Foreign raiders brace for the Sydney Hobart challenge

The number of international entrants in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is now 11, but delve in to their respective crew lists and a veritable league of nations emerges.

A stand out for its cultural diversity is one of the two Chinese entrants – the 80-footer Apsaras, a Reichel/Pugh designed entrant from the Sevenstar Yacht Club in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong.

The Apsaras crew of 20 sailors has six nations represented in it – China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Italy and Australia, the latter including its talented Australian skipper Travis Read.

Launched in May, 2015 in Pesaro in Italy, and owned by Hong Kong businessman Li Jan, Apsaras will be making her debut in the race this year. But she is not short of international racing experience.

She won the 2015 Atlantic Rally for cruisers, sailed in the 2016 British Virgin Islands to Bermuda race and then the 2017 Kings Cup Regatta. This year alone, she has already sailed to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

However, while the aim of her campaign is to promote Chinese culture, it is also to promote an exchange of cultures, especially on board where the crew language may be English, but all crew are encouraged to learn the six languages of their crewmates.

“We are really happy we have different people on board and sailing together on Apsaras like a big family,” said Chinese crew member Shing Kin (Ken) Chui on Sunday during the international entrants' press conference held at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

“We welcome different nationalities on board. We are sharing different sailing cultures and experience.

“English is our language on board. Everyone can understand (it) from the bow to the stern and from the skipper. (But) like sharing culture, we are teaching our languages and learning each other’s language.”

Shing Kin Chui added that the crew on Apsaras, bought by Li Jian early this year, have been in Australia since September, as “to understand the Australian sea and the way that everything can change with the weather – and to train with Australian skipper.”

The second Chinese entrant, Noahs II, has also had a lengthy spell in Sydney adapting to the waters and weather.

Owned by Ting Lee, Noahs II is a Jones 70 that was built in 2005 for the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race. Formerly Ichi Ban/Southern Excellence II, Noahs II has been upgraded with a new mast and rigging and represents Noahs Sailing Club.

She came to Ting Lee with plenty of Sydney Hobart experience too. She raced every edition from 2006 to 2014 – the first seven years as Ichi Ban, the last two as Southern Experience, finishing second over the line in 2006 to Wild Oats XI, then third in 2007 and 2008.

In Sydney since August for a period that included competing in the Bird Island race, Noahs II is ready for another Hobart, as crewmate Honguan Li said: “It is an honour to be here to do the Hobart.

“The boat is really ready right now. It is good, very powerful. We have worked very hard. We have had a good experience …”

Adding some French flair to the Hobart this year is Éric de Turckheim who has returned to the race with a new Teasing Machine to the one that he raced on in 2015 and saw his overall winning hopes frustratingly evaporate when winds abated on the Derwent River.

Asked for ‘Teasing Machine’s’ origin as his name of choice for the boat, de Turckheim broke into a broad smile and said: “About 10 years ago I was in Quay West. One of the street bars was (named) ‘The Teaser.’ It comes from there and that’s why we have all those (images of) girls on the boat, as a logo in different forms and shapes.”

This incarnation of Teasing Machine is a Nivelt-Muratet 54, launched in July, 2017. She is also considered a serious contender for the Tattersall Cup that is awarded to the winner on corrected time.

Together with de Turckheim’s credentials as an owner-skipper, Teasing Machine has an excellent crew, including four from 2015.

So there is plenty of unfinished business to be settled by them.

Although, de Turckheim concedes that his chances of winning the race overall will be boosted with stronger winds, rather than the light ones forecast that he believes better suit the TP52s and canting keel 50s.

“There years ago we can very close (to winning), but we arrived at two o’clock in the morning in the (Derwent) River …. no wind and we had to wait until seven or eight o’clock in the morning to be able to move forwards to the end,” de Turckheim said. “And that was it,” although he did finish seventh overall and win Division 3.

“That’s the way, that’s Sydney Hobart … a mix of great conditions.

“I am very happy to be back here, especially in a big fleet of TP52s …

“We will see how the forecast evolves, but at this stage there will be light winds that favour more the TP52s than us.

“It will be very hard to win. It is going to be very close. I don’t see a big gap unless you have a significant shift in the weather forecast.”

Meanwhile, Ronald O’Hanley, the owner of Privateer, a Farr designed canting keel 50 that was built by Cookson Boats in New Zealand and is one of three United States entrants, concurs with de Turckheim about the suitability of the lighter winds that are forecast.

This will be 12-year-old Privateer’s debut in the Sydney Hobart. But the New York Yacht Club registered boat comes with credentials and an upgrade to turbo charge her – the keel trim tab was fixed on the centreline and a retractable canard was added forward of the mast

“We have campaigned it mostly in the US, but also the big distance races (like) the Caribbean 600, the Fastnet and this has been a really important bucket list race,” O’Hanley said on Sunday.

“It’s a real mission to get here, and even a bigger mission to actually sail the race. It is something we have been looking forward to.

“In some ways, it is at least close to home waters for the yacht that was built in New Zealand and built for these waters.

“We are looking forward to it.”

Commenting on the weather forecast, O’Hanley said: “I think it will be great for the 50 (footers.) It should be a good race for everybody.

“The canting keel is helpful in the right conditions and sometimes it is not the right conditions. But it is a great all round boat.

“It’s been 12 years and we have optimised it, modified it; but structurally it is exactly the same boat that came out 12 years ago – incredibly built and has been terrific for us in races like the Fastnet, the Jamaica race … like the 600. This is the ‘right horse for the course,’ as they say.”

On what winning the Tattersall Cup would mean to him, O’Hanley said: “It’s an honour to be here and I think (for) anybody that does this race, completes it, gets the crew there safely and finishes the race is an honour itself.

“Sure it would be great to win the thing, extraordinary to win the thing, but we are here to do our best.”

John Murkowski, owner-skipper of US entrant Joy Ride, revealed his boat’s start in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race was virtually an off the cuff decision, even though it is a race he has long wanted to be in.

Murkowski usually races his Farr designed canting keel Cookson 50 that is registered with the Seattle Yacht Club, in the north-west of the US, but his US-Canadian crew also picks a big ocean race each year.

In 2017 Joy Ride won the Van Isle 360 race around Vancouver Island. And in July this year, they won the 2,380 nautical miles Vic-Maui Race from Canada to Hawaii.

“We have tried for the last three years to pick one big race a year in addition to our local races,” Murkowski said, adding that after winning the Maui race: “It seemed like we should keep going west and came down here and see what all the commotion is about.

“So instead of sailing home we kept sailing and ended up here … super excited to now be part of it.

“I have been thinking about the Sydney Hobart for at least 10 years.

“The trip to Sydney was split in two. The first sail was three weeks from Hawaii to Fiji where the crew stayed one month while Joy Ride underwent repairs. The second was a two-week sail to Sydney.”

The Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network via 7Mate throughout Australia.

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