Westcoaster debutantes all set for Hobart

Sandringham Yacht Club’s Gerry Cantwell, skipper of Marten 49 Performance Cruiser Carrera S, credits Victorian boat builder Bernie Webber, with piquing his interest in sailing the Melbourne to Hobart (Westcoaster).

“Bernie encouraged me to buy Carrera S and filled me in on his Melbourne to Hobart adventures, sailing on ‘Ailsa’ the winning boat in the first race in 1972, so the 50th anniversary race provided the perfect opportunity for us to do our first race.

A sailor all his life, Cantwell is a relative newcomer to ocean racing. “We have sailed the Auckland to Noumea race, competed in several Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach Race Weeks. Basically, we split our time between Melbourne and Sydney / Queensland.”

Cantwell is excited about the upcoming race and admits that the crew will have a relatively comfortable ride down south.

“Carrera S is a race boat with a cruising fit-out, beautiful timber, and separate cabins, offering all the creature comforts compared to pure racers, but while we may be racing in style, we will certainly not be down below cooking roast dinners. We will be up there having a real crack at this race.”

While it may be the first Westcoaster for Cantwell, Carrera S will be raced to Hobart by a mixed crew with significant ocean racing experience. “Our boat is strong and well-prepared, as is our crew, with the likes of sailing master, Bretlyn Brown, Ryan Epstein and Jackie White, who has raced in ten Sydney to Hobarts, winning on Wild Rose in 2014.”

“At the end of the day, we go sailing for the memories, and while I can tick this race off my bucket list, what’s really important to me is the people I sail with.”

Carrera S celebrating the end of the 2021 Sydney to Hobart race_Photo credit_Steb Fisher
Carrera S celebrating the end of the 2021 Sydney to Hobart race_Photo credit_Steb Fisher

Carrera S has crew from across most states including Tasmania’s Leigh Johnston (navigator) who has a reputation for meticulous preparation.

“I’m lucky to be on board such a well-prepared boat for this year’s race. The 50th will be the first taste of racing down Tasmania’s West Coast for some of our crew, so I’ve done a bit of extra navigation preparation to show them the average wind direction and strengths we might expect at different points over the racecourse.”

Patriot’s skipper Jason Close is also heading down the West Coast for the first time. Close will skipper the J133, built in Rhode Island in the United States, and has a strong sailing pedigree in offshore racing. Close has sailed multiple ORCV Melbourne to Devonport and Melbourne to Hobart Eastcoaster races and has experienced the spoils of victory in the Sydney to Hobart, winning Division Five on IRC and Division Four on ORCi in the 2019 75th anniversary race.

Close is likely to feature in the results and says things have just fallen into place as they put the final touches to their campaign. “We were all keen to support the hard work of the ORCV in getting this anniversary race underway. The fleet will be top quality, and the better they are, the better we will sail. This year, I’d planned to celebrate Christmas at home, so doing this race means that I can stay in Melbourne for that and then jump on the boat for the race,” said Close.

Close expects the west coast swells might offer up some interesting conditions, but as the boat goes well up and downwind, the enthusiastic skipper rates their chances. “Each crew member is successful in their own right, and if we get some consistency across the paddock, I think our preparation and experience will see us do well.”

“It will be interesting to see whether we sail in one weather system all the way to Hobart, or in three or four [systems] like the Sydney to Hobart. We are expecting some stiff competition from Jazz Player (Brent McKay) and Ryujin (Alex Toomey), but if the breeze is light, expect it to be a small boat race.”

The Royal Brighton Yacht Club’s Mark Buckley, skipper of Moana, a Beneteau First 45, is also sailing the Westcoaster for the first time, and is feeling very relaxed about the race. Buckley considers Hobart to be one of the most fantastic destinations to sail to over the summer. “We are expecting some intense sailing, but our mixed and experienced crew is ready for the challenge, so other than a few rocks to watch out for on the sail down south, we are feeling good. It is a real credit to the ORCV that we have close to 60 boats on the start line for the 50th anniversary with many competitors completing various training courses with the ORCV in preparation for the race.”

Moana, a Beneteau First 45, is all set for the sail to Hobart_photo credit_Steb Fisher
Moana, a Beneteau First 45, is all set for the sail to Hobart_photo credit_Steb Fisher

One thing is for sure, Tasmania’s rugged and remote west coast, with its lee shore and spectacular birdlife, will be a breathtaking sight for all competitors.

The 435 nautical mile Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race, organised by the ORCV with the cooperation of the Derwent Sailing Squadron, starts off Portsea Pier at 12pm on 27 December.

For Entry, Notice of Race and List of Entries, please visit: www.orcv.org.au

Jane Austin/ORCV media

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