodney Keenan; Yendys has Will Oxley, David Blanchfield, Rob Salthouse and Chris Nicholson, Living Doll has Ross Lloyd. All are big names in the various areas of sailing; America's Cups, Volvo Ocean Races and others.

The Passage Racing fleet will join the Rating Series entrants for the two weekend races. Some of the names electing just to sail the Passage Series include Victoria's Calm, a TP 52 co-owned by Jason Van der Slot, and Bruce Taylor's IRC 40 Chutzpah.

They will be joined by a number of CYCA yachts; Evolution Racing, Ragamuffin, Shortwave (Matt Short's TP52), Howard Piggott's Beneteau First 40 Flying Cloud, Colin Wood's Cookson 50 Pretty Fly III, Leslie Green's Swan 60 Ginger, Tony Kirby's X-41 Patrice Six and the Jones 70 Ichi Ban, owned by the CYCA Commodore Matt Allen.

Ichi Ban will be crewed by some of the biggest names around, including Rolex Sydney Hobart 32 race veteran Michael ‘Spiesy' Spies, Doug McGain, Robert Case, Tom Braidwood, and Scott Lawson.

Race 1 of the Rolex Trophy Rating Series is due to start from 11.00am tomorrow, depending on conditions. Race 2 will be held as soon as practical after Race 1.The Bureau of Meteorology says to expect moderate to fresh north-westerly winds, moving to a north-easterly sea breeze in the afternoon. It is expected to be a hot day with a thunderstorm in the afternoon.

– Di Pearson, CYCA Media

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