Solo sailors can enter the Rolex Sydney Hobart

When the start cannon fires on Boxing Day, Queensland entries headed south will number 11 in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, but one is a little more unusual than the rest – a boat full of people who stand out because they are known as solo sailors.

Mark Hipgrave owns a Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 that goes by the name of Mister Lucky. She stands out because of the rather large mermaid on the tip of her bow.

The name and theme, he says, came about it two ways. “Mister Lucky came from a John Lee Hooker song (American blues singer). When I told my middle son, Simon, what I was going to call it, he came up with the Mermaid theme. She had to have a horseshoe and be done in Sailor Jerry (a spiced rum) tattoo style.  

And Hipgrave is more at ease when it’s just him and his boat, but this time, there will be seven aboard. Five are from the UK where it all started, with the Queenslander’s 28 year-old son Alex also aboard. And it wasn’t Hipgrave’s choice to do the race.

“I wasn’t going to do it. I told them I hadn’t entered, then they said, “No, but you’re  going to’, and here we are; me, Nigel Colley, Deb Fish, Rob Craigie, Paul Brant, Ian Hoddle – and my son Alex,” Hipgrave comments with a smile and a shrug.

“I’m a solo sailor – all the racing I did in the UK was solo through the Solo Offshore Racing Club in the UK. It’s a virtual club and because we are solo sailors, we are representing it. Nigel Colley (a crew member) is the director of SORC, a Corinthian solo sailing club for the more mature – totally amateur sailor,” he says.

Hipgrave, who has raced in five Sydney Hobarts, explains how soloists came together. “I became aware of the Sunfast design a couple of years ago when it was launched in Sydney. There were none in Australia to look at. I found the existence of solo sailors my age in the UK doing solo events, so decided to go to the Southampton Boat Show in 2015, meet some of these people and see the boat.”

There he met a bunch of solo sailors and bought the boat and sailed against them for a couple of seasons. If all went well, he’d do the 2017 OSTAR Race, and if that went well, he would get it back to Australia and race in the double-handed Melbourne Osaka – when he downsizes to two Rohan Wood is his crew) in March – a three-year project.

“Late last year when I was leaving UK, some of the people I was sailing against said they would come out to do the Hobart. I didn’t believe them, but they were for real. They’re coming to Sydney in dribs and drabs through the week.”

Under normal circumstances, with the Rolex Sydney Hobart just over one week away, one wonders if they need to spend more time together on the boat.

“It’s not a problem,” a relaxed Hipgrave comments. “All but one of us has identical Jeanneaus – and the other has a smaller version. They will step aboard and know where they are, because they are identical in every way, down to the ropes.

I ask what he will find most difficult about the 628 nautical mile race: “Squeezing seven people into one solo boat… The other big challenge is that when you are sailing on your own you can spread out, put your stuff everywhere, but crewed, we will have to be more disciplined.

“I’m really looking forward to it though – it’s exciting. “We all get on together, but I guess we’re all a bit apprehensive.

“We’ve already worked out who is doing what. Nigel will be the starting helmsman – I don’t want to do that – I’m happy to sit on the rail, count dolphins and enjoy the race. It’s good knowing I have a crew who can all steer a boat. Deb Fish is one, a very smart lady (the only female aboard). She used to lecture in meteorology, so she’ll be navigating.”

The Queenslander is also pleased to see Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron (RQYS), where he is a member, so well-represented in the 73rd running of the race: “I’m a member there and there are five other’s from the Club in the race,” he says of Black Jack, Charlie’s Dream, Envy Scooters Beach Ball 52, Mayfair and Mondo.

Another Painkiller, She, Euphoria II, Ocean Gem and Opt2Go Scamp are representing other Queensland Clubs – a good showing from the Sunshine state.

The Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.

Full list of entries and all information:


By Di Pearson, RSHYR media 

Jeanneau JY60
M.O.S.S Australia
Race Yachts
West Systems
Cyclops Marine