RSHYR: It’s crowded in here

Comfy she is not – in her 40 foot hull Imalizard boasts no floor, no shower, no windows, no table other than a small chart table and even that, in these days of electronic charts, is barely used, while sails are stacked on the bottom of the boat – it does have a toilet though, a luxury that owner Bruce Watson concedes is required by the rules of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.

This is a straight out racing boat, but even by racing standards it is all going to be a pretty cramped ride in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 73rd running of the race for her crew of six, because Imalizard is a boat meant for two.

English designer Hugh Welbourn drew her for solo and short-handed races like the two-handed Melbourne Osaka Race, with water ballast, an incredibly deep 12 foot keel for a 40 foot boat and furling sails. Still, the minimum crew size for the Rolex Sydney Hobart is six, so six it is.

Like the guys on fellow entrant Mister Lucky, Bruce Watson is, at heart, a solitary sailor. However, he says he doesn’t mind the occasional crowd: “It was always set up for single and short-handed, but I have fallen in with other similar people who wanted to go sailing together. And this is a very big event, with something for everyone. It’s very inclusionary.

”The lead-up, the cocktail parties, the race, the celebrations in Hobart make the Rolex Sydney Hobart as much a festival as it is a race. My wife and a couple of the kids will come down to Hobart to see us arrive, and it all includes them as well.  When you finish a single-handed race to Newcastle you just tie up, have pie and go home.”

It is a completely different style of racing: “We need a lot more food to start with, and the CYCA quite properly insists on a lot of lead-up races so you have to assemble and co-ordinate people. You have to make sure that everyone is compatible. You don’t want to spend days at sea with someone you don’t get on with.

“With a big crew you can do things quickly. Short-handed you have to plan everything well ahead, and there is never a minute when you don’t have something to do on the boat. Going to Osaka takes a year of preparation because there’s only the two of you for 40 days. You’re not preparing for a race. You’re preparing for an expedition.”

It is true. Single-handers really are a different breed from your standard ocean racer. No sportsperson – not a golfer on the last hole of a major, nor a tennis player in a Wimbledon final – is as alone, as self-contained, as isolated as the lone sailor hundreds of miles from land.

It is no team sport. Yet ask pretty much every Sydney Hobart recidivist why they keep coming back – and if the word ‘camaraderie’ isn’t the first thing they answer – it will be in there somewhere. Team, friendship, mates; supporting, trusting and relying on each other. There is a reason the pubs in Hobart are so rowdy when the fleet gets in.

Last year Imalizard was the top PHS boat and won Division 2. “We were really shifting, reaching 23 knots at times. We’re very fast downwind and across the wind – the water ballast makes a difference – but we don’t go that well upwind. In light wind a Beneteau will go past us. Our rating is astonishingly bad. The TP52s rate better than us. So there is no point in us going for IRC. 

“We’d like to do well, we’ll push the boat if the breeze is right,” Watson says, “but the main thing is to get to Hobart safely without endangering the boat or ourselves. We’ll share the steering around because everyone should get a go and enjoy the race.

“The thing I think about most now is getting out of the Harbour at the start. Let’s not have a short race. We won’t be ridiculously calling starboard on people. Everyone is having a good time and if you lose a couple of minutes getting out the Heads, you have quite a few days to make those up. You’re not sailing Lasers that bounce off each other.”

The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.

Full list of entries and all information:

By Jim Gale, RSHYR media 

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