In a sea of impressive boats preparing for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, a little 33-year-old S&S34 is turning heads. With her rich blue hull, sparkling white deck and faultless stainless steel fittings sparkling in the sun Quikpoint Azzurro looks like she came off the production line yesterday. Yet just a few months ago she was a wreck.
“I was looking for a racing S&S34 and flew up to Mooloolaba after they sent me some very skilful photos,” laughs Quikpoint Azzurro’s owner and saviour, Sydney yachtsman Shane Kearns. “There was a birds’ nest in the galley when I went to see it.”
But she had had an illustrious career in the ‘80s and early ‘90s under the name Shenandoah II, including a divisional win in the 1994 Hobart, and she did not look like a normal S&S34. The sweet hull is the same, with its gentle tumblehome and pretty counter stern that were the S&S trademark of the era, but gone was the boxy cabin top necessitated by squeezing standing headroom into a 34-foot boat.
“The deck has always been terrible on these boats, and the tiller comes nearly to the companionway. When they built it, they put on a deck from a mould of an Admiral’s Cup boat, a Dubois 40, and moved the tiller to the stern so there is a full cockpit to work in,” Kearns says. A genuine racing S&S34, he thought, so he made an offer. After the usual amount of haggling, Kearns finally bought the boat for $23,000. This, though, was just a down payment.
“She wasn’t seaworthy,” Kearns recalls. “There was not one inch that didn’t need work. The day I had her surveyed it was raining. We were downstairs, inside, and we had on our wet weather gear. You could see daylight around where the mast came through the deck.
“I planned to do a few repairs then sail it down to Sydney, but when we started doing what was essential, we found there was no point in fixing one thing unless you fixed the bit it was attached to.”
As the work expanded exponentially, the Sydney yachtsman resigned himself to commuting between Sydney and Mooloolaba to oversee the work; first for the day, then for a few days at a time, and finally for weeks at a stretch.
“Everything was cracked, including the bulkheads, none of the electronics worked, there was rust everywhere. Everything was stuffed. If you ask me now what I know about boatbuilding, I’d say nothing, but I do know the blokes that do.
“Three months had passed by the time we did all the fibreglass and then another couple of months for the paintwork.”
Finally everything was done and Quikpoint Azzurro was ready to sail down to Sydney, but even then, nothing went to plan.
“The whole point of the exercise was the bonding thing,” Kearns says. “You know, Ed Psaltis and his son Ben, Sean Langman and his son Peter. Well I have my daughter, Kristen. She’s a good sailor, skippers yachts in Greece, works on superyachts. She did the delivery trip to Sydney and 18 hours into it she says ‘Dad how disappointed would you be if I didn’t do the Hobart? This boat is wet, I’m uncomfortable, the food is bad and I don’t like sitting on that toilet.’ I said, ‘Take a week to think about it’, and she said she didn’t need a week.”
Kristen casually mentioned to her father that she had never been to Coffs Harbour or Port Macquarie, but Shane ignored her, sailed on past them. “She’d have jumped ship.”
So now he had a boat, a big race looming at the end of the year, but no crew. That is until he went to the funeral of his old friend and sailing companion John Walker. The crew from John’s beloved Impeccable were all there swapping stories about the gentle old man who was so deeply loved by the whole Australian yachting community.
“I mentioned I had this boat and was doing the Hobart,” Shane says. “No-one said anything, we all just started looking at each other until Michael Doherty said ‘how many crew do you need?’ I said the boat was the same size as Impeccable…
“Later I told (my wife) Lorraine that the funeral was sad but the good news is I got a crew.
“Our secret weapon is we’ll have John sailing with us, because we all have our memories of him: John would say this, would tell us to do that.
“John never did much of the sailing; he’d sit and tell stories and navigate. Sometimes we’d get him to steer but you had to give him plenty of notice to tack. He’ll be our seventh man.”
Impeccable became famous for her close-knit, fun loving, if aging, crew. It reached the stage where the ‘boy’ of the boat was in his 50s.
“You look at our crew list it looks like we’re all super experienced, but really we’re old,” Kearns laughs. “We do have a couple of youngsters; in their 40s.”
So how much did this $23,000 yacht end up costing? “Not much change from $300,000. They’re making them again in Perth, and a new one, fully race fitted, is $330 to $350,” adds Kearns, who has obviously used that line on Lorraine more than once. “Mind you this one comes with a 33 year age allowance.”
Would he do it again?
A long pause, then: “I think so. Lorraine would probably prefer I bought a new boat, but I think I’d still go with this. Quikpoint Azzurro is 33 years old and there is character that goes with that.
“The $300,000 scares me, but I’d definitely do this again. I’m really happy with it.”
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.
By Jim Gale, RSHYR media