Have a look at the IRC standings, the list of boats leading the Rolex Sydney Hobart overall on handicap; it’s a long time since such venerable names have graced the top of the list en masse as they do today.
Leading on handicap is Roger Hickman’s Wild Rose, a 29 year old Farr 43. In second place Simon Kurts’ Love & War, the beautiful S&S 47 that first graced the ocean racing scene in late 1973. And then there is Sean Langman’s 82-year-old Maluka of Kermandie, the oldest and smallest boat in the fleet, in third place. In these days of modern lightweight carbon fibre flyers it is a trio to savour.
In fact all three have been hovering at the top of the leader board for the past 36 hours, testimony to the unusual nature of this 70th Hobart. Normally the bigger, faster boats race away from the smaller and heavier displacement yachts, and then when the big guys are safely tucked up in port, Huey is just as likely to throw a monster southerly front through the back half of the fleet for good measure.
This year, though, when southerlies made an equal fleet, light weather plagued the big guys in Bass Strait while further back fresh northerlies whipped the little fellas along.
Love & War has won the Hobart three times already, in 1974, 1978 and 2006. She also won the Veterans division in 1994 and 2004. She is a heavy, powerful IOR boat, in her element on Friday when the fleet bashed its way into a strong southerly and spiteful seas.
Kurts leads a crew with huge experience, including the legendary Lindsay May as navigator. Sailing his 41st Hobart, nobody knows the east Australian currents better than May, who exploited them to perfection to skipper Love and War to victory in 2006.
Sean Langman is one of the great characters of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. He first came to fame in the so called skiff on steroids, the 66 foot Zena, later known as AAPT that seemed to set new standards of dare-devilry each year.
AAPT never managed to run down the big maxis, but it was always fun. He moved up to the maxis for a time, but found them staid after the thrills of AAPT and surprised everyone when he began racing the little timber Maluka of Kermandie to Hobart in 2006. After all that big-boat glamour he had found his love in a little 30-foot gaffer.
Roger Hickman has been in love with Wild Rose since she was first raced by Bob Oatley of Wild Oats fame. There may be no fiercer or cannier competitor in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. He is famous for driving his boat and crew to the limit.
All three boats are displacement boats. They go through the water, not over it. In big winds they can be a little too exciting though, as the bow digs in and the mast suddenly lies parallel to the water.
“We had a massive broach in 30 knots this morning with the spinnaker up,” Jenifer Wells, Wild Rose’s navigator reported. “We laid her over a couple of times, broke the steering cable and it was looking very dicey. We got out the emergency tiller and pulled the kite down, repaired the cable and we were back racing in 12 minutes.”
Wells admits that dark memories of two previous dismastings in similar conditions were going through their minds, “but we’re trucking again and getting bursts of 20 knots over the ground.”
Everyone on board is excited about the position Wild Rose is in as she closes in on Tasman Island. “It is absolutely fabulous,” Wells said. “We got a message from someone in France saying this is an example everyone should follow – a 29-year-old boat and still competitive in one of the world’s most famous races,” she said. “To have Wild Rose, Love & War and Maluka fighting it out is fabulous.”
Of course all three have a way to go, and the famous Derwent River evening shut-down still has to be avoided. There are big storms today in the region and it is threatening to get light in Storm Bay.
And broaching isn’t the only danger the crew of Wild Rose faces. They came close to a crisis on Friday night in that lumpy, testing southerly.
“Hicko was absolutely in his element,” Wells said. “He was enjoying the conditions so much we thought he would break out into song.”
If they win, he will.
See the standings here.
By Jim Gale, RSHYR media