Rolex Sydney Hobart: Victoire’s daring crab-pot adventure

As the boats dock in Hobart so do the stories. Everyone has a tale to tell, some funny, some of outright terror, some apocryphal to tell about the Rolex Sydney Hobart. This morning Daryl Hodgkinson jumped off his Cookson 50 Victoire with a yarn about crabs, pots and British pluck under fire.

Looking more like a teenager than a respected Sydney plastic surgeon, Hodgkinson bounds up from the depths of his boat clutching a scrappy bit of green rope attached to two deflated rubber buoys.

“Look at this. I’ve got to show you my new trophy. It will go in my trophy room alongside the Tattersalls Cup.

“We were going so slowly and Pretty Fly III went right past us, and we couldn’t work out what was going wrong. We’d had problems with our speed all night, and there had been a funny noise. Then the boys saw we had this crab pot around the keel.

“And my bowman, Micky Slinn, an ex-British military guy says 'lower me over the side on a halyard and I’ll get it'. It’s one of the bravest things I have ever seen in my life. I was scared stiff. We’re going at 11 or 12 knots and he’s dangling down the side, head down, dripping wet, and we pull him back up – and there’s our trophy – Incredible.”

The nuggetty Slinn would have nothing of Hodgkinson’s praise this morning, dodging past the media with a grin and a “nothing to say: name, rank and serial number only.” However, for his skipper, the whole thing said volumes about the quality of Victoire’s crew.

“It was a magic moment. He didn’t have to do that. My attitude would have been that we would have been okay on handicap but no, they had to get this thing sorted,” he beamed, in talking about the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 70th edition race.

Victoire’s wasn’t the only fishy story to wash ashore in Hobart this morning, with a shark reportedly struck and those damn sunfish getting in the way again too.

Onesails Racing was clocking about 22 knots in a belting northerly and looking set for a strong divisional finish when the boat shuddered to a screeching halt off the Tasmanian coast. The terrifying sound of shredding carbon had the off-watch crew jumping from their bunks in their thermals to inspect for damage. With the hull OK, they looked to the appendages.

“I’m pretty sure we hit a sunfish and that brought the boat to a shuddering stop,’’ owner/skipper Ray Roberts said. “She went into a wild gybe; we laid her flat in the ocean, got a lot of water on board. The good thing was none of the crew was hurt, and fortunately we still had one rudder, though it was hard to steer.”

The yacht was forced to limp at about 8 knots, well shy of the 20 plus she’d hoped to maintain until the finish. “But at least we made it,” Roberts said.

While all this was happening Patrice skipper Tony Kirby was having flashbacks to last year, when his then brand new Ker 46 broke in rough seas off Tasmania’s coast and retired. This time, just near Maria Island, the boat hit a bump, her steering became impossible and she felt oddly heavy.

“We got this shark caught around the rudder and went from 18 knots to not much,” Kirby said.  “Losing steering in 35 knots at night is pretty scary. We dropped the spinnaker and spun her around.

“While this was going on, Pretty Fly III was racing towards us at about 22 knots, so we were pretty quick to radio them and warn of our position.

“Luckily, and I don’t know how, we didn’t break the rudder. We saw the shark just flop off, and swim away. So, we were both ok. But my worst thought the whole time was that it had happened again, we might not finish. But the crew was great.”

Balance skipper Paul Clitheroe served up some squid with a shake of skepticism. “The only fishy story, which is true, is because the waves tend to break down the full length of the boat here, we did end up with some decent sized squid,” he said. “We tend to get fish and stuff caught in our life rafts.

“Impaling sharks? Yeah, right, and I saw a Martian.”

The winners of last year’s race, the crew on Victoire knew their title defence was over early on Saturday morning, before they even got to Bass Strait. They could see that this was to be the year of the small boats, and there was nothing the 50 and 60 footers could do about it.

“We could see that they had a breeze to bring them down the New South Wales coast, while there was a hole in Bass Strait we couldn’t avoid,” Hodgkinson said. “Fortunately the other boats in our division were in the same hole too.”

With their hopes of an outright win dashed, the mid-sized boats settled down for some serious divisional racing. Victoire and Pretty Fly III engaged in a close-fought match race that would see them cross the line 400 miles later just a minute and a half apart after an engrossing duel up the Derwent River in a light breeze.

“Who would have thought you could match race up to the very last after 628 miles,” a delighted Hodgkinson said. He thinks he has won the match race and the division, Division 0.

The Victoire crew has a remarkable Hobart record. “We’ve done the race four times in the last five years and won our division each time, as well as winning the race overall last year.

“I’m proud of the boat, our crew, the record of our team, and I’ve forgotten already all the terrible things that happen.”

By Jim Gale, RSHYR media 

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