Sydney to Hobart to be a race within a race

The Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race has stood the test of time. Australians share its rites of passage between Christmas and New Year.

Since 1945 starters in the Sydney-Hobart have raced the equivalent of two circumnavigations of the world, almost 45,000 nautical miles. They have been drawn from the seven seas; they come from all corners of the world; they board boats that range from 100-feet supermaxis to boats littler larger than the Owl and the Pussycat’s.

There have been boats with spas and showers, bars and leather lounges; there have been boats with little more than a yellow plastic bucket and a portable gas stove; there have been boats with rock stars on the wheel, canting keels below the hull and electric winches triggered by the press of a button to trim the sails; and there have been boats with curmudgeons on the tiller, a sextant on the navigation table and baggywrinkles in the rigging to stop the sails chaffing.

All are thrown together to compete in one of the great ocean challenges of our time.

They will be back again on Boxing Day for the 70th edition of the race when, for the first time, there will be a division for those who sail in the spirit of the inaugural race of nine boats in 1945, the Corinthian spirit, pure amateurs who sail for the love of the sport.

… a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a good boy

–William Shakespeare, Henry IV 

The Corinthians are a welcome addition to the Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet, a direct reflection to how this epic annual adventure started and how it has evolved into the reality drama that absorbs us all each summer.

To finish the Hobart race is to win; for many, it is something they just had to do and they are quite happy never to do it again.

This is a 628-nautical mile race in which all skippers appreciate that the buck stops with them. They call the shots and live with the consequences of their decisions: to sail or to wait; to shorten sail or trust that the wind is about to abate and leave all the cloth up; to continue racing or to heave to; to take on the slings and arrows of Bass Strait or run for shelter.

After nature’s violence in the 1998 race in which six yachtsmen died, the organising clubs, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (RYCT) , have insisted that, on the northern approach to the strait, all skippers radio in their assessment that boat and crew are fit to continue. It can be a big call.

The allure of this race, rather like Anzac Day, grows year by year; it does not diminish; it can be an addiction.

Even to the lubber, some names are familiar: Condor of BermudaOndineKialoaAstorSoloApolloBrindabella,Once More Dear FriendsChallengeInch by WinchNip n TuxKoomoolooMargaret Rintoul and perhaps the most familiar of all, Ragamuffin, in all its iterations.

The Sydney-Hobart has lured the world’s greatest yachtsmen and women, people of the ilk of Sir Peter Blake, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Sir James Hardy, the Halvorsen brothers, Iain Murray, Grant Dalton, Chris Dickson, Lou Abrahams, Syd Fischer, Adrienne Cahalan and John ‘the Fish’ Bennetto.

A fleet of 118, the biggest fleet since 1994, is expected to compete in the 70th race, which will use three start lines on Sydney Harbour to reduce the congestion.

Five super maxis will champ at the bit at the front, four of them with Wild Oats XI as their target, the race record holder, seven-time line honours winner and twice the winner of the triple crown of line honours, the race record and winner on corrected time. Owned by Bob Oatley and skippered by Mark Richards, Wild Oats XI will attempt to better the seven-time line honours record she shares with Morna/Kurrewa IV to become the only boat to have won eight times.

Aiming to block that bid are:

  • Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal (the former Rambler 100), still said to be the fastest super maxi in the world, though second last year by three hours to Wild Oats XI.
  • Syd Fischer’s revamped Ragamuffin 100, a new hull attached to the modified deck of the boat which won the race in 2011 as Investec Loyal, and which finished third last year. Fischer, aged 87 and doing his 46th Hobart race, has built a new hull, and added a canting keel and water ballast. It’s a bit like your favourite axe that has three new handles and two new heads.
  • A new, untested maxi from the US, Comanche, owned by Netscape founder Jim Clark with an elite crew led by the eminent Ken Read and navigator Stan Honey.
  • A second US entry, RIO 100 (the former LahanaKonica Minolta and Zana) now owned by computer memory developer Manouch Moshayedi, who has lengthened her to 100 feet.

Clawing at their heels with unfinished business will be top performers in the 2013 race, the Volvo 70s Black Jack(Peter Harburg, Qld), Giacomo (Jim Delegat, NZ) and Matt Allen’s latest Ichi Ban, the Carkeek 60 that he launched last year and took to eighth place across the line.

At the media launch today, Mark Richards warned that although untested, the new Comanche and Ragamuffin 100 could be lethal weapons.

“You need to remember that Wild Oats XI was brand new when it broke the  race record, took line honours and won the race overall in the 2005 race.”

He went on to explain how Bob Oatley’s boat plans to keep abreast of his new rivals: “We’ve had another good year in the plastic surgery department. We’ve got a new bow which is more streamlined and we’ve lengthened the carbon fibre hydrofoil wing (which helps improve her speed) which snapped off in the Gold Coast race in July.”

Anthony Bell has also added some refinements to his boat, maintaining: “Michael Coxon (North Sails and Perpetual Loyal sailing master) reckons he’s built us the biggest spinnaker ever seen on a maxi and we hope it will improve our performance.

“It was hard watching Wild Oats sail through us last year – all went quiet aboard our yacht – it was difficult when we’d built a 16 mile lead on them. We fell in a patch with no wind and just went round in circles. I was brought up a Catholic, so I kept praying. Hopefully that won’t happen again,” he said.

A boat to watch this year is Philip Turner’s Alive, the rebadged RP66 Black Jack. It smashed the Melbourne to Vanuatu Ocean Race record by almost two days recently. Turner, a Tasmanian colleague of MONA founder David Walsh, has greater ambitions for this boat and says he is confident in her ability for line and overall honours.

The overall winner of the race is the winner on corrected time and receives the Tattersall’s Cup. Defending champion Victoire, owned by Darryl Hodgkinson, a nip and tuck specialist in Sydney, returns to the fray.

“It is daunting defending the overall win of last year,” Hodgkinson admitted today. “But winning increases your belief in yourself, your boat and your crew, and that’s what I will take with me on the race this year,” he said.

Among others, Victoire faces strong competition from fellow panel member, Paul Clitheroe, who is raising eyebrows since his purchase of the 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner, Quest, now named Balance, in keeping with the financial analyst/commentator’s other boat names.

Clitheroe has a lot to live up to, as Balance is currently second overall in the CYCA’s Blue Water Point Score and Ocean Point Score series and recently won the 180 nautical mile Cabbage Tree Island Race, said to be a good indicator of how things will pan out in the Hobart race.

“I hope I can live up to the boat’s reputation. I’m probably the worst steerer in the club (CYCA) but I pay the bills, so I’m going to drive it,” he said laughing. “It’s not an easy race, and every year I say ‘never again’, but every year I come back.”

Other challengers the two will face include:

  • Ray Roberts’ Farr 55 OneSails Racing. Formerly Living Doll, she was an outstanding performer, but niggles kept her from reaching her full potential. In Roberts’ hands, she will be free to fly.
  • Tony Kirby’s 2013-built Ker 46 Patrice, which also has unfinished business after retiring last year with hull damage, won the SSORC last November and Airlie Beach Race Week in August and is currently awaiting a new keel bulb after a scrape off Port Stephens in November.
  • ADA Celestial, Sam Haynes’ Rogers 46, which was third overall in last year’s race, won the 2014 Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast race and leads the CYCA’s Blue Water Point Score (BWPS).
  • Luna Sea, James Cameron’s Hick 35, famously won the fatal 1998 Hobart as AFR Midnight Rambler, owned by Ed Psaltis and Bob Thomas. One of the smallest in any fleet, it was forced out of the race last year after losing its rudder in harsh winds.

James Cameron has not forgotten the impact of losing the rudder, which has since been replaced. “Being towed over 100 miles without a rudder was the worst part; no steerage and in those seas, a lot of my crew were seasick. It wasn’t a pleasant experience,” he remembered. “New rudder later, I’m sure we’ll make it, she is such a sturdy boat.”

The fleet has boats from Australia, NZ, the US, the UK, the Cayman Islands, Poland and Germany.

The 36 yachts in the Corinthian fleet will compete for the York Family Corinthian Trophy, given by stalwart CYCA members Michael and Jeannette York. One of those competitors is Danielle Ovenden and her 28 year-old yacht, Let’s Go, from the Central Coast. The bubbly sailor contested her first Hobart in 1994 when she was 20.

“I’m back to celebrate my 40th – it’s a birthday present to myself,” Ovenden said of what will be her fourth Hobart, her last was in the tragic 1998 race, which she sailed on the maxi yacht Fudge, which was among the finishers.

Ovenden will leave her husband sailor, Alyn, at home. “He’ll be waving me off from the Harbour – he doesn’t want to race anymore, but I love it,” said Ovenden, who added: “I’ve got an all-boy crew, but I’m in charge.”

To mark the 70th race, the CYCA has invited former competitors to participate in a Parade of Sail three hours before the start on December 26. They will motor-sail a short Sydney Harbour course, led by HMAS Advance.

In collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum, the CYCA has assembled a static exhibition of photos, yacht design plans and other material to be displayed at the museum from now until the end of February.

Starting at 1.00 pm AEDT Boxing Day, December 26 on Sydney Harbour, the fleet will set sail from three start lines off Nielsen Park, Vaucluse.

The largest yachts will start off the front line and the fleet will round a mark outside the harbour one nautical mile east of the Heads before heading to Tasmania, where the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania finishes the race.

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.

– Bruce Montgomery – Rolex Sydney Hobart media

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