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Displaying items by tag: Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The 76th running of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be different this year with COVID-19 restrictions in place around the world, however, organisers say it has not diminished the quality of the fleet; the chase for the Tattersall Cup as strong as it ever was and a new Two-Handed division has added a new element. This is despite the fact that some big names have bowed out of the race, as Afloat reported here.

A fleet of 89 (down from the originally forecasted 100) – representing NSW, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia is entered for the annual 628 nautical mile race.

The only international entry is the supermaxi, Black Jack, representing Monaco.

At the fast end of the fleet are two super maxis; Christian Beck’s InfoTrack joins Peter Harburg’s Black Jack. Meanwhile, eight TP52s, among them Matt Allen’s defending champion Ichi Ban, will join others in the 50-60 feet range vying for the Tattersall Cup.

Allen, of course, will be racing with his sailing master, Howth Yacht Club's Gordon Maguire (59) who is now recognised as one of Australia’s leading all-round professional offshore/inshore keelboat skippers. 

When asked about the possibility of a three-peat, Matt Allen revealed that his team “.. quite enjoys the pressure and looks to improve the boat’s performance year-on-year.” “In that 50 – 70-foot range, we have some of the best boats in the world.”

The weather may favour the larger end of town and the pressure will be on with so many grand prix yachts in the 60-80ft band. Phil Turner’s 2018 overall winner, the RP66 Alive (Tas) will lead the charge.

Alive’s adversaries are: Grant Wharington/Paul Heyes/Adrian Seiffert/Doug Sallis’ Botin 80, Thunderstruck (former Beau Geste), Jim Cooney’s Volvo Open 70, Maserati (both will be also chasing line honours), Sean Langman’s RP69 Moneypenny, David Gotze’s RP63 Triton and David Griffith’s JV62, Whisper – all from NSW.

Conditions may favour the smaller yachts. Greg Prescott’s modified Farr 40, 2 Unlimited (Tas); Bruce Taylor’s Caprice 40, Chutzpah (Vic); Shane Kearns’ S&S34, White Bay 6 Azzurro (NSW); Shaun Tiedemann’s Sydney 36 C/R, Philosopher (Tas) and the Sydney 38s, led by Tony Levett’s TSA Management, could benefit.

A new Two-Handed division has also been added to the race, and those entered have a chance to take out the inaugural line honours trophy, along with trophies for the overall winners under IRC and PHS.

Hot to trot for the inaugural line honours trophy is Rupert Henry’s Burning Palms. The NSW yachtsman will race his J/65 with Greg O’Shea, the friend who helped him sail his former yacht to a clean sweep of IRC, PHS and AMS wins, line honours and a new race record in the 2018 Melbourne Osaka Double-Handed Yacht Race. They are the benchmark and will be formidable.

Among those vying for Two-Handed IRC honours are Wendy Tuck/Campbell Geeves with the Beneteau 34.7, Speedwell. At 9.9 metres, it is the second smallest boat in the race, but Tuck has an enviable record. The only woman on the planet to win an around the world race and one of only two to twice win the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy (awarded to the first female skipper to finish the Sydney Hobart each year), she has done 13 Sydney Hobarts.

When asked why she chose to enter the two-handed division this year, Wendy acknowledged that she likes to continuously challenge herself but would need to remember to “.. stop walking after 33 feet or otherwise I’m going to get really wet”. She stressed the importance of looking after yourself and your partner in two-handed sailing. She even made up a new word to describe sailing for hours without sleep: “Slangry – when you’re sleepy,
hungry and angry”.

Tasmania’s Rob Gough/John Saul are also highly fancied. In his heyday, Gough was a windsurfing world champion and Moth Masters world champion, has major wins on the board in the SB20 keelboat and raced to Hobart with Saul on Oskana last year. Saul was also one of only 44 finishers in the 1998 Sydney Hobart with his boat Computerland.

James Murchison’s Abracadabra, Rod Walton’s Fontana, Chris Canty’s Galaxy III and David Suttie’s Pekljus are NSW contenders for the PHS Two-Handed trophy. Queenslander Michael Lazzarini (Samurai Jack) will be keeping them honest.

“In this unusual climate we are pleased with the number and quality of the fleet,” CYCA Commodore, Noel Cornish said.

“It will be as difficult as ever to win the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and we have the new Two-Handed division, which adds another dimension to our Blue Water Classic. In 2020 we are also celebrating 75 years of women in the race and have an excellent representation across the board to mark the occasion,” the Commodore ended.

To that end, the oldest boat in the fleet, Anne Lawrence’s Solveig, adds something special.

The famous Halvorsen 36 was designed and owned by Trygve Halvorsen and built in 1950 by his brother Lars. Trygve and older brother, Magnus, raced her to Hobart five times from 1950. They took line honours in 1953 and finished second overall, then won the race in
1954.

Lawrence, a 15 Sydney Hobart race-veteran and respected navigator, has stripped the boat back and restored Solveig to her former glory.

Helping send Lawrence and the rest of the fleet on its way on Boxing Day are Vanessa ‘Duds’ Dudley and Gail Harland who will fire the five minute and 10 minute warning signals.

Dudley, a gifted helmswoman, has contested 23 Sydney Hobarts, her most recent on Wild Oats when it finished second overall in 2018. Harland has competed in 22 races as a trimmer and can claim the distinction of winning the 2003 race on First National.

Since 2003, the historic replica start cannon has been fired by someone who has won the race 50 years previously. This year that duty falls to Bruce ‘Gouldy’ Gould, who was aboard Pacha when it won in 1970. Gouldy was also aboard Vengeance for her line honours victory in 1981 and on Sovereign for the line and overall double win in 1987.

Smallest in the fleet with a budget to match, is the Army Sailing Club’s Gun Runner. At 9.2 metres, the boat is used to train its personnel and teaches the Army values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork.

Full list of entries here.

Published in Sydney to Hobart

Now that the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2019 results are finalised and being channelled into the continuing statistics of this 75-year-old classic, we have got a couple of points to clarify. One of our headlines yesterday said Gordon Maguire on Ichi Ban had won overall for a second time. We meant solely on Ichi Ban. He has, of course, won four times in all, the first in 1991 sailing for Ireland on John Storey’s Farr 43 Atara as frequently mentioned in Afloat.ie, the second in 2011 on Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 Loki.

Having won the Hobart Race at his fifth attempt, Stephen Ainsworth looked forward to being able to spend proper complete Christmasses with his family, and retired from the frontline offshore racing game, while in time Gordon Maguire linked up with Matt Allen for a long and remarkably successful racing partnership which has just reaped its latest reward with this 2019 overall win in Hobart.

lr rolex australias patrick boutellier matt allen of ichi ban and cyca commodore john markos rolex studio borlenghiPatrick Boutellier (Rolex Australia), with Ichi Ban’s owner Matt Allen (Ichi Ban) and John Markos (CYCA Commodore)

Loki meanwhile became the American-owned Lucky, and in the 2015 Transatlantic Race she’d a magnificent overall win thanks in large part to having our own Ian “Soapy” Moore as navigator/tactician – it was after that race that Lucky’s crew famously commented that having Moore on board was as good as narrowing the Atlantic by 150 miles.

But Lucky’s luck ran out in the next item on her 2015 programme, the Rolex Fastnet Race, when Soapy most emphatically wasn’t the navigator. Turning to windward west of the Needles in the early stages of the Fastnet, Lucky went on the Shingles Bank soon after the top of the tide with such vigour that she stayed there until the top of the next tide finally helped to float her off, and that was the end of Lucky’s 2015 Fastnet Race.

luc1Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 Loki brought Gordon Maguire his second Hobart Race win in 2011.

Published in Sydney to Hobart

Outside of overall victory for Howth's Gordon Maguire and line honours for County Meath's Jim Cooney, the corinthian team on the Howth Yacht Club entry Breakthrough have been talking about competing in the Sydney Hobart bluewater classic to media in Tasmania.

For HYC's Jonny White, racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, let alone finishing it, was a dream that he has woken from and now accepts is real after crewing on HYC Breakthrough.

White, a member of the Irish crew that sailed on the Beneteau First 40 HYC Breakthrough, rated his debut in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia event as: “Epic. Absolutely epic.”

“This is the first time for us all ... I don’t think it will be our last.”

Led by Irishman Darren Wright and representing the Howth Yacht Club in Ireland, the crew chartered the boat from her Australian owners Matthew Vadas and Jonathon Stone.

The Irishmen have a ‘bucket list’ of offshore races, and they had already sailed in dozens of Round Ireland and Rolex Fastnet Races. The Rolex Sydney Hobart was a ‘must do’ event.

Jonny WhiteJonny White speaks to the press in Hobart

Breakthrough was an ideal choice of boat. Vadas last raced her in the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart to 52nd overall. In 2015, she was 12th, her best result after four previous finishes.

Speaking after HYC Breakthrough finished 92nd on line honours in 3 days 10 hours 43 minutes at 11.43 pm, Sunday, White smiled and said: “It’s quite a surreal experience, really.

“Coming from Ireland as a sailor, if you ever thought you could end up here, it was probably a dream. Was it a dream too far? Now, we realise it wasn’t.”

White is keen to re-live his dream. He said he hopes to return, and that the HYC Breakthrough crew do too. “[This is the] first time for us all ... I don’t think it will be our last.”

Darren wright Kieran JamesonDarren Wright (skipper) with Kieran Jameson (at mast) in Hobart

Irish crewmate Keiran Jameson concurred with White, saying of his experience in the 628-nautical-mile ‘Blue Water Classic’: “It was really great. It had everything in it that we wanted.

“Bass Strait was a fantastic crossing, really exciting. Crossing Bass Strait for us was the dream … and we got a blow as we crossed it. That was perfect … couldn’t be better.”

Jim Cooney HYCLine Honours winner Jim Cooney, skipper of Comanche (second from left) with the Howth Breakthrough crew in Hobart

Published in Sydney to Hobart

The number one racing boat in Australia has been declared the overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart for a second time, as this morning Matt Allen was advised his TP52, Ichi Ban, was to yet again have its name engraved on the Tattersall Cup. Allen's crew includes sailing master Gordon Maguire (57), based in Sydney but originally from Howth Yacht Club in County Dublin. It is Maguire's fourth overall win of the Cup, the first being as far back as 1991 with John Storey in Atara.

Allen, a member of the Australian Olympic Committee and immediate past president of Australian Sailing, launched Ichi Ban in late December 2017. It has paid him back tenfold since. Some of the highlights include: 2017 – line and overall double in Newcastle Bass Island Race (its first race); won Rolex Sydney Hobart overall.

“To win again this year is just incredible,” Allen remarked, after sailing his 30th Sydney Hobart.

“We’ve spent so many years putting this boat together with two aims – winning the Sydney Hobart and winning the Blue Water Pointscore (BWPS),” the yachtsman said when told he had won both the race and the BWPS from Matt Donald and Chris Townsend’s Gweilo and Bob Steel and Craig Neil’s Quest – in both events.

In 2018, Allen skippered Ichi Ban to wins in the Australian Yachting Championships (won all eight races); Brisbane to Gladstone, Flinders Islet and Newcastle Bass Island and Bird Island races, and the CYCA’s Blue Water Pointscore. Ichi Ban was also named RORC Yacht of the Year.

In 2019, Ichi Ban’s wins included Division 1 of the Australian Yachting Championships; Adelaide Port Lincoln Race (also taking line honours), the Brisbane Hamilton Island, Flinders Islet and Newcastle Bass Island races. These performances landed the TP52 in the finals of the 2019 World Sailing Boat of the Year.

“I helped in the design process,” Allen said. “We put the right package together; the boat, crew and culture. We all just go and work and sail hard together; there are no egos on board. It’s a fulfilment of the sailing capability of the crew and the whole project.

“In 2016, I invited Gordon Maguire (a highly respected yachtsman) to have coffee with me and told him I was putting a new boat together. He has been with me since.

“Gordon, Anthony Merrington, Robert Greenhalgh, Dick Parker, Will (Oxley), James Paterson, Dav (Davin Conigrave) – his third win in nine races; Tim Sellars, Sean (O’Rourke), Charles Kosecki, James Corrie, Matiu (Te Hau), Ashley (Deeks) and Jeremy (Rae). A really amazing group of guys; experienced and calm.

“All the campaigns have really stepped up this year; people have tried to emulate what we have done. There’s no doubt about the competition in this race - in the 44 to 55 footers alone, it is incredible,” Allen said. “You wouldn’t find the competition we have in this race anywhere else in the world.

“We’ve had conditions to suit these boats the last few years in the Sydney Hobart. You go so fast in the north-easterlies; you go very fast. One year we’ll get southerlies again though.”

Allen has been blooded by some of legends in yachting. “I always remember my great sailing times with Lou Abrahams – he won two,” says Allen who raced with the great Victorian yachtsman when he won in 1983.

“I took some time out on that first afternoon to think about Lou and Trygve (Halvorsen), and others that I sailed with that meant something to me,” he said.

Reflecting on his and the crew’s win, Allen said, “It was right to the bitter end. We came around Tasman with a great lead on the others and then Gweilo came back within 2 miles. It would have been on – we would have had to match race them.

“We had to watch Quest (2008 winner, then 2015 winner as Balance, and runner-up to Ichi Ban in 2017 by just 10 minutes) too, and wondered how it would work out.”

Steel and Neil’s Quest was leading the race down the Tasmanian Coast, but found a parking lot that killed their chances.

“Envy Scooters is my previous TP52, and she was always there, sailing with us too,” said the yachtsman who thought the winners would come from the 60 footers down to as small as Daguet 3 (a Ker 46).

“We didn’t go upwind enough to open the door for the smaller boats. The closer we got to the finish, we thought the smaller boats would get shutdown. We were confident that if it came down to the TPs, we were in the box seat.”

In the end, TP52s claimed the top three places overall, with Ichi Ban first, Gweilo second and Quest third.

“We knew we had to beat Quest by over an hour to win,” Allen said of the yacht that has twice won the race and was looking good to win until they found a parking lot in Storm Bay,” Allen said.

“It was fast conditions on Friday night. They (Quest) had the pedal down and so did we.

We were always looking at Gweilo and my old boat, Envy Scooters (Barry Cuneo), too. They were always up to different things.

“We had our game plan. We didn’t alter it for them, but you always keep an eye on them. Once or twice we almost changed it, but decided against it.

“Ichi Ban is two years old now, so we know a lot more about it than we did in the beginning. There were a couple of things that we were still making up as we went along when we won in 2017.

“The boat is great. It’s a good all round boat and doesn’t really have a weakness. You never know what conditions you are going to get, but we are confident that we can push her hard and we do push her hard. It’s a great, fun boat to sail.”

Ichi Ban will next head to the Australian Yachting Championships, to be hosted by the Rolex Sydney Hobart finishing partner Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, starting in three days’ time.

“We’ll go there to try and defend the title we won last year. It will be predominantly the same crew as the Hobart minus a couple. Three days of sailing in some of the trickiest waters in Australia…”

Published in Sydney to Hobart

Hobart Harbour’s localised calm in the hours of darkness is almost a freak of nature, for it can settle in even when there’s quite a decent breeze in the nearest piece of half open water. Last year, it put paid to Matt Allen and Gordon Maguire’s chances of an overall win in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race 2018 with Ichi Ban, as they sat totally becalmed for an hour in the dark within a mile of the finish, and their considerable lead drained away.

They’ve put that memory to bed with an impressive overall win in this year’s 75th Anniversary race and its big fleet of 157 boats. But this time round, it has been the turn of another boat with Howth connections, Darren Wright’s First 40 HYC Breakthrough, to suffer the agonies of the calm small hours of the Hobart waterfront.

HYC Breakthrough’s tactics through Sunday’s daylight racing over the final stages had proved spot on, and she moved up to hold sixth in Division 6 for quite a while, going even better to make that fifth in class and first of the First 40s in the last ten miles while the breeze still held good as darkness fell.

Yet you’d only to look at the dropping speeds of the boats ahead as they got to within a mile or two of the finish to know that it would be a miracle if HYC Breakthrough held onto that fifth place in class, as the higher-rated First 40 she was indicated as narrowly leading had only managed to crawl across the line. And sure enough, as the Howth crew got within shouting distance of the finish, their speed went to almost nothing.

Inexorably, their fifth place returned to being a sixth. It’s a sure enough sixth, as the next boat is 25 miles astern. But still, that fifth - and first of the First 40s - was so tantalisingly in their grasp…..

But at least they were moving - you could feel the agonies of crews who’d got to within half a mile of the finish, and had to get their boats to finally glide across seemingly more by will-power than anything else. However, the Howth boat, having been virtually halted down harbour, seemed to carry her own private zephyr almost to the line, but then there was that final windless effort of will to get them across at 23:43 hrs local time (12.43 Irish) and place sixth in Division 6, second in the First 40s, and 11th overall in the Corinthian Division, which is probably their most significant achievement of all

With the finish line safely astern at last, all changes, The tension lifts, and the fact that the next boat in class is now all of 25 miles astern – for there’d been a calm patch over the next Division 6 group – adds to the relaxed mood as shore supporters take the berthing lines and the party begins.

It has been an extraordinary long-distance project, with the strains of extended lines of communication between Howth and Sydney becoming extreme at times. And inevitably a crew who have put so much into simply being available to get there at all will find that some aspects of a ten year old boat are inevitably not quite as good as they might have hoped.

But while Darren Wright and his project co-ordinator Kieran Jameson and shore managers Ian & Judith Malcolm may have had less time preparation time beforehand in Sydney than they might have wished, despite the fact that even with the 75th Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race being top of the bill plumb in the middle of Christmas, there was a discernible slowing down in the Sydney Harbour marine service industry as the festive season approached.

But as so often happens, by tapping into the Irish maritime mafia in Australia, they very quickly found the right people to help them push the required buttons, and HYC Breakthrough went forth well able to take on the challenges of the 628 mile course, producing a good result that the crew and their supporters have well earned.

Together with Gordon Maguire’s overall win in Hobart with Ichi Ban, and Shane Diviney’s First in Division 2 with Chinese Whisper, it’s a very impressive way for Howth Yacht Club to round out being the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2019”.

Race tracker here

Published in Sydney to Hobart

Darren Wright’s First 40 HYC Breakthrough has had a good day of it in the closing sections of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart with the forecast nor’easter fulfilling its promise. With 20 miles to go, the Howth crew in the only all-Irish entry were revelling in the sailing, enjoying speed bursts of 11 knots and more in a performance which has brought them back up to sixth in Division 6, and 10th overall in the IRS Corinthian Division.

But as Sunday evening settles in on Hobart in Tasmania, the inevitable easing of the breeze close inshore is already taking place. Although the leaders in Division 6 are closing in on the finish line in the heart of the city’s waterfront, when French/Australian Pierre Gal (NSW) and a crew of all the talents on the new Lombard 34 crossed first on the water at 19:11:00 hrs local time (09:11 in Ireland), the blistering pace they’d been setting for much of the day had been reduced to three knots.

chartThe likely finishing sequence for IRC6, with the HYC crew holding sixth position in their class

Close together with 2 miles to go are the Tasmanian Div 6 handicap leader Willie Smith’s Philosopher (Shaun Tiedemann) and Phil Moloney’s Papillon, an Archambault 40, both still carrying breeze and making 7 knots. They’re followed by the First 40.7 Ocean Crusaders and the First 40 Mayfair, and with HYC Breakthrough (now with 18 miles to go) sixth on the water and sixth on handicap, she is achieving one of her crew’s ambitions in being in the top three in the flotilla of First 40s.

mayfair first40After three days and eight hours, the racing is still very close in the Sydney Hobart race as HYC crewman Luke Malcolm's photo reveals

But although they’ve the very solid margin of a 20 miles lead on the next boat (for Breakthrough really lived up to her name during this Sunday’s sailing) the notorious “Derwent Drift” in the final miles to the finish is likely to settle in as night falls, and this Corinthian crew of well-tested HYC shipmates is going to need patience and skill to reach the line in a time which is in keeping with the rest of today’s sparkling performance.

Tracker here

Published in Sydney to Hobart

As the daylight of Sunday morning strengthens along the east coast of Tasmania, Irish interest in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race 2019 turns towards Darren Wright’s First 40 HYC Daybreak in Division 6.

We can re-focus confident in the knowledge that if you take every possible permutation of Irish linkage into account, we can claim an interest in the indisputable Line Honours Winner (SuperMaxi Comanche, with Jim Cooney of County Meath), the Division 1 (and probably overall) winner Ichi Ban (sailing master Gordon Maguire of Howth), and the Division 2 winner Chinese Whisper (navigator Adrienne Cahalan of Offaly and crewmember Shane Diviney of Howth).

But only 21 boats of the 157 starters are now comfortably finished. Out at sea – sometimes very far out at sea - the smaller craft have been having a frustrating night of it with winds all over the place and very confused seas as they’ve tried to make to windward in what was expected to be a brief southerly.

rick trophy cabinet2HYC Breakthrough navigator Rick De Neve in the Trophy Room of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney before the start of the race to Hobart. The Howth-based Rick’s day job is as an international jetliner captain
Brief it may be, but at one stage there was plenty of it, and HYC Breakthrough was down to No 2 and a reef in the main as she crashed through the night. Navigator Rick De Neve reports that they’re trying to make some westing to be better placed for an eventual wind swing back to the northeast which seems to be filling in more quickly towards the coast, but meanwhile the windward slugging in a southerly has had a distinct hint of the Antarctic about it after taking their leave from Sydney in a serious heatwave.

For the time being, their westward tack has impinged on their overall and class placing, though even as we write, HYC Breakthrough is getting up to speed again. Until they took the plunge, they’d been 5th in Division 6th and second overall in the Corinthian Division, but at 1830 hrs Irish time they were (hopefully temporarily) back at tenth in class.

Philosopher YachtCrazy name, successful boat – the Tasmania-based Sydney 36 Special Willie Smith’s Philosopher has become the boat to beat in Division 6

Even at that, they have seen off several First 40s which were giving them a hard time in the early stages of the race, but at the front of the class the Tasmanian-based Sydney 36 Special called Willie Smith’s Philosopher (Australian boat names really are something else) is setting a ferocious pace which will be very challenging to overcome, even with more than a hundred miles still to race.

Race Tracker here 

Published in Sydney to Hobart

Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban is now safely across the finish line in Hobart to correct into the Sydney Hobart overall leader position after completing the 628-mile course in just 2 days 6 hours and 18 minutes, despite stages of the race being plagued by light and flukey winds.

Ichi Ban’s strong overall placing was indicated by the fact that she was very well up the fleet at 11th on line honours, finishing among much larger boats. In the end, as he made a workmanlike job of dealing with the tricky final miles in the Derwent River, Ichi Ban Sailing Master Gordon Maguire’s only real challenger was another TP 52, Matt Donald & Chris Townsend’s Gweilo from New South Wales.

Gweilo rates exactly the same as Ichi Ban on 1.403, but even with a breeze to speed things up covering the ground, Gweilo was all of 34 minutes astern at the finish.

With 15 boats finished as of noon Irish time, the onset of darkness in Hobart has seen the bite go from the breeze, and the next boats due in are currently showing slow speeds as the traditional “Derwent Drift” sets in. Thus Ichi Ban’s position is looking good, but some very low-rated boats far at sea still have a chance of toppling her if some slightly unlikely wind scenarios develop.

chinese whisper3The JV62 Chinese Whisper, navigated by Adrienne Cahalane and with Shane Diviney in the crew, was seventh on line honours at Hobart, and currently leads IRC Division 2. Photo: Judith Malcolm

Meanwhile, the only all-Irish contender, Darren Wright’s First 40 HYC Breakthrough, is currently one of the fastest boats in Division 6, listed as making 7.7 knots with 164 miles to sail. Only one boat in class – the new Lombard 34 Mistral (Pierre Gal) – is showing better speed, but Breakthrough retains sixth in class, just 11 miles astern of the leader in a 20-boat class in which the competition is very hot indeed.

Published in Sydney to Hobart

The SuperMaxi Comanche, all one hundred feet of her with a huge beam to provide impressive sail-carrying power, has overcome the tricky winds and calms of the Derwent River to take line honours in the Tasmanian morning in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, despite the best effort of slimmer boats to take away her shrinking lead.

Jointly owned by Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant, Comanche seemed to have a commanding lead coming south offshore, and benefitted from staying further east than the rest of the fleet.

Comanche HobartJim Cooney steered his Sydney-based super maxi over the Castray Esplanade finish line in Hobart after taking command of the race during yesterday morning. Comanche did not relinquish from that point, although Seng Huang Lee’s SHK Scallywag (Hong Kong) came very close at one point.

But the inshore work towards the finish poses its own problems, and Christian Beck’s InfoTrack seemed like a possible danger. But in the end, Comanche’s time across the line had her 44 minutes ahead on the water by the time Beck and his crew made their slow finish.

Nine times line honours winner Wild Oats XI, skippered for the Oatley family by Mark Richards, has had a frustrating race of it, but pulled back the leaders towards the finish. Nevertheless, as InfoTrack completed the course, the Oatley boats still had 6.3 miles to sail and was making only 4.8 knots.

Ichi Ban Leads on IRC

As the day makes on in Tasmania, the next group of finishers are hoping that the northerly wind will be reinforced by the makings of a sea breeze. As of 2240 hrs, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban with Gordon Maguire is indicated as narrowly leading IRC overall, but she is still 87 miles from the finish, though making good at 11.8 knots – a significantly better speed than any of her closest rivals.

The most directly Irish contender, Darren Wright’s First 40 HYC Breakthrough, has been staying schtum and getting on with racing. It’s an approach which seems to be doing no harm at all, for although she still has 275 miles to sail, HYC Breakthrough has now moved up to 6th in IRC Division 6.

Published in Sydney to Hobart

There’s nothing like the spectacle of a flotilla of fighting Supermaxis streaking away southwards from the start of the annual Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race to snap us out of the Christmas torpor. In fact, with the time difference between Ireland and Australia, for many, the Christmas will still be meandering along as things get going in Sydney Harbour in what is, for us, the small hours of Thursday morning.

But whether it’s going to be a fast-moving spectacle remains to be seen. At least the wind is forecast to be in the easterly arc, giving hope that the smoke haze of the Australian bush fires will have been blown inland to leave the handsome harbour looking its picture-postcard best. And in recent days the temperatures have dropped to much more civilized levels to enable newly-arrived crews – such as the very Corinthian sailors who will be racing the First 40 HYC Breakthrough – a more reasonable chance of acclimatizing themselves.

hyc breakthrough crew2The HYC Breakthrough crew after completing their 24-hour test are (left to right) Simon Knowles, Kieran Jameson, Jonny White, Rick De Neve, Luke Malcolm, Wendy Tuck of EastSail, Darren Wright, Colm Bermingham and (foreground) Emmet Sheridan

But at this stage the wind predictions for the race are still far from precise, and as previous races have shown, volatility is the name of the game. So when one of the race’s proven stars such as Mark Richards, longtime skipper of the Oatley family’s 100ft Supermaxi Wild Oats XI, quotes a forecast, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to assume he’s throwing shapes to confuse his rivals as his skinny flying machine aims for her tenth line honours win.

For what it’s worth, today (Monday) Richards said:

“Today’s forecast indicates we will start in a light to moderate north-easterly, and then have a change out of the south during the first night. If you position your yacht in the right spot for that change, and your opposition doesn’t get it right, then you might gain 50 or 60 miles over them. That’s the big challenge.”

wild 2019 oats3Despite being dismasted with significant deck damage just six weeks before the start, top contender Wild Oats XI is race-ready again
Makes it so simple, really. But in a race which is also being predicted as being as much about brain as brawn, all the navigators - such as Offaly-born Adrienne Cahalan on the Judel Vrolik 62 Chinese Whispers (ex-Jethou, with the crew including Howth’s Shane Diviney) - are taking about several “transition stages”, and the challenge of reading them right.

So in a fleet now of 157 boats, ranging in size from 33ft to 100ft, the possible successful permutations in the IRC overall handicap race for the coveted Tattersall Cup are only something which can be disentangled as the race proceeds, whereas the raw race for line honours is something which becomes clear from the get-go.

Like it or not, the SuperMaxis get that initial attention, and in truth they deserve much of it, for like virtually all the rest of the fleet, there isn’t a “new in 2019” boat among them. Australians are maniacs for modifying boats. Thus when we talk of the hundred foot Wild Oats XI racing for her tenth line honours win, we’re talking of a boat which started life as a 90-footer, but has been undergoing modification ever since, so much so that the recent potential disaster of being dismasted with significant deck damage just six weeks before the start not only was an opportunity to demonstrate the Wild Oats campaign’s powers of resilience, but the round-the-clock repair and replacement work facilitated opportunities for yet further mods.

In fact the only hundred footer which is still largely as originally designed is Jim Cooney’s Comanche (the “Boat from Ballivor”), but others like Peter Harburg’s Black Jack have received some surgical enhancement. For this year’s race, the lightwind flyer Black Jack is racing for the Yacht Club de Monaco, thereby bringing up the overseas entries to eight, and the crew includes America’s Cup legend Brad Butterworth and other mega-talents more usually associated with George David’s all-conquering Rambler 88, so if the wind stays as light as some forecasters suggest, Black Jack might well be one to watch.

In the body of the fleet, we find the Howthmen with their First 40 HYC Breakaway, registered to the ownership of Darren Wright HYC, and proudly flying the Irish tricolour. It’s a brave campaign, for the reality is that the entire crew are Sydney-Hobart Race virgins. When you’re in a fleet where people like Dublin-born sailmaker Noel Drennan on the Maxi 72 URM is doing his 32nd Hobart Race, while Adrienne Cahalan is on her 28th, this blank slate does loom large, but they seem to have been blessed into the quickest possible experience-acquisition programme since they arrived.

This has been facilitated by Wendy Tuck, the first woman skipper to win the Clipper Round the World Race overall – she did it in the 2017-2018 edition. These days, she has a key introductory role with EastSail, the Australian organization which arranged the transfer of Breakthrough, and she sailed with the Howth team in their mandatory 24-hour offshore test which fast-tracked them into the Hobart lane.

kieran support team4Kieran Jameson with his support team in Sydney
Since then they’ve been test and training sailing as much as possible while the shore team of Ian and Judith Malcolm have been dealing with the myriad of essential requirements. Nevertheless, it’s something of a leap in the dark, and HYC Breakthrough will have been a big achiever if she does well against the other First 40s – seven of them – and the similarly-rated Sydney 38s, while anything remotely like a class podium position would be massive.

Sydney hobart raceThe classic Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race of 628 miles is an unusual mixture of open water sailing followed by inshore work approaching the finish in the Derwent River to Hobart
Meanwhile, in the exalted heights of the superstars, the combo of owner-skipper Matt Allen and Howth ex-Pat sailing master Gordon Maguire with the superb Botin 52 Ichi Ban 2 are still seen as a good all-round bet for the Tattersall Cup. But as ever, after close-fought battles out in open water, the final place may well be decided by the time of day or night you enter the Derwent River, with its tricky diurnal wind patterns, in order to get to the finish in the heart of Hobart.

rshr derwent finish6The “Derwent Drift” – with spectator craft disturbing the almost windless water – is part of the Sydney-Hobart package. Photo: Rolex/Studio Borlenghi

Race Tracker here

Published in Howth YC
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