#rshyr – It is developing into one of the most complex Rolex Sydney-Hobart Races sailed in many a long day. And as it's in the upside-down Southern Hemisphere, weatherwise everything moves in different ways. W M Nixon isn't sure he has a clue what's going on, but he happily throws in his pennyworth to add to the confusion.
One surefire way to get publicity is to keep things secret, just releasing tasty bits of info at the last minute. With the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race providing a focal point of sailing attention at a time when most of the world is being distracted by minor matters such as celebrating Christmas, or simply getting through midwinter storms, the opportunities to make a show-stopping impact are magnified.
A dearth of maritime stories at home makes the saltheads leap at anything of cheerful sailing interest. For there are only so many ways that you can report that ferries aren't sailing at all, or are delayed. If we never hear the phrase "operational reasons" again, it will be too soon. And sad and all as we are about the huge whale in Achill, we were too far away to do anything about it. But give us something like the sudden appearance of Karl Kwok's startling new 80ft Beau Geste in Sydney just a couple of days before the race to Hobart begins, or the news on Christmas Day that a First 40 formerly thought of as just another Australian boat is actually an Irish entry in disguise and slipped in under the radar, then we come to life.
Naturally there'd been plenty of stories circulating about the new Kwok boat. However, as the other serious biggies in the Hobart fleet began to strut their stuff around Sydney harbour through December, inevitably they hovered up the attention. But then on Sunday, out of the blue, Beau Geste sailed into Sydney after a crisp and very satisfying four day test passage across from New Zealand, which is cooking with gas
Anybody mind if we come in? The brand new 80ft Beau Geste arrives in Sydney on December 22nd after her speedy maiden voyage from New Zealand. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
You can understand the reluctance of skipper Gavin Brady and the rest of Karl Kwok's team to seek the limelight. The previous much-admired Farr-designed 80ft Beau Geste, winner of many trophies, had suddenly as near as dammit broken in two off Norfolk Island during the 2012 Auckland-Noumea Race. The good folk of Norfolk Island did their best to help out, as did ships and fishing boats in the neighbourhood, but to this day nobody is too sure how the big boat stayed afloat long enough to be got to port.
There they were, all the gear intact, but the hull a write-off. They say that when you're unhorsed you should get back in the saddle immediately if the horse isn't injured. But this was one terminally injured nag. So they did the next best thing. They went to designer Mareclino Botin, he who created the Volvo 70 Camper which was the most radically different of the generally similar Volvo flotilla last time round, and ordered up a new canting keel 80 footer with debut planned for the 2013 Sydney-Hobart Race.
Built by Cookson in Auckland with beefed up engineering by comparison with the previous boat, but carrying some of her gear, the new boat is of interest every which way, as Botin used to be in partnership with Shaun Carkeek, who has designed the much-fancied 60-footer Ichi Ban for Matt Allen. And you can see (or maybe imagine) certain distant style resemblances between the two boats. But as the new Kwok boat follows Botin's enthusiasm for having the mast well aft (it was so far aft in Camper it was astern of the canting keel), it wouldn't be an exaggeration to describe Beau Geste as a one-masted schooner, though no more so than Volvo 70s like Giacomo.
Baptism of fire. The Sydney-Hobart 2013 is Beau Geste's first race – she'd barely been afloat for a month when it started on Thursday. Photo: Rolex/Daniel Forster
Nevertheless, the first time this slightly offbeat boat had a crack at the opposition was in that initial crazy eight minute drag race down Sydney harbour at the start of the race to Hobart on Thursday. Of which more anon. But meanwhile, what's this about an Irish entry disguised as a bog standard Australian one?
Well, they sprang it on us all with perfect timing on Christmas morning. There in the entry list is Breakthrough, a First 40, a boat type always of high interest - when the design was new, back in 2010, two of them took first and second overall in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.
It was a marketing dream for Beneteau, for each race to Hobart will always produce a particular set of conditions which will suit one boat type to a T. In 2010, it was the very new First 40 which hit the spot, coming forward to step into the very big shoes so capably filled for years by the marvellous First 40.7.
They may have got everything right, but circumstances conspired against the new First 40 being a runaway marketing success. Primarily, it was the global recession taking hold big time, particularly in Europe. But then too, there was still plenty of life in the First 40.7, with thriving class associations, and one design racing in events like Cowes Week.
Whatever, we've only seen two First 40s in Irish ownership since the design appeared, one in Baltimore and used for cruising, the other based in the Algarve. But now the good news is that Barry Hurley is actually the skipper of Breakthrough on the race to Hobart. It must be true, as you read it here on Afloat.ie on Christmas morning while talking to that fat white-bearded man in the red suit.....But enough. Even if the official CYCA listing suggests Mathew Vadas is the skipper, man in charge is Barry Hurley, already with two Hobart races notched, and with him he has brought Kenny Rumball, Keith Kiernan and Catherine Halpin, all of the Royal Irish YC, to sail in partnership with the Vadas team, and hoping to repeat that Hurley touch which brought a class win in the Middle Sea Race back in October.
As for the big boat start – well, it was eight minutes like we'd never seen before. Morning clouds had cleared to leave Sydney Harbour at its sparkling best in a brisk sou'easter, reaching start to the first mark, and the biggies went off first at max revs with Wild Oats and Perpetual LOYAL neck and neck for the lead, with Anthony Bell's Perpetual in the weather gauge.
The power of Perpetual LOYAL's hull is plain to see – but that power with its extensive wetted area comes at the expense of light weather performance. Photo: Rolex/Daniel Forster
But the "old" Wild Oats never ceases to surprise, or maybe Mark Richards and his crew know her so well that they can hit top performance while others are still winding up to it. They simply held Perpetual up above the line to the first mark until they were able to peel away for a short run to the turn which left enough of a gap between them and the big black boat to allow Beau Geste to nip in between in second place.
The abiding memory of that eight minute sprint was the way the different boats had sudden bursts of acceleration. You'd to keep reminding yourself that the smallest craft in this flotilla were 70ft Volvos, for all were having speed bursts like dinghies on the plane.
So that was interesting, but then as they started the beat south in open water, it became clear that Wild Oats with a reef in the main was holding on very nicely ahead of the supposedly more powerful Perpetual, while the smaller Beau Geste was sagging to lee. But then, schooners never could point high, whereas Wild Oats' pointing ability in a lumpy sea was a wonder to behold.
The skinny one....thanks to her slim hull, in the light airs on Day 2 Wild Oats was able to re-take the lead from Perpetual LOYAL. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
The Volvo 70s may have been developed for big winds in open water, but the former Groupama, now racing for New Zealand as Giacomo, has shown she can hang in when the breezes are light. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
Through the first night, the wind went light, and things were further turned on their head by ace navigator Stan Honey taking Perpetual LOYAL well to the east, which did her a lot of good. By morning they'd worked out an eleven mile lead on Wild Oats, but through the second day of light winds, Wild Oats ground down the big black boat, and as they crossed Bass Strait yesterday evening it was the old dog for the long road, Wild Oats still in the lead and hoping to have the advantage of an afternoon/evening arrival up the Derwent to Hobart before tonight's freshening northerly is replaced by southwest to west winds which could reach gale force, stacking the odds against the little fellows.
By comparison with some of the boat shapes racing to Hobart, Matt Allen's 60ft Ichi Ban with Gordon Maguire on the helm looks almost traditional. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
With the renowned Adrienne Cahalan as navigator, the 55ft Wedgetail is in with a shout. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
But meanwhile the top Irish hope, Gordon Maguire with Matt Allen's 60ft Ichi Ban , has been hanging in very nicely and things could fall sweetly their way. That said, while the 60ft Ichi Ban has been staying on the tails of the big boats ahead, not so far astern is the next size group with the lead held by Bill Wild's Reichel Pugh 55 Wedgetail. Formerly Yendys, this is one of Australia's proven all rounders. And for this first race to Hobart under the Wild command, Wedgetail's navigator is Adrienne Cahalan, who is renowned for seeing skippers on to the Hobart podium. But then, she was born in Offaly, and that makes all things possible.