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#rshyr – Seven hours into the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Jim Clark's 100-ft Maxi Comanche (USA) leads the fleet. A memorable edition of the 628-nm race appears certain, with the contest between the fleet's five Maxi yachts living up to the pre-race hype.

At 8:00pm local time, Comanche leads seven-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI by one nautical mile, with Anthony Bell's Perpetual Loyal and Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin 100 just a few miles behind the leading duo. Overnight the breeze is forecast to lighten as a high pressure system approaches. How the frontrunners navigate this transition could be a critical factor in their race.

Comanche makes mark

A fleet of 117 international yachts graced today's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race start. The thousands of spectators lining the shoreline in Sydney were treated to a dramatic start as the leading yachts powered their way out of Sydney Harbour and began the famous 628-nautical mile offshore race to Hobart.

Celebrations for the 70th edition of the race commenced with a Parade of Sail of historic Rolex Sydney Hobart competitors before the race start. A fitting tribute to the race, which has become an international icon since its inauguration in 1945.

Comanche had an incredible start reaching the first course mark at record speed. Race record holder Wild Oats XI gallantly tried to keep pace, watching in awe as Comanche laid down an early indicator of her potential. "Look at that thing go!," screamed Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards.

"We couldn't be more ready at this stage," admitted Comanche skipper Ken Read shortly before the race start. "The team has done a Herculean effort to get the boat ready. We are here to compete, it's the fun part of our job."

"Going into a southerly the first night is always a bit of a challenge," said Mark Richards going into the race. "(The boat) being ten years old though is a little bit of an advantage for us as we know the boat very well."

Shortly after the start, Peter Isler, navigator on Manouch Moshayedi's RIO 100 reported: "We are definitely learning our boat in these conditions. It's very rough, sailing upwind in 25-27 knots, pounding hard into short, steep waves."

The rough conditions have proved demanding for a number of the fleet with four retirements already recorded.

The race record for leading yachts to beat is 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, set by Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI in 2012.

Published in Sydney to Hobart

#rshyr – Tasmania is a medium-sized island in the Great Southern Ocean which is sheltered to the west only by South America. And as Tasmanians reckon skinny little New Zealand doesn't really provide a proper lee, they'll tell you their island is also sheltered to the east only by South America. So although it is at the same latitude in the south as Bordeaux in southern France is in the north, Tasmania's weather conditions – particularly the winds – can be much more extreme than they are in Bordeaux.

For sure, this lovely island can have some beautiful summer weather. But equally, it can serve up some very demanding sailing conditions. Thus the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race inevitably brings the fleet into increasingly hostile seas the further south they progress down much of the course. And the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania is a notoriously rough bit of water which has claimed lives in this event.

But then the twist in the tail is the final ten or so miles from the Iron Pot up the narrowing and increasingly flukey Derwent Estuary to the finish at the Hobart waterfront. This concluding crawl can test any sailor's sportsmanship as he or she sees a good position, hard earned over hours and days on a very rough sea, wafted away in calm spots and fickle zephyrs. Indeed, some hardened Hobart race veterans reckon the real contest finishes not even at the Iron Pot, but rather as you enter Storm Bay in the approaches to the Derwent Estuary, saying that it's just a lottery thereafter. But despite such criticisms, the race is one of sailing's great events. W M Nixon takes a look at this year's 70th staging of the classic, which starts in traditional style on Sydney Harbour in less than six days time.

If the annual Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race didn't exist, then world sailing would have to invent it. But happily, it's there already for our absorption and enjoyment. And in 2014 for its 70th staging, it's more relevant than ever in an era of instant global communication. When we remember that much more than half of humanity lives in the Northern Hemisphere and many of them are now in the depths of winter, the fact that there's this glorious and accessible sailing spectacle all ready to roll on screens worldwide, just as we're finally sated with Christmas and all its trappings, is a sanity-preserver for anyone interested in boats and sport.

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The great race's 628 mile course takes the competitors ever deeper towards the Southern Ocean with every mile sailed.

Of course there's Irish involvement in it at a specific level, with two boats in particular carrying our special interest. But at a more generous level, anyone who has the slightest interest in sailing cannot but be fired up by the wonder of an event in which some of the most advanced hundred footers in the world are swept up in a contest in which they will not only be in cut-throat competition with each other for line honours, but at the end, when all the calculations have been done, for dyed-in-the-wool offshore racing enthusiasts the real competition will be for the Tattersall's Cup, the hugely prestigious trophy for the overall handicap winner.

With 117 expected starters of all sizes from 33ft to 100ft, as the race gets under way each boat will have its own ideal set of conditions and circumstances to suit crew hopes. But as the contest continues, there'll be those who start to emerge in the leading group on handicap, and by the time they're in the final approaches, it is usually whittled down to about a dozen boats or even less which are in there with a shout for the Tattersall's.

But the line honours race for the Illingworth Cup – named in honour of the great British offshore racing skipper and innovator John Illingworth who first suggested the race in 1945 and won it too – now that's a different animal altogether. It's a real death or glory battle. And there's something specially entertaining and attractive about a no-holds-barred contest between boats you could like a lot, just at the time when the word is that the current flotilla of Volvo Round the World Racers may not be very likeable boats at all.

For we hear that the Volvo 65s are twitchy beasts, and not really fun to sail. To have a boat which turns round and looks at you is unfortunate. To have a boat which lies on its back and waves its legs in the air is unfortunate. But a boat that does both....? Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell said everything about such a situation.

So we'll return with relief to the crazy guys with the glorious big boats at the front of the fleet in the race to Hobart, for after the Volvo 65s, they're like a breath of fresh air. This is definitely not the territory of careful accountants and penny-pinching save-a-dime boatbuilding. We're looking at the stuff of legend. And the people's favourite has to be the veteran Wild Oats XI, marvellously campaigned by Mark Richards and his team of all the talents with the full support of the veteran owner Bob Oatley (86), whose wine brand of Wild Oats – one of many business interests – doesn't suffer any image problems at all when his boat of the same name wins yet again.

They talk of the Reichel Pugh designed super-slim Wild Oats XI as a "beloved old boat", but in truth she has been so continuously modified that you'd be hard put to say just what is original. The word is they've made her waterlines even narrower up forward – she used to be skinny, but now she's anorexic. As for last year's secret ingredient, the horizontal hydrofoil which, when deployed to lee, reportedly improved performance by up to 4% by making the boat better able to carry sail, for this year's race they tried making it even longer, such that it didn't entirely retract into the housing. But it seems that with a bit sticking out permanently on the weather side, it created more fuss than it was worth, so it has been shortened back to disappear entirely when not in use.

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Wild Oats XI has so many bits and pieces sticking out of her hull that she has been compared to a Swiss Army Knife. This is skipper Mark Richards standing on the horizontal hydrofoil which, when deployed on the lee side, gives sufficient lift to significantly improve sail-carrying power. However, it has been shown that it has to be completely retractable into its housing when on the weather side, otherwise it causes unacceptable turbulence.

This conclusion on the downside of making the hydrofoil even longer emerged from some serious heavy weather sailing by Wild Oats off Sydney recently, when she was getting her final pre-Hobart race test and crew training. Heading back to port, with only about a quarter of the mainsail set in a very big wind, the silver arrow was making up to 33 knots. That will be food for thought for the four other hundred footers, the most challenging of which is of course Jim and Kristy Hinze Clark's new Comanche, just out of the wrappings, a hundred foot of total racer with Kenny Read as skipper.


The new girl on the block. American Jim Clark and his Australian wife Kristy Hinze Clark will debut their new hundred footer Comanche in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart 2014.

The same Kenny Read endeared himself to the Irish sailing community during the first Volvo visit to Galway five years ago, when he exited the dock somehow managing to look cool wearing a Paddy Hat that no-one else would be seen dead in. The boy is still busy, as he's worldwide president of North Sails, while his current main commitment afloat is to campaign the very extreme Comanche to the limit, with the Rolex-Sydney Hobart Race 2014 the first outing for real.

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God be with the days.....five years ago, Kenny Read endeared himself to the people of Ireland by managing to look cool in this hat while exiting Galway Docks during the Volvo stopover. Photo: Failte Ireland/David Branigan

The hundred footers did have their first encounter a couple of weeks ago with the CYCA Solas Big Boat Challenge in Sydney Harbour, but racing boats this size in such relatively restricted water gives a somewhat skewed picture. Nevertheless the very experienced tacticians on Wild Oats still managed to finish first, as they did last year, but it was Comanche second quite a bit clear of Anthony Bell's Perpetual Loyal.

Once upon a time, Perpetual Loyal was very well known in Ireland, but that was in 2011 when she was George David's Rambler 100, and upside-down off West Cork. Until Comanche's appearance, Perpetual Loyal was reckoned the potentially fastest hundred footer of them all if she just could get enough wind in the right direction. But now the hundred footer field is wide open as a number of them have been undergoing major modifications of the kind you might expect to see on model yachts, but not on thirty metre hulls.

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Can you see the join? The entire aft half of Rio 100 is entirely new, thanks to several months of major surgery in Auckland.

Thus the former Lahana, now American-registered, owned by Manouch Moshayedi and re-named Rio 100, simply had her entre aft half cut off, and replaced with a new wider stern section. Just like that. But you ain't heard nuthin' yet. The irrepressible Syd Fischer, shaping up to do his 50th Sydney-Hobart at the age of 87, decided that the hull of his hundred foot Ragamuffin needed some mods. A lot of mods. So he has just kept the deck and rig, but cut off the original hull, and replaced it with a new one from the same designer, Andy Dovell.

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The incredible Syd Fischer, a sprightly 87-years-old, with the entirely new Andy Dovell-designed hull before it was fitted under the deck and rig of his previous hundred footer Ragamuffin.

So if next time you're on Sydney Harbour and a peculiar-looking hundred foot motorboat comes tootling past with a slightly lost air to her, you'll know why. She could swear that once upon a time she had a deep keel and a great big mast. But she's out and motoring about because there's no way Australians will let a redundant hundred foot hull go to waste. Meanwhile, the new raceboat hull has barely had time for testing, but we're assured all will be well, and the something old, something new Ragamuffin 100 will be there on the line raring to go against Wild Oats, Comanche, Perpetual Loyal and Rio 100 in the battle for line honours.

But as old Hobart hands will tell you, the real race is almost something else altogether. You'll have noticed that in mentioning the Solas Big Boat Challenge, we only talked of line honours. But it has an equally important IRC element as well, and two weeks ago the winner was Matt Allen's Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban, with Gordon Maguire the main man.

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She may seem a plump girl by comparison with some other boats, but Matt Allen's Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban has been winning races, including the Solas Big Boat Challenge 2014. For the Rolex Sydney-Hobart 2014, skipper Gordon Maguire will be joined by ace Irish-born navigator Adrienne Cahalan.

And Ichi Ban's challenge in the Hobart race is even more Irish, as the Allen-Maguire team have linked up with Offaly-born Adrienne Cahalan to be navigator. One of Australia's top women sailors in almost any role, her navigational skills are legendary, and in the 2013 race she was navigating the 55ft Wedgetail to such good effect approaching the Tasmanian coast that they held the IRC lead, only for it all to come tumbling about their ears with a dismasting, which is hardly the navigator's fault.

So this time to Hobart, Ichi Ban really does have the dream team aboard. And though we still wonder if she's not just a little too plump in her waterlines forward to have that real cutting edge, the boat's results over the past year suggest that she has what it takes, and if the cards fall her way at all, she'll be clear to win.

Looking again at the top ten IRC boats in 2013, it's significant that apart from the freak presence of the hefty Swan 82 Nikata at 7th overall, only Ichi Ban at 8th overall was over 50ft long. The rest of the top ten were all 50ft or under, and the outstanding design was the evergreen Cookson 50, represented by both the overall winner Victoire (Darryl Hodgkinson), and the ninth placed Pretty Fly III (Colin Woods).

We in Ireland know well of the New Zealand-built Farr Cookson 50's brilliance through Chieftain (Ger O'Rourke), which later became Adrian Lee's Lee Overlay Partners, thus putting the Fastnet overall win of 2007 and the Caribbean 600 overall win of 2009 on the Cookson 50 winner-board before Victoire added the Sydney-Hobart win in 2013. It's some going for a design which first saw the light of day more than ten years ago.

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Privateer is one of the evergreen Cookson 50s, which have been consistently successful in the world's top offshore races for a decade

But as 2013's results show, doing well in the Sydney-Hobart has a huge element of horses for courses to it, and in 2010 the very new First 40 from Beneteau made a prodigious debut by taking first and second overall. They're still a very competitive boat, so not surprisingly there's five of them shaping up for the race to Hobart, and this is where the most direct Irish involvement comes, as Barry Hurley and his team have linked up with co-owner Mathew Vadas to put the beef in the crew of the First 40 Breakthrough. [Click to read Barry Hurley's preparations for this third successive Sydney–Hobart Race  – Ed]

The same linkup saw Breakthrough take eighth in Class and 29th Overall in the 2013 race, but this time round Barry Hurley ships on board with the added experience of second overall and first in class in October's Middle Sea Race. With him to show that the boat is indeed sailing under the Dublin Bay Sailing Club colours are Catherine Halpin and Kenny and Alexander Rumball. And the word on the waterfront is that a shore support team not entirely unconnected with the Irish National Sailing School will be an enthusiastic presence in Sydney on December 26th. We look forward to hearing from them. Meanwhile, Happy Christmas everyone.

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The First 40 Breakthrough will be racing under Dublin Bay Sailing Club colours in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race 2014, starting December 26th

Published in W M Nixon

#sydneyhobart – Wild Oats is currently sweeping the board in the Sydney-Hobart race taking line honours for a record sixth time and setting a new record (by 16 minutes) and also leads on corrected time with Loki (now finished ) lying second overall.

This morning, Wild Oats XI once again stamped her name in the Rolex Sydney Hobart history books. From the moment the start gun fired on Boxing Day the silver wraith seemed intent on condemning her rivals for line honours to the position of also-rans. Wild Oats XI's finish time of 1 day 18 hours 23 minutes and 12 seconds sliced 16 minutes 58 seconds off her own record. Another commanding performance in a race she has begun to treat as her own.

Without doubt skipper Mark Richard's crew of thoroughbred racers had some luck, but their race was not without problems. The first night saw the wind drop in the scheduled transition and her opponents close down the lead she had worked to establish during the afternoon. The crew held their nerve and once the northeasterly settled in they were off.

Ragamuffin-Loyal's endeavours to stay in touch with Wild Oats XI were hampered by a headsail gear failure from which the 100-foot maxi never recovered; Syd Fischer's equally accomplished crew forced to accept the unwelcome role of bridesmaid. Ragamuffin-Loyal finished almost five hours behind Wild Oats XI. Had the apparent error of starting the race too early been converted to a penalty, her crew's sense of disappointment would have been complete. Fortunately, the International Jury found that race officials failed to notify Ragamuffin-Loyal after five minutes that they had jumped the start, leaving the crew unaware that they should have returned and restarted.

By 20:30 AEDT only four yachts had completed the 628 nm course. Lahana rounded out the maxi contingent just before 19:00, while Black Jack was the first mini maxi some 40 minutes later. Loki and Ichi Ban will be next home. None have so far been capable of posting a time that knocks Wild Oats XI off the overall podium position. The door may be open for a smaller yacht if the weather obliges. Calm, Jazz, Quest and Shogun look best placed to foil a second triple crown. They need the wind to shift substantially in their favour, something it has singularly failed to do so far.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#Sydney Hobart update – Irish interest is strongly on the front of the fleet in the 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, with Bob Oatley's 100ft Wild Oats – navigated by Australian-Irish Adrienne Cahalan – comfortably on course for line honours, and challenging for a new record to beat the existing one the Oakley boat set in 2005.

The defending handicap champion, the 63ft Loki (Stephen Ainsworth), with Howth's Gordon Maguire as Sailing Master, is currently lying second on corrected time. Loki has had a great race, and is currently fifth on the water with many larger boats astern.

But the 66ft canting keel Reichel Pugh 66 Black Jack (Peter Harburg) is going even better. The Black Jack team have targeted Loki as the boat to beat, and the two boats came out of Sydney Harbour at the start glued together. However, the slightly larger and higher-rated Black Jack – whose crew has recently been boosted by the addition of Australia's rising superstar sailor Tom Slingsby – gradually opened out a slight lead, and as conditions favoured those who could get south the quickest into more suitable winds, the Harburg boat was able to lengthen away enough to be saving their time as they approach Tasmania.

Day 2 of the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart has so far played out as predicted. The largest yachts have profited hugely from the overnight swing in wind direction to the northeast; one yacht in particular. At 17:30AEDT five-time Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winner, Wild Oats XI, lay about 40 nautical miles ahead of her own record pace as she closed on Tasmania. In the process, she has brutally exposed the shortcomings of her competitors in straight-line speed sailing, even drawing out a 50nm lead over fellow maxi Ragamuffin Loyal.

Wild Oats XI appears on the cusp of a remarkable repeat of her 2005 triple-crown success: first boat home, new course record and overall win. Well in front of her rivals and the record on the water, all day long she has been trading the top handicap position with Peter Harburg’s Black Jack, according to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s position tracker. Harburg has his own history making in mind: to become the first yacht from Queensland to lift the Tattersalls’ Cup. He will not be getting over-excited. This being a yacht race, the organizers are a long way from inscribing names onto silverware.

Wild Oats XI’s dream run will come to an end as the second weather transition kicks in during the night. The wind is forecast to die and to gradually back to the west, before steadily building into an, at times, strong southwesterly. The timing of this change, and the ability of skipper Mark Richards’ tactical team to get though it with minimum disruption, will determine the eventual outcome. Wild Oats XI must finish before 07:40 AEDT tomorrow to break the record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds.Wild Oats XI, leading the fleet 

For the smaller yachts yet to enter Bass Strait, the northeasterly looks likely to hang in until around midnight on 27 December. From then on the expected series of fronts moving through the Strait and across Tasmania will dramatically affect progress; buffeting the fleet north and south of island’s land mass, and at other times beguiling it with lighter, more fickle breeze, particularly in its lee.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#sydneyhobart – The 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart got underway in exceptional conditions with Irish interest carried by Howth sailor Gordon Maguire. The forecast southerly breeze providing the perfect angle for a spinnaker start and run down the harbour. The angle would prove less kind as the yachts exited the Sydney Heads and made their turn towards Hobart, finding the 20 – 25 knots now firmly on the nose. Mark Richards and Wild Oats XI looked to be in no mood to be interrupted in her bid to claim a sixth line honours, blasting off the line and showing Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin Loyal a clean pair of heels before popping out of the Heads comfortably in the lead.

An interesting night lies ahead. The decision how far to head out to sea was the first conundrum facing the crews. So far the bulk of yachts appear firm in the belief that staying inshore, and inside the rhumb line will pay better. Only, one or two boats have shown a determination to head offshore for any length of time. Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull's Jazz, felt ahead of the start that the fleet would do well to stay inshore for the initial section of the race, certainly until the major swing in wind direction expected during the night. This transition should see the wind back to the northeast and will have the yachts running under spinnaker for an extended period.Start of the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart

Earlier this morning, Gordon Maguire, tactician on Stephen Ainsworth's Loki, indicated some of their pre-race routing suggested the bigger yachts could profit enormously from the predicted northeasterly. If it arrives on cue, they could bite a huge chunk out of the course during the hours of darkness and be lying off Green Cape by mid-morning on the second day, 27 December. The small boats, meanwhile, such as race veteran Roger Hickman's Wild Rose, might only find themselves parallel with Jervis Bay as dawn breaks. The difference in power between segments of the fleet will be all too apparent at this juncture.WILD OATS XI, after the start

At 17:30 AEDT Wild Oats XI was 8 nautical miles north east of Kiama travelling at 12 knots, with some 50 nm under her belt after 4.5 hours of sailing. Any thought of setting a new record seemed to be on hold as navigator Adrienne Cahalan called in to report the wind speed dropping as evening arrives. Ragamuffin Loyal lies within striking distance just astern. Lahana, Ichi Ban and Black Jack round out the top five on the water. Conditions have been wet and hard on crews during these first few hours and the measure of performance differential between front-runners and back markers is clearly demonstrated by Charlie's Dream. Averaging just 3.4 knots, Peter Lewis and crew were parallel with Botany Bay having knocked a mere 13 nm off the 628nm course distance.

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart is like few other yacht races. The natural amphitheatre formed by the deep-water harbour offers great viewing potential from the water, at water level from the beaches and coves, and grandstand opportunities from higher ground. Every Sydney-sider has a favourite location, and South Head must be one of the most popular and dramatic. A huge crowd always assembles to watch the fleet barrel down the harbour and make the sharp out into open water. This year's spectacle was worth the effort involved. After a dreadful Christmas Day, when rain and wind battered Sydney, Boxing Day has been a joy. Blue sky and reasonably warm temperatures brought the locals out in their thousands to cheer the determined and enthusiastic crews off on their compelling adventure.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#SYDNEY-HOBART – With the wind fading for the smaller yachts so this morning (local time) Stephen Ainsworth's Loki was announced the handicap winner of the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

At a presentation on board their white four year old Reichel Pugh 63 footer, Ainsworth and his crew were presented with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece by Patrick Boutellier of Rolex Australia and the much coveted Tattersall's Cup, for winning IRC handicap honours, by Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, and Graham Taplin, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

"We are elated, it is a fantastic feeling, a huge thrill to win this race," said a jubilant Ainsworth. "Having done 14 races, I know how hard it is to win this race. I have been trying for a long time. So many things have to go right for you and the wind gods were with us. Our race went extremely well. The aim for the navigators was to avoid stopping and we successfully did that, although we came close a couple of times. Look at what happened to Wild Oats XI - that could easily have happened to us."

The present Loki was launched three years ago after Ainsworth's previous boat was lost after she was abandoned in severe conditions when her rudder broke during the 2007 Rolex Middle Sea. The new boat was built for offshore racing and specifically to win the Rolex Sydney Hobart. This was Ainsworth and his crew's fourth attempt in the latest Loki.

Ainsworth and Loki are one of the most successful teams racing in Australia at present. Last year they won the Australian IRC Championship, the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race and this year Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Personally, this month Ainsworth was voted the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's joint Ocean Racer of the Year.

Typically they sail offshore with 18 crew and of these only one third are professional, led by Irish Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Gordon Maguire. On board typically Maguire helms while Ainsworth trims the main sheet. The other pros on board for the Rolex Sydney Hobart included other much capped round the world race sailors Anthony Merrington, Jeff Scott and sailmaker Alby Pratt, while a regular with Ainsworth is his long term navigator Michael Bellingham.

However, Maguire points out that many of their 'amateur' crew are among the most talented sailors in Australia. "We have really good sailors from all walks of life. It is more rewarding when you line up against fully pro crews."

For the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year, Loki was fitted with a new, bigger mainsail and for the first time they had an on board weather expert to assist Bellingham in the form of British navigator Will Best.

According to Maguire, during the race they were always in contention, but down the east coast of Tasmania the 100ft maxis had stretched away. "They were getting out to 120 miles in front of us and at that distance it was hard to stay in touch on handicap. But they parked up at Tasman Island and that brought us right back into them. We took 60 miles out of them that morning. So the handicap win came when the big boats parked up. We were always very confident that we had time on the boats behind us, particularly with how the weather patterns were going to shape up from halfway down the east coast to the finish."

Ainsworth said Loki would return to the Rolex Sydney Hobart next year to defend her title.

Slow boats up the Derwent

Meanwhile for today's finishers the pace had distinctly slowed. Over 11 and a half hours, last night and into this morning, just one boat arrived as the water turned to glass on Storm Bay and the Derwent River leading up to Hobart.

Darryl Hodgkinson, skipper of the Beneteau First 45 Victoire summed it up best: "I thought it was going to be carbon copy of last year's where we sat in the Derwent. This year we actually camped in Derwent! The last miles from the Tasman Light to the finish typically takes six to seven hours, on this occasion it took 15.

Ed Psaltis, co-owner of AFR Midnight Rambler arrived in Hobart suffering from an infected arm and unhappy with their performance. "It was very disappointing, our race. We made a few wrong choices. Entering Bass Strait we were in good shape against all the opposition and doing well overall, but we found a hole [in the wind] bigger that anyone else did and we sat there for six hours going nowhere. We also had northerly, adverse current in Bass Strait so we did very well going the wrong way."

Between two scheds AFR Midnight Rambler lost 25 miles, but once the wind turned favourable and they could set the kite on their new Ker 40, they managed to make up the deficit. Then they too had a slow finish. "It was probably the slowest passage I've had from Tasman Light to the finish – and this is a pretty quick boat. But that's how it is," said Psaltis. "Next year it will be a lot better than it was this year."

Australia's solo sailing star arrives

This afternoon the marina of Constitution Dock was packed five deep with spectators waiting patiently for the arrival of 18 year-old Australian solo sailor Jessica Watson. Since 2010 when she became the youngest person ever to have completed a singlehanded voyage non-stop around the world, Watson has become a media sensation in Australia.

In this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Watson achieved her ambition to lead the youngest crew ever to compete in the race. She and her seven crew - among them fellow youth solo round the world sailor, Britain's Mike Perham – raced in the Sydney 38 class aboard the pink hulled Ella Baché Another Challenge.

"It was really, really good, everything you would expect," said Watson upon her arrival. "We had three quite bouncy nights on the nose. We didn't see any severe conditions, but there was some pretty uncomfortable stuff for quite a while there."

Having previously sailed on her own, Watson was full of praise for her crew. "The crew were awesome. It was the best sailing we've ever seen them do. It's what we have been training for and they did exactly that. Everyone did an amazing job. All credit to them – I just held on for the ride."

Her round the world voyage also didn't involve competition, something which she seems to have relished in this Rolex Sydney Hobart. "The last leg in was amazing, some really close racing with the Sydney 38 fleet, changing positions all the time. Then to come in second was just awesome. It was as good as anyone could hope for. We had a really close battle with The Goat." She added: "The race wouldn't have been the same if we didn't have that close boat-on-boat racing." Watson was especially pleased to have beaten their coaches, sailing on Deloitte As One.

Since lunch time, boats have been flooding into Hobart, with 26 arriving between 13:23 (local time) and the latest arrival at 17:24 of Tony Warren's Kiss Goodbye to MS, the 49th finisher. 28 boats remain still racing with John Bankart's Eressea, bringing up the rear, some 137 miles from the finish.

Published in Offshore

The forecast gale-force conditions made good today for the bulk of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet with yachts experiencing 40-50 knots of gale to storm-force winds from the west-southwest -- together with massive seas. The toll today was nine yachts retired, some with severe damage, but all crews were reported in good shape.

At 1542 AEDST, Ludde Ingvall's 27-metre Yuuzoo retired from the race with structural and rigging damage. Exact details were unknown but the yacht had reached a safe port in Eden by 1800.

Within the hour of the maxi's retirement, a string of yachts followed suit with the Sydney 38 Swish, the 46-foot Reichel/Pugh Shamrock, the Volvo 60 Southern Excellence and the Nelson Marek 52 Wot Eva abandoned the difficult race due to damage in the unbelievably rough seas and extreme wind conditions.

Nick Athineos' Dodo headed to Eden to drop off an injured crewman who had sustained a broken arm, but was not retiring. Crew onboard the yacht recorded gusts of 45-50 knots.

Martin Power's 44-footer Bacardi snapped its mast 35-nautical miles east of Batemans Bay, midway down the Australian New South Wales coast. "Search and rescue options and assets are being arranged as I speak, if needed," reported Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's Commodore Gary Linacre, who had just arrived in Hobart.

At 1820, Rob Reynolds' 14-meter yacht Exile sustained steering damage and retired. Shortly after, Jim Cooney's supermaxi and pride of Australia, Brindabella, dropped out after suffering damage to her mainsail in the severe conditions. At 1905, Jarod Ritchie's Beneteau 57 Alchemy III was out with damage to their boom and was headed to Sydney.

Earlier, via an 1830 phone interview (listen here) with Ian Burns onboard Wild Oats XI, race favourite and current line honours leader, reported from the treacherous Strait, "There's still quite a messy seaway leftover from that earlier blow we had. But things are finally settling down. In a couple hours we should be in flatter seas, and probably 10 -15 knots (of wind)."

He continued, "This morning around Gabo Island, it was pretty arduous going, very hard to slow the boat down enough to keep it in one piece. We had to get down to very, very small sails and work at keeping the boat slow, so we weren't crashing off the tops of waves too much – it was pretty rough going. We had many gusts up to 40 knots, and when it gets that windy in Bass Strait, you've got a bit on."

"The crew have done a fantastic job. It's a pleasure to watch. In pretty trying conditions up on the foredeck, often pitching two to four feet underwater. The guys are up there are hanging on to sails and getting them up and down, without a murmur of a problem." Burns concluded, "The crews are really settled into it now, the second half of the race is really getting starting now."

The forecast for tonight is for winds west to south-westerly at 25 to 35 knots and locally reaching 40 knots in the east then moderating to 20 to 25 knots later in the night overnight, with squalls, associated showers and big seas. Seas are expected to abate overnight, down to 2 - 3 metres later in the evening.

Current overall handicap race leader is Stephen Ainsworth's 63-footer Loki, currently 80 miles southeast of Gabo Island.

The remaining intrepid Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet continues battling it's way to Hobart. The remaining 77 boats include six international entries from the USA, UK, Italy, France, as well as two partly crewed Russian boats, and entries from seven of the eight Australian states and territories.

Race Tracker: Race enthusiasts can go to http://rolexsydneyhobart.com/yacht_tracker.asp for a real time tracker of yachts and their position.

Official race website: www.rolexsydneyhobart.com

Media Information: To receive daily reports and to download high-resolution images, copyright free for editorial purposes, register online at www.regattanews.com

Follow regattanews.com on TWITTER: www.twitter.com/regattanews

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26th December 2010

Sydney-Hobart Race Underway

Race day for the 66th Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet dawned cloudy and rainy for the 87 competing yachts. The grey weather added a bit of gloom and foreboding to what may be in store for the crews racing to the finish line in Hobart, 628-miles away. Outside the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, shipping containers were being loaded in the rain with spare sails and supplies for the yachts and their arrival in Hobart. One of the crew loading the containers with sail bags, Dean Barrett, said, "They have to sail light down to Tasmania, so a lot of yachts ship their extra gear down to Hobart and will pick it up there—assuming they make it." The forecast for the classic southerly "buster" includes a 24-hour period of potentially gear-breaking conditions.

At this morning's final official weather briefing at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia –compulsory for every yacht entered in the race –– Michael Logan, from the Bureau of Meteorology, provided a forecast for skippers and crews, noting that they should prepare for tricky and tough conditions. "We're still looking at those two wind changes," said Logan, "the initial Southerly which will come through this evening, and the further strengthening of those South-South-Westerly winds on Monday—which may fringe into gales."

Storm force winds could make the conditions even tougher considering that previous forecasts have predicted a confused sea state and big waves in the Tasman Sea, particularly in the Bass Strait. Due to its limited depth, the Bass Strait is notoriously rough and confused seas are often the norm.

Shortly before heading off to the start line, Steve Hayles, navigator on the 72-foot mini maxi Ran, weighed in on the forecast: "On this first afternoon we'll have a very, very big change to strong upwind conditions, and that front will happen pretty quickly. From there, we're a day of solid and, actually getting beyond solid, conditions - which are good for our boat.

"Getting down to the bottom of the NSW coast and into the Bass Strait, I think we'll be seeing winds sort of above any range anybody really enjoys, so it's going to be pretty uncomfortable for a period. We'll certainly see over 30 knots, and I think 40's are very possible. In that 35-knot range, that's always a bit too much for any boat. At that stage, it's about looking after the boat and making sure we get through that section in good shape without breaking things. It's very much about seamanship, but the good news is that it quickly dies away. You've got a day with those sort of conditions.

"The second half of the race approaching Tasmania looks really, really tricky. In truth, though this southerly will dominate peoples' thoughts this morning, because it's going to be uncomfortable, it's actually going to be a race of very wide and ranging conditions.

For us, if there's a disappointing part of the forecast, I'd say it's that this is not particularly a big boat race, it doesn't feel like it's shaping up for that. But our job always is to beat the boats around us. You can only control that part of the race; if the 40-footers come in in better conditions, there's not much we can do about that."

Asked if this morning's weather briefing will change any tactics or plans, legendary round-the-world sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, commented, "No, not really. I think we're a bit sad it's turning so early. We were hoping the headwinds would continue further on, because it suits our boat." With a sigh he concluded, "There you are—can't have everything. In any case, the forecasts are notoriously perishable. It can well change in the next day, so we'll see what happens." Sir Robin is sailing aboard the British registered Swan 68 Titania of Cowes, along with Olympic medallist Mark Covell and British match-racer Andy Green.

By the race start at 1300 AEDT, the rain had stopped. A cannon shot started the renowned race of endurance, and as expected, it was the super maxi Wild Oats XI that shot out of Sydney Harbour with the winds blowing a breezy west-northwest at 10-12 knots. "It was a classic start," observed veteran sailing correspondent Roger McMillan, who is covering this year's race.

At the start, the 30-meter maxi Investec Loyal kept pace with Wild Oats XI by hugging close to shore. Rival maxi yacht Wild Thing was a close third. Later, that tactic proved to be ill advised as Investec Loyal dropped her position with the leader as they sailed out around the Sydney Heads.

As of 2100 AEDT, the frontrunners are about 100 miles down the coast, with Wild Oats XI in the lead doing 17 knots. In second place is Investec LoyalI, who is being closely followed by Wild Thing in third. Bringing up the rear of the intrepid fleet is the 43-footer, Polaris of Belmont. The fleet is spread over an area of 60-nautical miles along the coast, and as such are experiencing widely varying conditions. Andrew Lawrence's Jazz Player was the first retirement, dropping out at 2000 when they blew the leech out of the mainsail. The 39-footer encountered 45-50 knots as the crew were putting in a second reef. The fleet now stands at 86 boats.

From onboard Wild Oats XI, co-navigator Adrienne Cahalan observed, "It's been a good race between us, Wild Thing and Investec Loyal, we're all evenly matched." Before the race, Cahalan said, "I have a feeling that the Bass Strait will be the most difficult leg of the race. In the conditions predicted we'll be trying to keep the boat in one piece and not break any records." Only time will tell what is next in store for the Hobart-bound competitors.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet includes six international entries from the USA, UK, Italy, France, as well as two partly-crewed Russian boats, and entries from seven of the eight Australian states and territories.

Race Tracker: Race enthusiasts can go to http://rolexsydneyhobart.com/yacht_tracker.asp for a real time tracker of yachts and their position.

Official race website: www.rolexsydneyhobart.com

Media Information: To receive daily reports and to download high-resolution images, copyright free for editorial purposes, register online at www.regattanews.com

Follow regattanews.com on TWITTER: www.twitter.com/regattanews

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Both Irish skippers who retired from the Rolex Middle Sea Race that finishes today at the Royal Malta Yacht Club have described the 'vicious' conditions encountered in the Mediterranean this week. The fleet suffered several knowdowns and at least one man overboard but the bulk of the fleet were safely secured in either Marsamxett Harbour this morning with just two racing. 15 had retired.

Last night Dun Laoghaire's Cathal Drohan, sailing his third Middle Sea Race on the X41 Legally Brunette, spoke of 40 knots squalls and visibility near shipping lanes being reduced to five or six boat lengths.

"The boat was well founded and we had a great crew but after five days racing we were looking at a further long stretch of sailing and a severe forecast". Drohan told Afloat.ie from Malta.

All skippers in the race were mindful of the safety of crews given one sailor had been seriously hurt in a knockdown in a heavy squall.

The Royal Malta Yacht Club has calculated the winners and these are set out below.

Barry Hurley sailing on the Maltese yacht Aziza sent the following back to Afloat.ie after the yacht retired: 

"We were sailing in sustained low 30knts all day Tuesday and encountered several vicious squalls, often adding up to 20 knots to the average windspeed. Such squalls are common in the area and always play a significant part in the Middle Sea Race. By Wednesday morning the seas had grown substantially and rounding Pantelleria we received an updated weather forecast for sustained mid 40's on Wednesday afternoon. We believe we were lying 4th overall at that stage so were keen to press on, but faced with the prospect of potential 60's in the squalls we made the decision to retire into Pantelleria in the interest of safety. A few hours later an Italian X Yacht came in alongside needing medivac for a crew member seriously hurt in a knockdown in just such a squall, so our decision was vindicated. A somewhat disappointing end to another fantastic Middle Sea Race, but for now it's back home to Dublin until the Sydney Hobart race in December".

Press Release from organisers:

ROLEX MIDDLE SEA RACE CLASS WINNERS CONFIRMED
October 28, 2010

If the early miles of the Rolex Middle Sea Race were a test of patience, the latter miles were a true test of endurance. A strong mistral of up to 40+ knots helped push the fleet homeward to the finish in Malta. The last two yachts, Zizanie and Amethyst Abroad, were around the island of Lampedusa and racing towards the finish line off the Royal Malta Yacht Club. The two boats showed heaps of perseverance for hanging in, even if the northwesterly breeze had subsided to a 'mere' 25+ knots.

Meanwhile the bulk of the fleet were safely secured in either Marsamxett Harbour or around the corner in Grand Harbour Marina, and the overall class standings were sorted as the last boats trickled in.

IRC Overall – Lucky (USA)

IRC 1 – Esimit Europa 2 (SLO)

IRC 2 – Lucky (USA)

IRC 3 – Jaru (MLT)

IRC 4 – Artie (MLT)

ORC Overall – Jaru (MLT)

ORC 1 – E1 (RUS)

ORC 2 – Varuna (GER)

ORC 3 – Jaru (MLT)

ORC 4 – Three Sisters (CZK)

Double Handed – BOV Plain Sailing (MLT)

Racing offshore double handed is not for the faint-hearted. It requires all-round seamanship, determination, stamina and above all courage. At the 606-nautical mile Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Double Handed Class is somewhat under the radar with only three entrants, but this year's competitors were a diverse and experienced group.

Taking line honours in the Double Handed Class was White Star, a custom 54-footer, which finished yesterday afternoon with an elapsed time of 4 days, 6 hours, 44 minutes, and 18 seconds. But the Italian boat would have to wait until today when BOV Plain Sailing finished, to see who would win on corrected time.

White Star's crew were experienced double handed sailors Diego Tisci and Daniele Chiamenti; Tisci is a veteran of eight Rolex Middle Sea Races, Chiamenti several as well, but this is the first double handed Middle Sea for either of them. An Italian owner built the yacht and is entering it in double handed races as a way to showcase its' potential.  As Tisci said, "This was the first race of a new program for the boat. It was like a test; so we see how the yacht goes, how we have to optimize that and the crew.

"We had a problem at the start and we broke the jib, this is why we stayed far to the east on the way to Messina. We could only use the staysail and code zero, which doesn't allow you to sail very close to the wind – that's why we had a very strange track! At the end that was the best we could do. Around Stromboli, we didn't have much wind and again it was difficult to go to weather without the proper headsail.

Chiamenti explained, "After that the race was very strategic. But our strategy was based on the sails that we had, not on the wind!" When the forecast coincided with this strategy, White Star was in good shape. From Trapani on, the northwest breeze allowed them a favourable point of sail. To add to their woes, White Star lost instruments as well. The two sailors estimated maximum wind speed at approximately 35 knots; but off the wind, and with a staysail set, they were good to go.

Asked about the best part of sailing double handed, Tisci said with a smile "I think the team.

But really, I like sailing short-handed. It's nice to be at sea. You don't have to argue about what you think is right or wrong; it's your race, just yours. You aren't a wheel in a big mechanism; you are only the mechanism. And we take all decisions together."

The two concurred about the course, and Chiamenti said, "For sure it's the best race in the Mediterranean. It's very tactical, and the panorama is great. You've got a volcano, you've got the Messina Strait, and the time of year is great, it's not too cold, not too warm.

The 34-footer, BOV Plain Sailing, crossed the line midday on Thursday after five days, zero hours and 52 minutes at sea. Their corrected time was good enough to give the Maltese boat the Double Handed Class overall win.

Maltese sailing veteran, skipper/owner Anthony Camilleri is no stranger to the Rolex Middle Sea Race, sailing in his tenth race. But his crew, Gilbert Azzopardi has never raced two-handed before and neither has the boat. The Tango 34 is the smallest and lightest boat of the 76 yachts that started the race.

Camilleri spoke dockside after completing the race, "I am delighted that we have won, but first and foremost, I must give a mention to Bepe Bisotto, skipper of Atame. We had a great battle, often side-by-side, but when we developed a problem with the reefing lines of our mainsail, he offered to stop and help. That offer of assistance shows the spirit of our discipline, we look after each other.

"Probably the lowest moment in the race was the last night. We were tired and the weather was really bad, up to forty knots of wind on the beam, with six metre waves crashing into the cockpit. We took down the mainsail and continued under storm jib alone, it was the hardest part of the race. This race is one of contrasts and the previous day the sailing was spectacular. Downwind with the spinnaker up, we were surfing at a constant 12 knots, at times accelerating to 18 knots. It is an amazing feeling with just the two of us, a very special moment."

Last night, the Fast 42 Atame pulled into Trapani to get a respite from the relentless wind and sea.  Beppe Bisotto emailed, " 'Ad impossibilia' (it's impossible), as the Latins say. Ian (Knight) and I shared the same thinking. Outside, a Force 8 gale is blowing hard from the north. No way to pass Favignana island, as we had been stopped for ten hours with no wind. We missed the wind shift, blowing at SW Force 7 straight into the face, with forecast predicting force 8 on the back.  More than this, to Pantelleria Force 7 SW on the nose was forecast. So, surrounded by gales, we decided to stop and avoid any possible damage.  Do not forget that we were only two- handed instead of a full crew of eight to ten. By the way, we are happy to have raced faster than many bigger boats with full crew! Atame is definitely solid, fast, and reliable."

Only the x40 Pita Maha (ITA), retired today, bringing the total number of retired boats to 15, with 58 boats finished, and two still racing.

 

Published in Offshore
Page 5 of 5

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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