Record numbers for Australia’s oldest yacht race

A change of start date and the large numbers taking part in the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria’s (ORCV) 50th Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race (Westcoaster) has prompted record numbers for the Club’s annual Melbourne to Devonport Race – or ‘Rudder Cup’ as it famously known.

Starting on Friday 28 October at 4pm local time, the ORCV made the decision to move the Rudder Cup’s start date to honour its history and let it stand out from the 50th Westcoaster. In doing so, it left the door open for competitors to contest both races and the opportunity has been embraced with open arms.

Greg Clinnick is entered for both races with Another Chapter. He is thrilled with the new start date: “It’s absolutely excellent that the race date has changed. We like to support the Club and all of its races,” he said of the qualifier for the Westcoaster.

The Victorian won the 2018 Rudder Cup on Mersea. His skipper was Neil Sargeant and the pair will race Another Chapter together this year: “I used to race on Mersea and before that, Audacious. From those boats we formed a syndicate and got together for this Beneteau 44.7. We’ve known each other for many years.”

While Clinnick is keeping his fingers crossed for another great result, he admits, “This is the boat’s first serious offshore race. We sanded the keel back so I think it’s faster. We’ll soon see! We’re looking forward to stretching our legs on our shakedown for the Westcoaster. We went out and did a safety drill, did a Man Overboard etc., so we’re ready.”

Due to its increased fleet numbers, Clinnick knows the competition will be tougher than ever: “Wicked (a Beneteau 40), is one of our benchmarks, so is Archie, the Archambault 35. They are boats we always keep an eye on. Alien too. She has a good handicap and Justin (Brenan) has a lot of offshore experience.”

Others earmarked as overall contenders (decided under AMS this year) are Vertigo, Vagabond and Patriot. In the hunt too and joining Wicked in the 40-footer ranks are Protagonist, Soiree Bleu and Arcadia, which are also signed up for the 435nm Westcoaster.

Vertigo took line honours in the 2021 Rudder Cup, but with larger yachts opposing her this year, repeating that feat is unlikely. However, an overall win is not out of the question. Her owner, Tim Olding, remains cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t ever make predictions,” he said. “We just go and do our best. We have a mainly young crew again. As usual, there is a large contingent of female sailors; some doing their first Bass Strait crossing. Clare (Olding’s 22-year-old daughter) is co-skipper and she’s organising the crew. I’m organising the boat. We’ve been training and doing our MOB drill to prepare.”

Like others, Olding is a fan of the race’s change of start date. “It’s great to do this in the lead-up to the longer Melbourne to Hobart. We’re looking forward to light to moderate shifty weather. That’s where we seem to do better. If it’s a straight-line drag race we’ll be further down the board.”

However, there is a cast of prior champions and newcomers in the fleet that won’t be taking prisoners. Tevake II, which cleaned up in 2019, springs to mind. She is also a past winner of the Westcoaster and is lining up to contest both races again.

Tevake II is hot to trot - Steb Fisher pic - Rudder Cup
Tevake II is hot to trot – Steb Fisher pic – Rudder Cup

This time it will be different. Her owner, Angus Fletcher, was tragically killed in a car accident in early 2021. Paul Neilson, part of the Tevake II ‘family’ will take the helm. On board will be other stalwarts of Tevake II campaigns, hoping to add a win for their mate Angus.

Among those prepped to chase line honours are Extasea, Hartbreaker, Rush and MRV. Extasea’s owner, Paul Buchholz, who won the 100th anniversary race with his DK46 in 2007, is buoyed up for this year’s race.

“I think the timing of the race is really good because you can do the Rudder Cup and the 50th Westcoaster, which will be iconic. We haven’t seen so many boats forever. It will be spectacular at the start – and in Hobart the atmosphere will be fantastic,” Buchholz said.

Buchholz will again be chasing the race record of 19 hours 32mins 56secs, held by Joe Westerlo’s Prowler since 1998. Now 23 years-old, it is Australia’s longest held offshore race record.

Nick McElwee’s Hick 35, Honey Pot, is the lone Tasmanian entry in the fleet. She arrived in plenty of time from Port Dalrymple Yacht Club. It is hoped others from Tassie join the fleet over the coming years.

On arrival Devonport, competitors from the 40 boats entered will stay and enjoy the hospitality Mersey Yacht Club is renowned for. It is also the venue for the prizegiving.

The Rudder Cup is Australia’s oldest ocean race and the fifth oldest in the world. Inaugurated in 1907, it is a tactical 195 nautical miles from Portsea in Melbourne to Devonport in Tasmania and has been won by fully crewed, double-handed and 4 Plus Autohelm yachts. Recognised as being ahead of its time, the race is open to fully crewed, double-handed, Four + Autohelm and multihull boats.

For Entry, race documents and entry list, please visit: https://www.orcv.org.au/deveonport-about-the-cup

Di Pearson/ORCV media

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