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Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the shores of Sydney Harbour to salute the fleet of 108 yachts as they commenced the 628 nautical mile trek to Hobart for the 71st edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

There’s nothing that really compares with the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. While most of the more-populated parts of the world in the Northern Hemisphere are in their midwinter shutdown, somnolent and sluglike in a festival of consumer excess, away south of the Equator one of the most magnificent city harbours in the world is exuberantly celebrating outdoors in all its midsummer glory. And then it tops out the party with one of world sailing’s great spectacles. W M Nixon anticipates the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2015, which starts in full daylight in Australia an hour after this is posted at midnight on Christmas Day in Ireland.

With the Yuletide festivities scarcely put away, a group of extreme boats at the peak end of the hundred foot size limit - every last one of them owned and sailed by larger-than-life characters – comes roaring out of Sydney’s glorious harbour at the head of a magnificent fleet, a colossally varied collection of 108 craft in which every crew reckons they’re in with a chance. For although line honours for the biggies are what captures the headlines, for the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts the only real trophy in the thrash to Hobart is the Tattersall’s Cup for the overall winner on IRC Handicap.

A severe weather forecast of three days ago has now been watered down, but there’ll still be plenty of breeze at some stages to be going along with. The start is expected to be in a moderate to fresh northeasterly, stronger outside once they begin making southing down the Tasman Sea, with most boats chasing that elusive race-winning south-going current which may be anything up to ten miles offshore.

Then everything changes in the weather situation with an active front rolling up from the south and southwest, with strong headwinds – maybe gusting to 45 knots in the front itself – providing atrocious wind-over-tide conditions with the under-lying south-going current. There’ll be a lot of Christmas dinners spread out over the ocean……After that, the winds are forecast to fall away as the bulk of the fleet get to the Bass Strait, but overall the pundits are reckoning boats in the 60ft to 75ft size range are looking to be the favoured cohort, while George David’s Rambler 88 – with the legendary Brad Butterworth in the afterguard – is now looking good to give the hundred footers more than a few tense moments.

By the time you’re likely to be reading this on Saturday morning, the drama will already be unfolding on the other side of the world, and all sorts of newsfeeds will be available for the best armchair offshore racing of the year. Yet as a Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race addict, I’ll readily concede that the last thing addiction provides is a clear picture, so you can expect this anticipation to be something of a rose-tinted view.

sydney hobart course 2015
The Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race – a classic course which is staging its 71st edition as 2015 draws to a close

But that said, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race of 2014 will take some beating. It provided the glorious battle for line honours between the new Comanche and the continually-evolving Wild Oats XI, veteran owner and local favourite Bob Oatley’s originally 98ft Reichel Pugh Wild Oats XI of 2005 vintage, but modified almost every year since, such that by December 2014 she was a hundred footer. Against her, the big new fat girl, Jim and Kristy Hinze Clark’s JK-designed total hundred footer Comanche, so big and beamy you could fit two Wild Oats into her and still have room to spare.

Yet although all the heavy metal seemed to be on Comanche’s side, including having the formidable Kenny Read as skipper, in the end the skinny girl wriggled her way through some awkward conditions which Comanche loathed, and wriggled to such good effect that Wild Oats took line honours.

Comanche

It’s reckoned you’d still have room to spare after fitting two of Wild Oats XI (left) into the very different hull of Comanche (right)

And then, to put the icing well and truly on the Hobart cake, as the various potential handicap winners were knocked out by the remorseless ticking of the clock, an overall winner emerged who was the very epitome of the true Australian ocean racing spirit. The veteran Farr 43 Wild Rose, owned successfully for many years by Roger Hickman, was on top of her immaculate form, and won the Tattersall’s Cup.

Farr 43 Wild Rose

The true spirit of Australian offshore racing – Roger Hickman’s 28 year old Farr 43 Wild Rose (ex-Wild Oats) is defending champion in this year’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart race

And what was Wild Rose’s back-story? You just couldn’t make it up. She was one of the first boats to be called Wild Oats, brought to the Australian racing scene by a legendary entrepreneur called Bob Oatley who’d been so successful in business in Papua New Guinea that at one stage he was controlling 95% of the entire country’s GDP. And then, when local interests bought him out, he shifted operations back home to Australia, and created himself a new conglomerate business empire on an even large stage.

He found that the challenge of campaigning a serious offshore racer at the top end of the exuberant Australian offshore racing scene went perfectly with business. If the boat did well, enterprises like Robert Oatley Wines did well too. But regardless of that, it was fun. So although he’s looking into his 90s. Old Bob is as keen as ever on the whole crazy game, and with Mark Richards he has the perfect skipper/boat manager to maximize returns from the sheer entertainment provided by keeping Wild Oats XI up to the mark to fulfill her role as the people’s favourite.

The improvement project for 2015 was basically to re-position the mast. Now most folks, if they decide the mast is too far forward, they’d simply move it aft. But not the Wild Oats team. At its most fundamental, what they’ve done is keep the mast where it was, but they chopped off the bow - the chainsaw pix say it all - and then added a completely new longer slimmer bow. Try as you might, you can’t see the join…...

Mark Richards and Bob Oatley

If you’re going to take the bow off the boat with a chainsaw, better make sure you’ve the owner there to do it with you. Mark Richards and Bob Oatley start the drastic surgery on Wild Oat XI

Wild Oats XIYou can’t even see the join….,Wild Oats with her new longer bow (right) with the old bow (left) kept in storage “in case the new one didn’t work” . But would you call that new stem a “clipper bow”?

Then, to keep her down to a hundred feet, they shortened and re-shaped the stern, such that the result of it all is the skinny girl is now super-slim. But thanks to the latest materials and some ferociously clever engineering and technology, Wild Oats is able to carry a mighty canting keel which keeps this torpedo of a boat upright and powering successfully along, in which mission she is further assisted by all sorts of canards and foils which can be deployed from multiple orifices.

Central to the whole story today, however, is the fact that the Hobart Race 2015 is the first real test of the completely re-vamped Wild Oats XI, and she’s yet again up against Comanche as a trial horse. But after such radical changes, naturally there are those who’ll question them. For a start, it has been noted that with the completely new bow section, the even longer bowsprit on WOXI is receiving additional support from a sort of solid strut from the stem which creates what some of us might describe as a clipper bow.

Wild Oats XI

The re-configured Wild Oats XI is faster than ever, but what length is she?

And if you accept that this has indeed become a clipper bow of sorts, instead of a straight stem bow which happens to have a solid strut support for an unusually long bowsprit, then you’re accepting that Wild Oats’ hull has now become more than a hundred feet long, and therefore above the size limit for the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. At the time of writing, the Race Committee seemed to have accepted that Wild Oats still has a straight stem. But we can think of a few sea-lawyers who might possibly demur.

In the end, it’s a matter of definitions. Just recently, a Classic Boat magazine profile of the magnificent Fife-designed-and-built 1926 Fastnet Race line honours winner Hallowe’en revealed she is just over 71ft LOA, and something like 47ft when unladen on the waterline. The waterline length was fine, as it allowed some immersion in seagoing trim to stay within the Fastnet limit of 50ft LWL. But what’s with this 71ft plus in the LOA department, when the Fastnet Rule – set after the inaugural race of 1925 – clearly set the upper LOA limit at 70ft? Well, it seems that Hallowe’en is 70ft LOA on deck. And LOD was seen by many as being one and the same thing as LOA back in 1926. So now you know.

Hallowe’en, 1926 Fastnet Race

Hallowe’en, 1926 Fastnet Race Line Honours Winner, at the Royal Irish YC. While she was 70ft LOD to comply with the Fastnet Race maximum size, her hull LOA is actually slightly north of 71ft. Photo: W M Nixon

Whatever, this morning the one thing we’re starting to know is just how well the new-style Wild Oats is going, as there’s plenty of wind forecast for some stages, and the only test so far against other boats was in smooth water conditions in the Solas Big Boat Challenge a fortnight ago. This was a 14 mile round-the-buoys sprint within Sydney Harbour in which George David’s Rambler 88 was still right there with Wild Oats at the weather mark, but thereafter the Oats lengthened away in impressive style, while the other hundred footers weren’t really in contention with either her or Rambler.

Solas Big Boat Challenge

Racing in the Solas Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour a fortnight ago. The new look Wild Oats XI is already showing ahead, but she had quite a job to shake off the smaller Rambler 88 (second right). There’s a lot of sailing history in this photo. Perpetual Loyal (second left) was formerly George David’s Rambler 100 which capsized at the Fastnet Rock in 2011 after snapping off her keel.

But of course Comanche very sensibly stayed away from the Solas Big Boat Chalenge. In-harbour contortions aren’t her thing at all. The big wide boat needs the wide open spaces of the clear ocean and the challenge of the 628 miles to Hobart. So it’s right now that the two monsters in their current form are at each other’s throats for the very first time, like a giant rattlesnake against a huge python. Jurassic Park goes sailing…….

After the hors d’euvre of the line honours battle, we then re-focus on the body of the fleet for the main course, and on the race tracker it’s fascinating to watch as fortunes wax and wane for different groups. But within each group, regardless of how they’re doing within the fleet at large, as the race progresses the group leaders become more clearly defined, but quite why and where it happens is sometimes only discernible in the post-race analysis.

For instance, last year the Dun Laoghaire crew of Barry Hurley and the Rumball brothers were right there on their First 40 with the comparably-rated Wild Rose as they approached the Bass Strait. But then with a couple of twists and turns of fortune Wild Rose got herself into a better rhythm, and there she was – gone – while the Irish crew slipped in the rankings.

The top Irish skipper within class in 2014 was Sean McCarter in the Clipper Division with Derry/Londonderry/Doire - he won the Clippers as they took it in as part of their multi-stage race round the world. The Clippers are there again this year in what is the most international fleet yet seen in the Sydney-Hobart, with a first-time strong mainland Chinese representation, particularly through Ark 323, their TP 52 whose home club is the Noah Sailing Club. If they do well, we can hope to find out how a challenger from the People’s Republic seems to draw so heavily on the Old Testament for the names of boat and club alike.

Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban

Will she finally find her true form? The Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban (Matt Allen), raced by Gordon Maguire, is in the size cohort favoured by the pundits to suit the forecast wind and weather.

Our own Gordon Maguire, winner overall in 1991 and 2012, is going again, and again it’s on Matt Allen’s Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban, which has a new rudder and other mods, and has been showing an improvement in form. And we now know that Maguire is going with the Carkeek 60 which is called Ichi Ban. Because you see, Matt Allen happens to have a TP 52 which is also called Ichi Ban, and though the modified Carkeek 60 seemed to have found better form to win the Cabbage Tree Island race at the end of November, even then Allen wouldn’t say which Ichi Ban would do the Hobart Race. But with the wind pattern forecast, it will be the Carkeek, indeed she is now rated one of the favourites if the weather does as the gurus say it will.

Another boat of special Irish interest is the completely new Wicklow-designed Mills 45 Concubine, built in Dubai for South Australian sailor Jason Ward of Adelaide, and only afloat since November 11th. So she has scarcely been sailing seriously for much more than a wet week. But the word is the boat’s potential is enormous. And simply seeing how she performs in this ultimate test tank of modern middle distance offshore racing is going to be top of the interest levels for the next few days.

Mark Mills-designed 45ft Concubine

Her lines were drawn in the midst of the Wicklow countryside – the new Mark Mills-designed 45ft Concubine will have her first real test in the Hobart Race

For although the Hobart Race is of rather more recent date than the other classics such as the Bermuda Race and the Fastnet, they are biennial whereas the Sydney-Hobart has been an annual event ever since being founded in 1945, and thus has built up its mystique more quickly. As a result, some devotees log up an astonishing number of races to Hobart, and this year Tony Cable will be doing his 50th . This time round – as it has been for the past four Hobarts – he’s aboard Damien Parkes’ JV52 Duende, but he has been on many different boats, and in all he has raced to Hobart with 308 different crewmates over the years, so they’re going to need a very large premises for his reunion.

sy10a
Tony Cable is doing his 50th Sydney-Hobart Race – these are the name plates of the 15 boats he has sailed on

The Sydney-Hobart Race started at the end of World War 2 when Sydney cruising men asked the great offshore racing legend Captain John Illingworth RN – who happened to be running the navy yard at Wooloomoolo at the time – if he’d be interested in a cruise-in-company down to Hobart over Christmas. He said he’d be interested in the offshore passage to Hobart, but only if they made it a race.

Rani (John Illingworth)

Rani (John Illingworth) was winner of the first Sydney-Hobart race in 1945

By the time it got going, he’d acquired himself a little locally designed and built sloop called Rani. Despite having one of the smallest boats in the fleet, Illingworth battled on through a proper Southerly Buster and then another gale, before he finally got to Hobart expected to be dog last in this new race, as Rani’s radio had packed it in shortly after the start. Thus they’d no word of anyone else at all, while they themselves had been posted missing.

But he found he was twenty hours ahead of the next boat on the water. He’d won overall by hours or even days, and it was a long time before all the fleet had got in. Every other entry had sought shelter of some sort. And one boat had even gone into port so that her crew could go to the cinema to pass the time before racing on south once the weather had improved. Be assured that things are different these days in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race

John Illingworth

Captain John Illingworth looking more than somewhat weatherbeaten at the finish of the first Hobart race in 1945, which he won. He went on to win the Fastnet Race overall twice (in 1947 and 1949) with Myth of Malham.

Published in W M Nixon

The Clipper Race fleet and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to return in Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2015. The international Clipper Race fleet will race again compete in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race (RSHYR) this December, bringing colour with Corinthian sailors from 26 different nationalities.

And legendary British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (76), the founder of the world’s longest ocean race and the first man to sail solo, nonstop round the world in 1968/9, will also race on one of two Clipper 68 Events yachts taking part.

The 14-strong fleet will compete in the Australian offshore classic for the second time as part of its 40,000 nautical mile circumnavigation, and will once again have its own Clipper Race class.

The fleet will arrive into Sydney around December 11 on the All-Australian Leg, half-way in its global race series having departed London on 30 August.

Sir Robin said: “There is a real buzz amongst our Clipper Race crew about racing with the world’s best sailors again in one of the most famous offshore races. The crew will have sailed half way round the world in order to participate, and will be excited to pit themselves against the best competitors in the sport.

“The event was one of the highlights of the entire circumnavigation when we first competed in 2013, and we are very excited to be coming back to compete again.”

The two Sydney-based Clipper 68s are entered in the RSHYR. Join Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and past crew racing against the Clipper 70s and the rest of the RSHYR fleet. Former Clipper Race crew and non-crew are invited to take part.

Amongst the Clipper Race competitors will be Sydney Skipper Wendy Tuck, the first Australian female Skipper in the history of the Clipper Race, who is leading the Da Nang – Viet Nam entry. It will be her ninth RSHYR. GREAT Britain and Visit Seattle Skippers Peter Thornton and Huw Fernie will also compete in their second RSHYR.

And 50 Australian amateur crew are competing in the circumnavigation from across various states.

On announcing the fleet is officially entered, CYCA Commodore, John Cameron added: “This year the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is shaping up to be a spectacular - our 71st race will be an event to watch - from the super maxis vying for the fastest time to the bulk of the fleet battling it out for the prized Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the overall winner.

“Added to the mix we have, for the second time, the Clipper Race yachts. They will bring an additional 14 boats to our race, with the added character that only Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and his yachts and crews can add as part of their round the world Race, and we look forward to welcoming them back,” he ended.

The fleet will arrive in Sydney from Albany, Western Australia, before racing in the 628 nautical mile classic, which will form Race 5 of the 14 race global Clipper 2015-16 Race series.

Published in Clipper Race

#rshyr – 11th overall (moving up two places from yesterday's provisional results) Is the best result yet for Irish sailor Barry Hurley in the Sydney Hobart Race. Here, Hurley reviews his performance for Afloat.ie readers

 Well, another Sydney Hobart Race successfully finished. That's my fourth time finishing the race, and the third in a row on Breakthrough now.  

[Read yesterday's Breakthrough race update  here]

On the good side we had a really great race, the boat and sails held up well, and the crew dynamic made for a great atmosphere on board even through the tougher conditions.

Eleventh overall is my best result to date, but I have to admit that seventh in class is slightly disappointing.

It's obvious from the regular position reports when we lost time on the race course, but honestly I'm not sure yet exactly why we lost so much when we did. We did drop down to a slightly smaller kite for a while in the bigger seas, but I wouldn't have expected to lose so much ground. I'm not sure if we were just slow for a while, or we missed a shift, or perhaps we picked up some adverse current. There are certainly some learnings to be taken but there will be plenty time for that.

Over the next few weeks I'll study the tracker logs to figure out exactly what happened. It's somewhat comforting to see that over the last 24hrs of the race we were able to pull back places. The crew really dug deep to push hard in big wind when boats around us were throttling back. Perhaps we shouldn't be disappointed and should be content with a solid overall result against some of the best offshore sailors in the world.

Having just woken up the morning after a late finish last night we've just started to prepare the boat for the return trip. Next week back in Sydney we'll have time to relax sore muscles and review the race properly with all the facts to hand. In the meantime we'll enjoy the atmosphere and New Years celebrations here in Hobart.

It's a fantastic race which is always challenging. Our crew performed brilliantly, and the boat held up well. We all really enjoyed the race and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to come back and try again soon. I'm privileged to be part of such campaigns and to spend so much time offshore with some of my best friends.

We're all extremely proud to fly the flag for Ireland in these events and grateful for all the support from back home.

Breakthrough_irish_sailors_web.jpg

Read all Afloat's Sydney Hobart race updates here in one handy link plus WM Nixon's 2014 Race preview here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#rshyr – Ireland's Breakthrough crew led by Barry Hurley has recovered from a lowly 25th place yesterday to finish 11th on IRC overall and seventh in class on day four of Australia's classic Sydney–Hobart race where the overall winner could still be at sea.

Only two hours before the finish the official tracker gave Breakthrough's position in the top ten overall but Constitution Dock, Hobart is buzzing with activity after a stream of boats crossed the finish line throughout Day 4 making any final overall result some time away yet.

Crossing the Tasmanian finish line in Hurley's third succesive race, the Cork Harbour sailor eclipsed last year's result of 27th overall but was a place behind the sixth place in IRC Division 3 achieved in 2013.  It was a terrfic recovery over the past 24 hours when Breakthrough had slumped to 27th.  Provisional race rankings here

In a race of snakes and ladders, the Irish crewed boat was only an estimated two hours off the overall handicap lead at the halfway stage of the 635–miler. In a fantastic opening peformance the New South Wales entry from Jonathan Stone and Mathew Vadas was as high as third place in the 109–boat fleet. 

But after passing Gabo Island, things took a so far unexplained turn for the worse. The First 40 nose–dived down the rankings sinking at one stage yesterday to 27th overall on IRC overall with just 200 miles to the Tasmanian finish line.

Battling strong winds in the Bass Straits to recover some 16 places and seventh in division 3 was never going to be an easy proposition.

The drop in performance – an estimated 1.5 knots off the pace all day yesterday – prompted some of Breakthrough's shore crew to speculate that a torn spinnaker might be to blame. Others said the easterly course chosen by Breakthrough might have contributed to a slower wind angle.

But whatever the reason, the Hurely crew dug deep in the closing stages to haul back in near small boat rivals and take the best result to date in what has been an intriguing and record breaking 70th edition of the Australian classic.

Before the race started Hurley wrote on Afloat.ie 'Being one of the smaller boats at just 40ft, our position in the overall standings will be somewhat a result of the weather patterns during that particular week, whereas our placing within our class will be a true measure of success'. How right he was. 

breakthrough_sydney_hobart.jpg

The Breakthrough crew depart Sydney

By 17:00 AEDT, 39 yachts had completed the 628-nm race, as the docks filled with tales from another dramatic contest. Of the 117 starters, 65 yachts are still sailing and a further 13 officially retired, unable to complete the course.

Veteran victory?
Current forecasts have four veteran yachts – Love & War, Quickpoint Azzurro, Wild Rose and the fleet's smallest and oldest boat Maluka of Kermandie – all in contention for overall victory. All three boats represent vast contrasts to the sleek, carbon fibre-built 100-foot Maxis which dominated the race for line honours.

Simon Kurts' Love & War is a three-time winner of the race (1974, 1978, 2006). The boat, built over forty years ago, needs to arrive in Hobart before midnight this evening to retain any chance of claiming an unprecedented fourth Tattersall's Cup. This wooden classic won in two contrasting eras of ocean racing underlining the boat's durability and the true spirit of the Rolex Sydney Hobart: any crew stands a chance of victory provided they demonstrate true teamwork, tactical nous and an intrepid spirit. Love & War, featuring veteran navigator Lindsay May competing in the race for a staggering 41st time, is currently approximately 40-nm from the finish.

Roger Hickman's Farr 43 Wild Rose is a mere 29 years old and pushing hard for that elusive first Tattersall's Cup. In poignant synergy, Wild Rose was once owned by Wild Oats XI's Bob Oatley, whose crew yesterday claimed a record-breaking eighth line honours victory. Wild Rose has already produced a stern, resilient performance, overcoming adversity on her journey south. "We had a massive broach in 30 knots this morning with the spinnaker up," Jenifer Wells, the crew's navigator reported. "We laid her over a couple of times, broke the steering cable and it was looking very dicey. "We got out the emergency tiller and pulled the kite down, repaired the cable and we were back racing in 12 minutes."

Another wooden classic is Maluka of Kermandie, a gaff-rigged huon pine beauty. Owned by one of the race's colourful characters, Sean Langman, the 30-footer still lies some 122-nm from the finish line.

Currently leading on handicap though is Shane Kearns' Sparkman & Stephens 34 Quickpoint Azzurro 108-nm from Hobart.

Happy Hobart
The crews arriving in Hobart this afternoon carried the look of seasoned offshore racers: tired, proud, red-eyed, salty and wind-swept.

"The race is always very different and always extremely challenging and this one was special as it was my wife's first Rolex Sydney Hobart," explained Philip Coombs, owner of the 42-ft Simply Fun, whose amateur crew performed miracles to even make the start line. "The team I have are brilliant. Three days before we were due to leave for Sydney our boat had extensive damage so the boat builders worked night and day for two weeks to get us ready. We are happy to be here considering all of the factors involved."

Mark Covell on the British-flagged Swan 68, Titania of Cowes, reported: "It was an absolute classic, starting off on the nose, plenty of rail time, lots of waves over the boat, before it slowly lightened up. We then got kite up and breeze kept coming up and up; we ended coming up the Derwent (River) on the nose in a hailstorm. We pretty much had everything!"

Reflective glory
Shortly after lunchtime on Day 3, Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI claimed her eighth Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours victory in ten years. This morning skipper Mark Richards was able to reflect on a momentous achievement for the 100-foot Maxi. "An eighth Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours win is something we never would have dreamt about ten years ago. The reception from hundreds of spectator boats and tens of thousands of people on the dock is a spectacular way to finish a yacht race."

That high level of interest continues as the sailing world stands by to learn the identity of the 2014 overall winner.

Published in Sydney to Hobart

#rshyr – Irish crewed yacht Breakthrough is an estimated two hours off the overall handicap lead at the halfway stage of the 635–mile Sydney–Hobart yacht Race. Lead by top Irish offshore sailor Barry Hurley, the New South Wales entry from Jonathan Stone and Mathew Vadas is lying 33nm SE of Gabo Island in third place in the 109–boat fleet. After its second night at sea Breakthrough has still to sail 382.5 miles to the Tasmanian finish.

Hurley has on board Dublin Bay sailors Alexander and Kenneth Rumball and Catherine Halpin along with a local Sydney crew. The Aussie–Irish team are currently behind Roger Hickman's Wild Rose and Ron Foster's Ariel on IRC handicap.  

Prior to his departure Hurley wrote about preparations for his third successive Sydney–Hobart race

Published in Sydney to Hobart

#rshyr – The chase for line honours at the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is intensifying with the leading boats approaching the halfway mark of the 628-nm Australian offshore race.  In the IRC handicap race, the part Irish–crewed Breakthrough Beneteau 40 is currently third lying overall.

The Barry Hurley led team is the best placed boat of Irish interest. Pam Lee from Greystones on Balcksheep is 16th and Dublin sailor Keith Hegarty on Merlin is 41st. Howth's Gordon Maguire on Ichi Ban is 61st. See overall handicap leaderboad here

At 16:00 local time and 27 hours into the race, the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI lay 13 nautical miles ahead of Comanche - the American Maxi which had led the race for 22 hours following a blistering exit out of Sydney Harbour. Wild Oats XI is chasing an unprecedented eighth line honours victory, Comanche hoping to triumph in her first offshore race.

"Last night we had some big seas, so it was fairly sloppy on a wide boat like this. It was a bit of a challenge," reported Comanche navigator Stan Honey, line honours winner on Investec Loyal in 2011. "The real challenge will come later tonight and early tomorrow morning when it gets light off the southeast corner of Tasmania." Indications suggest that the 2014 race will be go down to wire, won or lost in the Derwent River.

Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin 100 currently lies sixth on the water, a significant 50-nm behind the leading two boats, although sailing master David Witt was confident of narrowing that gap. Ragamuffin has chosen a different route, closer to the rhumb line. "The two leaders are going to stay together. I think we are going to meet them at the Tasman lighthouse. It's going to be light, so it's going to suit both Wild Oats XI and ourselves."

117 yachts started the race, eight have retired - the most high profile remains Anthony Bell's 100-ft Maxi Perpetual Loyal, forced to abandon the race with hull damage sustained during the first evening. It represented a huge blow for Bell who won line honours with Investec Loyal, his previous boat, in 2011. Other retirements include Brindabella, Last Tango and Triton.

While the leading Maxis are forecasting arrival in Hobart during the afternoon tomorrow, beating the race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012 is likely to remain an illusion.

For the 109 yachts still at sea, a testing measure of endurance sailing awaits. Race tracker HERE

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#rshyrc – Super maxi Comanche lived up to all the hype today when she lead the Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet out of the Harbour in one of the most spectacular, high speed starts in the race's history.

Designed for fast broad reaching, the 15 knot plus south-easterly breeze on the harbour was made to order for the big red and black hulled yacht owned by American Jim Clark and his Australian wife, Kristy. After a brilliant start slightly ahead and to leeward of Wild Oats XI, Comanche swiftly unfurled her giant spinnaker and took off, quickly 'rolling the Oats', causing skipper Mark Richards to exclaim from the wheel of Wild Oats XI "She's smoking – look at that thing go."

As they raced down the harbour, Comanche, skippered by Ken Read, steadily widened the gap. In around five minutes they were rounding the first mark with Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI more than 30 seconds behind her. Then came Syd Fischer's newly hulled Ragamuffin 100 and Anthony Bell's Perpetual Loyal.

The sleigh ride was over. Down came the spinnakers, Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin quickly reefed their giant mainsails, while Comanche just kept going as the frontrunners began to beat their way out to the seamark in a lumpy, uncomfortable sea that was fast being churned into full washing machine mode as the spectator boats cluttered around them.

With their sails hardened up, WildOats XI hung onto Comanche's coattails as they clawed their way to the mark. Just ten minutes into the race, the American passed the yellow buoy. There are no records, but unofficially no boat has left Sydney Harbour more quickly in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's 628 nautical mile race.

The two leading boats continued beating out to sea, as did the third placed Ragamuffin 100, but startlingly, Perpetual Loyal tacked around the mark and charged through the spectator fleet towards the cliffs at South Head, tacking again under the Macquarie Lighthouse to head offshore in slightly cleaner water as most of the spectator fleet followed Comanche and WildOats XI.Next out to sea were the V70s Blackjack and Giacomo, already engaged in a fierce one on one duel that will not end until the reach Hobart, followed by Manouch Moshayedi's Rio 100.

And behind them the remainder of this 117 strong fleet paraded between the Heads in a remarkably tight line, every single boat enjoying this amazingly swift start. Well placed were Ichi Ban, OneSails Racing and last year's winner, Victoire. And one of the big unknown quantities in this race, the Botin 65 racer/cruiser Caro from the Cayman Islands has shown a very good turn of speed. Watch this space indeed.

Even Sean Langman's 82 year old gaffer Maluka of Kermandie, the oldest and smallest boat in the fleet, had rounded the first mark inside 30 minutes. An unheard of time for the little 9 metre veteran that may, or then again may not, arrive in Hobart in time for New Year.

Sadly, not long after the start, two yachts were forced to retire: Tina of Melbourne with hull damage and Bear Necessity with a damaged rudder. Both are returning to Sydney.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#rshyr – A strong wind caution has put the Sydney to Hobart race fleet on notice but a predicted lull has increasingly-fancied American newcomer Comanche. A number of Irish sailors are among the crews competing. 

A long-range weather briefing on Monday indicated the 117 yachts will begin racing in light easterly winds on Sydney harbour but should prepare for conditions to get livelier quickly.

"As the boats move out of the heads and start making their way down south, they'll encounter wind speeds of around 20 to 30 knots," said NSW Bureau of Meteorology's Andrew Treloar.

"It is likely we will have a strong wind warning."

Later in the race, however, the super-maxis are likely to be most affected by a lull as the lead boats reach Bass Strait, when winds could drop below five knots for around an hour.

Despite contesting its first big race, Comanche, the high-tech new super maxi owned by American Jim Clark and his Australian wife Kristy Hinze-Clark, is being well-backed to be first to Hobart, denying Wild Oats X1 a record eighth line honours victory.

Comanche navigator Stan Honey welcomed the forecast stiff winds early in the race but was wary of the light air expected for Saturday night.

In the vid above boatsontv.com spoke to top navigators Tom Addis of Perpetual LOYAL and Juan Vila Wild Oats XI along with Andrew Treloar of the BOM on the weather for the Race.

As the height of the festive holiday season approaches, preparations are in full swing and excitement fervent for Friday's start.

The magnitude of this 70th edition is reflected in the size of the international fleet: the forecast 117 race entrants, comprising yachts from seven different countries, represents the most sizeable Rolex Sydney Hobart depart since 1994.

"This year is both the 70th edition of the race and the 70th anniversary of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia," explains John Cameron, Commodore of the race organisers. "There is a strong international flavour in 2014 with Maxis coming from America and lifting the level of appreciation of yachting around the world and the importance of this race. The Rolex Sydney Hobart is part of Australian culture; and for the start Sydney Harbour becomes an amphitheatre. An estimated 500,000 people will line the shoreline, together with hundreds of boats coming to watch the start on the water."

The pre-race weather briefings have provided competitors with an early idea for what to expect. Record-breaking conditions are not forecast; a gripping, intriguing, tactical adventure down to Hobart is guaranteed. Weathermen predict a strong southerly during the first day, slowing the progress of the 100-foot Maxis in their pursuit for line honours and the race record. The northerly breeze forecast, following the arrival of the frontrunners in Hobart, could benefit the mid-fleet in the pursuit of the coveted Tattersall's Cup awarded to the race's overall winner.

Wide demographic

The 2014 race's impressive and eclectic list of international competitors includes leading lights from the business world, America's Cup winners, a former supermodel, a plastic surgeon, soldiers and veterans from the Australian Defence Forces and champions from the sports of rugby and surfing. Competing yachts range from Sean Langman's 80-year old, nine metre Maluka of Kermandie, through to Southern Myth which first competed in the race in 1954, to the five 100-foot Maxis, the newest of which is Jim Clark's imperious Comanche from the United States. Foreign crews including the Polish entrants on Katharsis II and Selma Expedition have travelled thousands of nautical miles to compete in the race for a first time; contrasting to Martin Power's Bacardi set for her record twenty-ninth journey south. The race welcomes its very first competitor from South Korea, Sang Cho on Clipper Ventures 10; and witnesses Duende's Tony Cable compete in the race for a momentous 49th occasion. There are those planning days on a diet of freeze-dried food, others with a dedicated chef onboard.

Line honours quest

In the quest to be first to Hobart, Wild Oats XI, fastest finisher in seven of the last nine races, remains the crew to beat. An unprecedented eighth win would elevate Bob Oatley's crew to the record books surpassing the seven line honours victories set by Morna/Kurrewa IV between 1946 -1960.

Wild Oats XI's task is rendered more difficult, and intriguing, this year with the presence of the world's newest and most technologically sophisticated Maxi as her direct rival. Comanche arrives with great promise and potential. Clark will not be sailing south but his Comanche crew is stacked with an impressive array of professional sailing talent including skipper Ken Read and 2014 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, James Spithill. "This is sort of a Volvo 70 on steroids. It's an unusual design, pretty radical," explained Clark. "If I wanted to build a boat just for the Sydney to Hobart, I would have taken the most famous, successful boat of all time in that race and copied it. Instead, we designed a boat to be in open ocean races and try to break records. It's probably the most radical boat design in this race."

The crews of Wild Oats XI and Comanche are not expecting a simple head-to-head tussle for line honours. At 87, Australian sailing icon Syd Fischer is striving for success with his virtually rebuilt Ragamuffin 100. Fischer has already tasted line honours glory this year, winning the Rolex China Sea Race in April. Perpetual Loyal's Anthony Bell won line honours in 2011, and will seek to upset the formbook again. The Perpetual Loyal crew comprises Tom Slingsby, Spithill's America's Cup teammate and 2010 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year. Manouch Moshayedi's RIO 100 makes for an interesting outsider, especially if conditions suit his boat. "We are made for lighter winds. If it is really windy Jim Clark will enjoy it, if it is really light I will!," admitted Moshayedi.

Defender of the crown

Victoire is the defending champion and seeking to make history becoming the first boat to win back-to-back Rolex Sydney Hobarts since the mid-1960s. As the early weather forecast indicates a race that could favour the mid-fleet, Darryl Hodgkinson's 50-ft boat could be among the pack primed for glory. Her winning mentality could make the difference. "In the last three Hobart's we won our division every time. We know we're getting better. We understand the sail plan better and are better prepared than last year. I'm nervous, but we're in a better place than last year," explained Hodgkinson.

The race record to beat is one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012; requiring the first boat to arrive in Hobart on Sunday 28 December before 07:23.12 local time.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

#rshyr – In Sydney, forecasters have revealed that a southerly breeze will play in to the hands of smaller boats – including a number of Irish sailors –  for Australia's 70th Rolex Sydney Hobart race that starts on St. Stephen's Day.

Irish crews competing in four days time include Sydney–based Gordon Maguire, orginally from Howth Yacht Club racing on the front–runner Carkeek 60, Ichi Ban. And as Afloat.ie previously reported, Barry Hurley of Cork Harbour and the Royal Irish Yacht Club leads a part Irish crew on the First 40 Breakthrough with Irish National Sailing School brothers Kenneth and Alexander Rumball and Dublin Bay sailor Catherine Halpin on board. Hurley, a Middle Sea Race Winner from October, gave an account of his Sydney–Hobart preparations here.

Locally based Irish sailor Keith Hegarty is racing his first Sydney-Hobart on Merlin, a Kaiko 51, owned and skippered by 81–year–old David Forbes, a legend in Australian sailing with an Olympic Gold Medal from Munich 1972.

There are estimated to be quite a number of Irish sailors competing in the race spread across the fleet.

Pam Lee, daughter of Greystones dinghy sailor Norman Lee, is racing on board Blacksheep, a Beneteau 45 rookie boat owned by Sharpie sailors Derek and Martin Sheppard from Wollongong. Lee is one of three girls on board and is sailing despite having her knee in plaster due to an unintended gybe during a night practice race in November when her leg got trapped by the mainsheet as she played the spinnaker sheet.

Read more on Irish participation in WM Nixon's blog here. Also more here from David O'Brien in last Friday's Irish Times Sailing column.

The early Christmas weather forecast gift to small yachts means the big glamour boats (including five maxis) may yet miss out on oan overall handicap win with smaller craft – roughly forty foot in length – favoured.

"We're really excited by this forecast," says Tom Barker, the navigator on the Ker 40 St George Midnight Rambler. "In terms of handicaps, the slow start means that is more time the big boats will have to take out of us.

The 117 yachts in the Rolex Sydney Hobart will face an early test this year, with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecasting a sharp 20 to 25 knot southerly change on Boxing Day afternoon not long after the start.

A southerly is expected to hold throughout the night at around 20 to 25 knots so it will be a long, wet first day for all crews.

Andrew Treloar from the BOM says winds will get lighter the further south the boats go, and the front runners should cross a high pressure ridge around Gabo Island giving them light westerlies across Bass Strait on Saturday.

Winds off the Tasmanian coast on Saturday night are also expected to be pretty light westerlies. They could be quite fluky.

"The midfield and tail end boats will get a better go from the wind," Treloar says. "They will tend to stay up around 10 to 15 knots right through as they cross Bass Strait and sail down the Tasmanian coast."

So this is a classic mid-sized to small boat forecast. A southerly on day one, stopping the super maxis from getting too far ahead, and a northerly after the glamour yachts are already tied up in Hobart.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Page 2 of 5

Coastal Notes Coastal Notes covers a broad spectrum of stories, events and developments in which some can be quirky and local in nature, while other stories are of national importance and are on-going, but whatever they are about, they need to be told.

Stories can be diverse and they can be influential, albeit some are more subtle than others in nature, while other events can be immediately felt. No more so felt, is firstly to those living along the coastal rim and rural isolated communities. Here the impact poses is increased to those directly linked with the sea, where daily lives are made from earning an income ashore and within coastal waters.

The topics in Coastal Notes can also be about the rare finding of sea-life creatures, a historic shipwreck lost to the passage of time and which has yet many a secret to tell. A trawler's net caught hauling more than fish but cannon balls dating to the Napoleonic era.

Also focusing the attention of Coastal Notes, are the maritime museums which are of national importance to maintaining access and knowledge of historical exhibits for future generations.

Equally to keep an eye on the present day, with activities of existing and planned projects in the pipeline from the wind and wave renewables sector and those of the energy exploration industry.

In addition Coastal Notes has many more angles to cover, be it the weekend boat leisure user taking a sedate cruise off a long straight beach on the coast beach and making a friend with a feathered companion along the way.

In complete contrast is to those who harvest the sea, using small boats based in harbours where infrastructure and safety poses an issue, before they set off to ply their trade at the foot of our highest sea cliffs along the rugged wild western seaboard.

It's all there, as Coastal Notes tells the stories that are arguably as varied to the environment from which they came from and indeed which shape people's interaction with the surrounding environment that is the natural world and our relationship with the sea.

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