Rolex Sydney Hobart: To Hobart in Style

There are two ways you can get to Hobart, there is the wet way – cold, noisy, perched on the rail dreaming of the next Mars bar – and there’s the Swan way, dry in the cockpit, savouring the aromas wafting from the fully equipped galley below.

On the British Swan 68, Titania of Cowes, there is even a dedicated chef. “In a cooking competition we would win hands down,” jokes her boat manager, Gina Hewson.

Yet they are still racing in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart.  Hewson firmly believes that in the right conditions this big, solid displacement yacht can compete with the flat-out racers. 

“It is a beautiful boat, but in the right conditions we can do well too. We’ll be putting all our gear to the test.

“We were very satisfied with the way we sailed last year.  For a long time when we were reaching, there was not enough wind for the other boats to get up onto the plane, so we were able to hold onto them.” 

Once the breeze picked up though, the lightweight non-displacement boats took off. “When they crack their sails and start reaching, they go at amazing speeds, while we are still doing 10 or 11 knots.”

What Titania really needs is a long, hard upwind race. “She is a great upwind boat. Once she’s in the groove, you can’t get much wrong. We don’t necessarily need 30 knots of wind, just something above 15. When they get to the point of having to slow themselves down to preserve the boat we are sailing to our rating the best.

“Depending on the weather, it can be frustrating. We’ll be racing against boats that may be in completely different weather systems to us. Anything can happen and the results don’t necessarily reflect how well you’ve sailed. If it’s a reaching/downwind race, we could sail the boat amazingly and still not be up there in the results.

“As boat manager I guess I see it from a different point of view than the crew. It’s not so much the point score as getting the boat across the line in one piece, with no injuries and everyone having had a good time.”

A Tasmanian, Gina is delighted to be doing the race for the third time at the helm of Titania of Cowes. The plan had been to take the boat home to the UK after the 2013 race, “but the boss, Richard Dobbs, had such a great time he changed his mind when we got to Hobart. It was completely unexpected.”

It takes a lot to prepare a boat for the Rolex Sydney Hobart, even one based at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney.  It is far harder for an interstate yacht let alone a foreigner.

Titania of Cowes was laid up in New Zealand this winter, and since going back into the water, it has been full on getting her back over here and into race mode, even without doing any major modifications.

“She is built as an ocean going boat, so a lot of the safety boxes are already ticked. We’ve got a few new sails, including a new main with a third reef point in it. Last year we rounded Tasman Island in 55 knots with two reefs, and we were hoping to get rid of a little more sail. 

“This extra reef allows us to get up to 60 to 65 knots before we need to go to the storm trysail. We also had to make some changes to the main engine to prevent some water egress problems we discovered last year.

“There’s an enormous amount of paperwork and organisation to get ready for a race like this, and now we are in Sydney, we have had to convert the boat from her cruise mode to her race mode.

“We take out a lot of the interior, change the floorboards, change the boom, install different lifelines and strip out all the cruising stuff.  Diving gear, extra tenders, kayaks, cutlery and crockery all go. We’re probably about five tons lighter.

“It certainly makes her livelier in the light stuff.”

Gina has been managing Titania of Cowes for seven years and ranks steering her up the Derwent River and across the line in Hobart for the first time one of her most memorable moments.

After the 70th Sydney Hobart race, the Swan 68 will finally get shipped back to the UK for the Rolex Fastnet and the Swan European Championship. Not a bad gig for a local girl.       

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.

A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before a fleet of 117 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.

– Jim Gale, RSHYR media

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