Hot Hobart Boats
It's going to be tough at the top in a healthy Rolex Sydney-Hobart race fleet, writes Bob Ross.
BOB OATLEY's ambition to take line honours in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race for the third successive year with Wild Oats XI is under challenge from three other canting-keeled 98ft maxis including two that have scored line-honours wins in Britain's classic Fastnet race.
ICAP Leopard (Mike Slade) from Great Britain and Maximus (Bill Buckley) from New Zealand were conceived as tough long-distance racers capable of surviving the roughest conditions where Wild Oats XI is more of an inshore/offshore racer, designed and set up to do well in regattas like the Rolex Maxi Cup at Porto Cervo in the Mediterranean as well as the Hobart race.
And the Mornington maverick Grant Wharington will be back with his Jones 98 Skandia, which has a new re-configured keel.
Wild Oats XI's skipper Mark Richards has the greatest respect for his line-honours opponents. “I think this is going to be the toughest year for us by a country mile,” he says.
British sailor Mike Slade's latest maxi ICAP Leopard, a 98ft canting-keeler designed by Farr Yacht Design and built by McConaghy Boats in Sydney, showed the ability sought by owner and design team to handle rugged conditions in smashing the Rolex Fastnet record in 2007 by eight hours and 50 minutes.
Among the more than 200 retirements, in rough seas and 40-knot winds, was Neville Crichton's Reichel/Pugh 98 canting keeler Alfa Romeo, which damaged her mainsail.
Leopard at 36.5 tonnes displacement is more than 10 tonnes heavier than Alfa Romeo and her near and slightly younger sister designed Wild Oats XI, which she will engage in the battle for line honours in this year's Hobart race.
The hull is wide and powerful, 1.6 metres beamier than Alfa Romeo and closer in concept to Farr's Volvo 70 and Cookson 50 designs than the narrow R/P maxis.
The Farr design office says the wide hull, with a distinct chine running aft for about two-thirds of its length to improve water flow off the hull, is especially suited for high-speed sailing offshore. So Leopard 3 could have Wild Oats XI's measure in a hard-running Hobart.
Slade's Reichel/Pugh 97 Leopard of London finished third in the 2002 Rolex Sydney-Hobart race. Australian Chris Sherlock, who was Slade's representative through the build process at McConaghy's and also aboard Leopard of London in 2003, is back leading a crew that includes notable Australians Noel Drennan, Darren Senogles and Gordon Maguire.
The Greg Elliott design canting-keeled New Zealand maxi Maximus has had a thorough refit and a turbo-charge since her dismasting the morning after the start of the 2006 Sydney-Hobart race.
Under the sole ownership now of Bill Buckley, Maximus has a fixed mast that is five metres taller than the rotating wing mast that broke in the 2006 race and a deeper forward canard. She has a considerably greater power-to-weight ratio and is also stronger.
Round-the-world racer Ross Field, who has project-managed the alterations, says the keel is no deeper but weight changes had been made inside the boat and many of the deck arrangements have been changed.
“The biggest change we have made is the rig and I think it is certain to make a tremendous difference,” he said. “It is just a conventional rig but we are carrying a lot more sail area and we have a lot more stability.”
Field adds that the boat has a very good crew, which will include experienced international offshore racers Richard Bouzaid, Mike Quilter and the young match-racing ace Adam Minoprio.
Maximus will not contest any of the warm-up racing in Sydney before the Hobart but will have a shot at the 24-hour record on the passage home from Hobart to Auckland. To break it she would have to average 25 knots. “She is definitely capable of doing that,” Field says.
The boat has proven herself on long offshore races. Soon after her launching in 2005 she won the Transatlantic Race on corrected time, took line honours and won IRC Super 0 division in the 2005 Rolex Fastnet race.
Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI, in line to take her third consecutive line-honours win, faced a tight pre-Hobart schedule with her new mast not scheduled for delivery from Southern Spars in New Zealand until 1 December, at the earliest.
Wild Oats XI, which broke her mast three minutes into race two of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup at Porto Cervo in September, has had a few minor modifications made since her return to Sydney, mainly to prepare for a rough passage in Bass Strait.
She already had a longer bowsprit fitted for the Porto Cervo regatta. The new mast, built to the same dimensions as the old one, will be rigged with carbon fibre in place of PBO.
Top crew on Oats
Her crew is an experienced bunch with more than 200 Hobart races between them, including Iain Murray, Ian Smith, Chris Harmsen, Steve Jarvin, Sven Runow, Robbie Naismith, Dave Sampson, Peter Shipway, Bruce Clarke, Alby Pratt and Ian Burns who will navigate.
Skipper Richards says that Leopard will be hard to beat. “She is much bigger, carries much more sail area. Maximus has a deeper keel, new rudder, four-metre taller mast; she is going to be an absolute weapon.
“We will prepare the boat as best we can prepare for the worst conditions and if we get there in one piece we will have half a chance.”
Skandia, given a fuller hull shape aft and longer waterline in a hull modification before last year's Hobart race, closed to within three nautical miles of leader Wild Oats IX in Bass Strait, close reaching at speeds of 17 knots in a strong south-westerly, when the forward canard fin broke off, ending her chances of a line-honours win. She took line honours in the 156nm Queenscliff-Stanley race in November, her first long event since re-launching.
Matt Allen's Jones-designed Volvo 70 Ichi Ban passed Skandia to finish second, nearly four hours behind Wild Oats XI and place fourth on IRC corrected time overall in the 2006 race.
Ichi Ban is back with an experienced crew including Michael Spies, who has been aboard both line honours and handicap Hobart race winners, Michael Coxon, Doug McGain, Robert Case and Tom Braidwood.
Ninety yachts have applied to enter compared with 87 last year when 78 started and 69 finished.
The first of the new STP65s, American Roger Sturgeon's Rosebud, has entered with her schedule beginning with two days of training from 8 December before she contests the CYCA's Big Boat Challenge race on 11 December, the Rolex Trophy rating series and, hopefully after Hobart if the weather cooperates, the Pittwater-Coffs Harbour race.
Her crew of 16 will include at least five Australians and Kiwis. Among them will be Tasmanian professional sailor and foredeck hand Justin (“Juggy”) Clougher, a veteran of America's Cups and round-the-world races who is these days based in Newport, Rhode Island. Other Australians on board will be Anthony (“Youngster”) Merrington on trim, navigator Tom Addis and grinder Wade (“Bubbs”) Morgan.
The two leading American offshore racing clubs, the Storm Trysail Club and the Transpacific Yacht Club, combined to develop a box-class rule for a high performance, light displacement, fixed keel yacht within fixed parameters for both inshore and offshore sailing that are tight enough to minimise obsolescence.
It sets an overall length of 20m (65.6ft), displacement range of 13,000kg to 13,400kg and a generous sail plan for good light air performance. Sturgeon previously owned a TP52, which was also called Rosebud.
Farr Yacht Design gave Sturgeon a good all-rounder performer for his planned program of world-wide inshore and offshore events, including the Onion Patch series and Newport-Bermuda race in June and the 2008 Cowes Week and Fastnet race in England. Westerly Marine, California, built her.
Sturgeon said after the Transpac that Rosebud offered a much more comfortable ride downwind than the TP52 and was a simple boat to handle.
Hugo Boss II is a Volvo 60 from the UK campaigning under the banner of Alex Thomson Racing alongside the British solo sailor's Open 60 campaign.
Thomson, who contested the 2005 Hobart race with his previous Open 60 Hugo Boss, took off in November with Australian Andrew Cape on his new Hugo Boss on the Barcelona World Race, a non-stop around the world scamper in Open 60s.
Meanwhile, Hugo Boss II was heading for Sydney on the last stage of a world tour that has kept the sponsor's flag flying on a passage from Portsmouth to New York, the Los Angeles-Honolulu Transpac race and passages through Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and on to Sydney for the Hobart race. On each leg of the tour, she has included in her crew young sailors from the Volvo Royal Yachting Association Keelboat squad.
Hugo Boss II, a Farr design, finished second in the 2001-2002 Volvo race around the world. Alex Thomson Racing gave her a three-month refit before she sailed from New York in May. Ross Daniel will skipper her in the Hobart race. Design and build targeted Ross's wish for a strong ocean racer capable of winning the rougher races like the Sydney-Hobart and the Rolex Fastnet race.
Also among the nine overseas entries is British skipper Chris Bull's J145 Jazz, which placed second on the CYCA's Bluewater Pointscore last season and placed third in division C of the 2006 Hobart race. Australian legend Hugh Treharne, who has sailed 27 Hobart races, will add tactical strength and local knowledge.
The race's first Mexican entry is the Beneteau 40.7 Iataia owned by Marcos Rodriguez which, skippered by Mark Rosenfeld, arrived in Sydney after a six-month cruise from Acapulco. Iataia raced in the 2005 Transpac.
The Beneteau First 47.7 Sailplane finished sixth in division and 14th overall in this year's Fastnet race, a tough affair in winds of up to 40 knots and rough seas from which more than 200 yachts withdrew. The British crew will be skippered by John Danby and Robert Bottomley.
The Frers-designed Swan 57 Noonmark VI from Great Britain, owned by Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy and skippered by Mike Gilburt, is on an around-the-world cruise interspersed with some racing. Since her launching in 1998, she has raced in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, placed fifth overall and won division B in the Sevenstar round Britain and Ireland race last year.
Michelle Colenso, with Andrew Poole skipper, will again race her Oyster 55 Capriccio of Rhu. A brush with breast cancer halted her around-the-world cruise in Sydney in 2006 but she raced to Hobart and now, much fitter, is looking forward to doing it again.
Tattersall's Cup prospects
High on the list of favourites for the race's major trophy, the Tattersall's Cup, decided on IRC handicap overall placings, is Geoff Ross's year-old Reichel/Pugh 55 Yendys.
A major header 120n miles from Tasman Island cost Yendys her strong winning chance in the latter stages of the 2006 race. Ross was still pleased to have finished fourth over the line and sixth on handicap.
Ross asked designer Jim Pugh for an ocean racer to win distance races like the Hobart and Fastnet rather than inshore events and he had McConaghy Boats' yard in China build her with a lot of attention to the deck layout, waterproofing and structure. “There is almost as much structure in this boat as most maxis have. It's a very strong, robust boat,” he says.
While his campaigning has been totally focused on winning the Hobart, Ross was pleasantly surprised at winning the IRC racer division of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week in August after viewing the regatta as a team-building opportunity for his Hobart race crew. She won three races in a row in lighter winds.
Her crew will again include Sean Kirkjian, Greg Johnston, Richie Allanson and Danny McConville, with globe-trotting Will Oxley navigating.
The TP 52s Wot Yot and Ragamuffin showed startling downwind performances in the opening distance races of the 2007-2008 Sydney season that would put them among the handicap front-runners if the Hobart race is predominantly off the wind.
Graeme Wood's Nelson/Marek-designed Wot Yot, after a promising debut in the 2006 Hobart, finished third in the Bird Island race and won the Flinders Island race to lead the CYCA's Bluewater Pointscore.
Mike Green, veteran of 29 Hobart races, is again leading her crew that is without some of the veterans from the successful Quest campaigns who were aboard last year. Hugh Brodie and Simon Reffold are back while Peter Messenger is out of action with a back injury.
Green says the total crew weight has been “beefed up” with 100kg to 105kg the new base to swing down the lightweight TP52. “It has been a conscious effort to make the boat younger and stronger,” he says. “You can't afford to carry the older guys on this type of boat.”
He said Wot Yot had been hitting speeds of more than 25 knots on the run home, hotted up before the 20 knots plus southerly in the Flinders Island race. “You are hiking harder going downwind than you are going upwind, the speed difference is so great,” he said.
Wot Yot will install a bowsprit prodder instead of the spinnaker pole for the Sydney-Hobart race and add some new D4 sails to the wardrobe.
Syd Fischer, 80, will be contesting his 39th Hobart race with his latest Ragamuffin, his ninth ocean racer of that name. She is a Farr-designed TP52 launched in 2004, originally owned by Californian Philippe Khan and called Pegasus.
Roy Disney bought her and organised a crew of 15 youngsters with an average age of 22 to race in this year's Transpac race to a worthy third placing in division 2.
Fischer, who won the Sydney-Hobart on corrected time overall in 1992 and took line honours in 1988 and 1990 with his Frers-designed maxi Ragamuffin, will replace the keel designed for the “downhill” Transpac with a heavier one designed by Farr to give the boat better stability.
She has a new mainsail with three reefs in place of the inshore main with only one reef that came with the boat and a bowsprit in place of the spinnaker pole.
His crew will again be back-stopped by Tony Ellis, sailing his 41st Hobart and 1996 Olympian Matt Hayes will be back on board as a driver. They have gathered confidence in the boat through the two opening races of the CYCA's Bluewater Pointscore opening races. Even with the Transpac keel, Ragamuffin placed fourth in the 85nm Bird Island and second in the 92nm Flinders Island race, which was smitten by a 35-knot southerly front.
“We have a lot more confidence in the strength of the boat,” said Ellis. “And it certainly is a lot of fun to sail. We have had to re-think our downwind angles. If you are not planing, you are going too slow!”
A third TP52, Alan Whiteley's Cougar 2 has entered from Melbourne's growing offshore fleet. A Farr design built by Cookson's in 2005, she was third to finish in the Stanley race, which was blasted by a 35-45 knot southerly front.
After three races, David Beak's Beneteau 44.7 Mr Beak's Ribs was lying second to Wot Yot on the CYCA's Bluewater Pointscore. She is campaigning this year with a “works team” crew from Ian Short Sails. Short has added helming strength with David (“Shorty”) McKay, former world Moth class champion and two-times Australian 16ft skiff champion.
The boat, carefully optimised for IRC racing by Michael Spies, placed ninth overall and second in IRC division C in the 2004 Sydney-Hobart, then won 2005 Sailing South Race Week in Hobart, Skandia Race Week in Geelong and the IRC Cruising Class at Hamilton Island Race Week. Under the name Sirromet Lifestyle Wine, she withdrew from the 2005 Hobart with a broken spreader. She will have a wardrobe of all-new carbon working sails and new spinnakers.
Third on the Bluewater Pointscore after three races (Audi Sydney-Gold Coast, Bird Island, Flinders Island), was Alan Brierty's Corby 49 Limit with a consistent 6-5-4 scoreline.
West Australian Brierty bought Flirt from Chris Dare of Melbourne after a successful 2006-2007 season in which she won IRC division 2 in the Rolex Trophy Rating Series in Sydney last December and finished second at Skandia Geelong Week.
Along with the boat came Dare's Sydney-based sailing master Roger Hickman, who filled a similar role for Kevan Pearce aboard Ausmaid in her 1996 Hobart race win. Tasmanian Hickman is a Hobart race specialist with 30 on his CV.
Ray Roberts is back with the Cookson 50 Quantum Racing, now with a forward canard to improve upwind performance. Cookson Boats built the canard in Auckland and installed it in time for Quantum Racing to sail with it in Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.
The canard, which contributes side-force resistance when the keel is canted, has helped Quantum Racing go upwind much more efficiently. “We are not competitive in the light stuff but in anything over 15 knots we are on the money,” says tactician and boat organiser Steve McConaghy.
Quantum Racing will race with much the same crew she had at Hamilton Island including Carl Crafoord as navigator, Scott Hinton and Don Buckley helming as well as Roberts and McConaghy.
Winning the inaugural China Cup regatta in October with Roberts' DK 46 was a giant morale booster for the Quantum Racing team. “We just blitzed them, sailed really well in a very challenging series,” said McConaghy.
Next to Lou Abrahams, Bruce Taylor is Victoria's longest serving ocean-racing owner/skipper. He will be sailing his 26th Hobart with his sixth Chutzpah which, he says, is “a very radical little boat”.
She's a Reichel/Pugh 40, similar in shape to the R/P 55 Yendys; very wide aft with a hard chine in the topsides.
The previous Chutzpah line, beginning in 1986, comprised two Davidson Threequarter Tonners, a Hick 35 which won the 1998 Sydney-Hobart the year after Taylor sold her to Ed Psaltis and Bob Thomas, a one-off Dovell 36 and a Sydney 38. With them Taylor has scored a second (1990) and third (2003) overall in the Sydney-Hobart race.
Joining him on the new boat is his experienced crew of regulars who have sailed at least 10 Hobart's together including his son Andrew, who lives in Hong Kong and jets in for the big event, and 22-Hobart race veteran Kingsley Piesse. Also on board is 20-year Hobart veteran Ian (“Barney”) Walker.
Another new boat underlying the growing strength of Melbourne's offshore fleet is Rob Hanna's Rogers 46 Shogun, a carbon/foam/epoxy lightweight. She gave her crew a thrilling downwind ride to place second overall in the Audi Sydney-Gold Coast race and win division C.
Then she damaged her mast in the first race and had to withdraw from Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Other problems occurred when she suffered structural damage when hit by a 40-knot front in Bass Strait on the delivery back to Melbourne.
The Argentinean mast-maker King Composites fixed the manufacturing fault in the spar: a pin holding a set of spreaders had sawn down the mast wall. The structure around the keel has been strengthened with extra carbon fibre. “If there were teething problems, I would rather find out on a delivery trip than in the middle of a race,” says Hanna.
John Walker, 85, has again entered his 27-year-old Peterson Three-quarter Tonner Impeccable and will become the oldest skipper to sail in a Hobart race.
The 28-year-old Davidson 42 Phillip's Foote Witchdoctor owned by the Maurine Cameron-led Rum Consortium, will sail her 27th Hobart race, the most by any yacht.
Victorian Lou Abrahams has defied the “old blokes” maxim that the boat should get bigger as you get older. At 80, he is racing the smallest yacht he has owned, the Sydney 38 Another Challenge with an experienced crew of younger sailors including helmsmen Carl Schmidt and Richard Grimes.
The race will be his 45th, passing the record he shared with the late John Bennetto last year. He won the race in 1989 with his previous yacht and placed third with the Sydney 38 last year.
“Wild Oats XI's skipper Mark Richards has the greatest respect for his line-honours opponents. “I think this is going to be the toughest year for us by a country mile,” he says.
“High on the list of favourites for the race's major trophy, the Tattersall's Cup, decided on IRC handicap overall placings, is Geoff Ross's year-old Reichel/Pugh 55 Yendys.”