Sam Haynes reflects on Sydney Hobart Yacht Race win

In 2021, TP52 Celestial was denied the honour of winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on IRC corrected time due to a penalty for an infringement of the racing rules.

But in 2022, Celestial owner and skipper Sam Haynes held the perpetual trophy Tattersall Cup aloft after he and his crew of 14 completed the race in an adjusted time of 2 days, 16 hours, 35 minutes and 26 seconds.

Celestial's Sam Haynes. Pic - Salty Dingo
Celestial’s Sam Haynes. Pic – Salty Dingo

In an interview with the Australian TP52 Sailing Association’s Greta Quealy, Haynes reflects upon the race and strategies that gave Celestial the edge over the fleet, and what the win means to him.

Congratulations. It’s been over a week since Celestial sailed up the River Derwent. Do you still feel on top of the world?

It’s sinking in. It’s been a busy week since we were awarded the trophy. It’s taken time to become reality for us all. We had so much support and so many congratulatory messages – it’s been amazing.

Who reached out?

I was replying to a really nice message from [Olympic sailing coach] Victor Kovalenko just now. Victor sent a nice message, along with a lot of other people in the sailing scene.

Talk me through the presentation ceremony – what went through your mind when Celestial was announced the winner of the Tattersall Cup?

We never knew we were safe until I got the phone call from Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s (CYCA) Commodore Arthur Lane to say that we were the undisputed winners of the Tattersall Cup. We’d gathered in the race village and there were 20 bottles of champagne fired off in quick succession. We were drenched in champagne. There was sheer elation when we were formally told we had won.

We suddenly became the winners after last years’ trauma and had this amazing experience. The first presentation was on the boat where we got presented the Cup. They threw me into the River Derwent along with some of the crew. The water was a lot colder than expected.

Why did winning the cup mean so much to you and your crew?

After last year, I think I’m on the record for saying I considered walking away. Not so much from the sailing, but with how people played the game. I didn’t want to be a part of it.

And then I went off and did J/70 sailing [a 6.93-metre keelboat] in Europe and got reinvigorated.

I sat down with my partner Mel and Celestial crew members, and thought about how we were going to approach this year and target the Sydney Hobart. We focussed on what sails we needed, the way we were going to set the boat up to optimise it for its design character.

We built up through the Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore – we didn’t have great results all the time but we learnt. We did quite a strong training block just before the Sydney Hobart. And these things added towards the on-water performance in the end.

What tactical decisions gave you an edge over the other boats?

It was being able to play the shifts and getting the oceanography correct to do a close to perfect race, and we managed to get that done. James Dagge is our navigator and Rob Greenhalgh is our sailing master and tactician, and he was all over this.

I think his tactical race was awesome. Rob kept the boat really calm, he had us focussed on speed the entire race. He set that up all really well, the culture of the boat and the competitive nature of the boat was set up by people like him and Jack Macartney.

We really started winning the race before we got on the water because of the input from those guys.

Tell me about the quad set up (flying a spinnaker, sprit top, headsail and genoa staysail simultaneously).

A lot of good seamanship and good boat handling [is involved]. There were multiple sail changes, especially when you are quad heading. There’s a lot of cross sheeting. It’s difficult to have a lot of rag up in the air and be able to trim it. The technicality of the race with those sail plans is quite tricky.

The TP52s dominated the final overall standings. Why do you think that is?

The TP52s do well for lots of reasons. Some people think they have a handicap that favours them. It tends also that these boats have a lot of professional sailors, a lot of money invested in them, the highest technology sails, mechanics and design elements. TP52s are always being modified to be more competitive.

We’re always going to be doing extremely well in these sorts of races because of the style of boat. They’re versatile, they’re obviously great downwind, but they’ve got upwind performance as well.

You won on IRC and ORCi but have since withdrawn from ORCi. Why?

We withdrew from ORCi as we became aware that flying the jib [while quad heading] is not legal in that format. We did that as soon as were aware that we were breaking the rule.

Celestial encountered southerly winds as she neared the finish. Pic - Rolex _ Carlo Borlenghi
Celestial encountered southerly winds as she neared the finish. Pic – Rolex _ Carlo Borlenghi

What were your race highlights?

On that first 24 hours it was beautiful champagne sailing. We’d quad headed or triple headed, the A2 spinnaker was up, the full main, sea state was kind, the boat was chewing up miles, which was fantastic, and morale was high. We had great food from Sam Joel. We had boil-in-a-bag stew and spaghetti bolognese. It was nice to be eating great meals, that always picks up morale.

We were always busy, constantly trimming and racing. And we knew we were doing well because we knew where the boats around us were at, and we felt like we were in it with a chance even though we had damage to the mainsail late on the 27th. Even with that, the boat was performing.

Challenges?

There were three main issues that I was concerned about.

The first was that we couldn’t get the masthead halyard with the A2 spinnaker to lock, so we sailed with it off the lock for probably over 24 hours. I was waiting for it to become an issue, but the expert sailors were like, ‘It’s fine, don’t worry.’

Then we broke the gaff batten [a batten at the top of the sail that supports the flat edge aloft] in the spinnaker change in the early hours of the 28th. We got the head of the spinnaker across the mainsail, in getting it down we broke the batten. I thought it was fatal, but Rob Greenhalgh said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine.’ When you’ve got a guy with that experience and level of expertise with you, you have the confidence to think, ‘Okay I’ll put that out of my head.’

Another time I was concerned was just before daybreak. We were getting 30-35 knot gusts, super solid breeze, wind coming down from the north as we came into the Tasman Island group, big sea state going on, and we tipped in, spun out on a wave and a gust with the A4 spinnaker up. The A4 luckily gave way as the boat was on its side. There’s high risk on the rig, risk you aren’t going to get the boat back up, there’s a lot of chaos going on.

Those are the sorts of moments when you personally don’t have time to panic because everyone has to do their job properly and be in control. Those are the moments where you can easily go from winning a race to being put out of the race, and we had one of those moments, but we recovered. We had the A6 spinnaker up in short order, and everything was stowed away and sorted out.

How many sail changes were made throughout the race?

There probably would have been over 20 reconfigurations.

It was tight racing for the 10 TP52s. How was it being amongst such a strong fleet?

This year’s 52ft fleet is the most competitive IRC fleet we’ve seen in division 1. It probably was one of the best years.

You’ve always got your Gweilo and Quests. But when we were going into the River Derwent you can hear the radio calls coming in from other boats as they make their Tasman Island radio calls you’d think boats, like Smuggler are far away. But they’re suddenly there, only eight miles behind.

I’ve always said that owning a TP52 is the hardest way to win a race because there’s so many people that can. We’re very competitive. It’s nice to know that you have such a strong fleet because it pushes everyone.

What’s next for you?

The 2023 Sydney Hobart. It’s hard to walk away without defending your title. Fingers crossed it’s another epic race like 2022. Every time you do a Sydney Hobart you think, ‘What am I doing out here?’ And then when you get into Kings Pier Marina, you go, ‘Hang on a sec, that was fantastic, what an awesome experience.’ And I think we live for these experiences.

All smiles for the Celestial crew. Pic - Rolex _ Andrea Francolini
All smiles for the Celestial crew. Pic – Rolex _ Andrea Francolini

Celestial crew:

Skipper – Sam Haynes

Navigator – James Dagge

Crew – Lewis Brake, Callum Cecil, David Chapman, Troy Grafton, Robert Greenhalgh, Josh Junior, Jack Macartney, Frank O’Leary, Malcolm Parker, Luke Payne, Lindsay Stead, Harry West and Wulf Wilkens.

For the full results, see: https://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/standings/

For more information on TP52s, see: https://www.tp52aust.org.au/

To follow the TP52s on Instagram, see: https://www.instagram.com/tp52aus/

To follow the TP52s on Facebook, see: https://www.facebook.com/TP52Aus

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