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Calm & Cruel - That’s the Derwent River’s Special Hobart Race Torture

27th December 2017
The moment of truth. With less than ten miles to the finish on the Hobart waterfront and the wind almost gone, Wild Oats (foreground) gets ahead of LDV Comanche, and stays ahead. The moment of truth. With less than ten miles to the finish on the Hobart waterfront and the wind almost gone, Wild Oats (foreground) gets ahead of LDV Comanche, and stays ahead.

If sailing has a more exquisite form of torture than the final miles of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, then we don’t really want to know about it writes W M Nixon. Having experienced proper offshore sailing southward since clearing Sydney Heads, you reach Tasman Island off Tasmania’s east coast, and then shape your coast west and then northwest into the increasingly narrow Derwent Estuary and the very urban finish line right on the Hobart waterfront.

The change in sailing conditions can be so total as to be disorienting. Yesterday, fleet leaders LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney) and Wild Oats XI (the Oatley Family, skippered by Mark Richards) came scorching down Tasmania’s east coast, sometimes doing better than 30 knots, which is quite something even when you’re on a hundred footer.

Comanche was leading, and leading well, for in a big breeze she’s the flying saucer. But when the winds fall light, she’s the fat lady that doesn’t sing, whereas the hyper-skinny Wild Oats can hang in there when the going is heavy, and when it goes light, she’s the fastest girl in town.

wild oats chasing comanche2The skinny girl chasing the fat lady – Wild Oats closing in on Comanche in the approaches to Hobart

Thus for a while they were actually trading places, but with less than ten miles to go to the finish and the sun setting, there wasn’t enough wind to go round, and Wild Oats got ahead and stayed ahead. Thus although they were only slightly more than a mile apart coming to the finish, LDV Comanche’s torture was such that this translated into a gap of 28 minutes.

There is of course a protest hanging on the incident 15 minutes after the start, when Wild Oats was forced to tack from port when very close indeed to LDV Comanche on starboard. But as with all protests, it may not turn out to be quite as simple as it appears from some of the photos. And anyway, had the wind only had the common decency to hold up enough to keep LDV Comanche on the pace, it might all be forgotten.

Meanwhile, Irish interest can alight in many other parts of the fleet still racing, as Gordon Maguire skippering the TP 52 Ichi Ban, and Ian Moore navigating on the Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, are a close first and third overall. Ichi Ban has 48 miles to sail, while the lower-rated Mascalzone has 74. But they won’t be easy miles, for in less than an hour, Ichi Ban will be shaping her course round Tasman Island and entering the Torture Zone.

ldv in derwent3Gasping for it. Once the wind falls below a certain level, LDV Comanche seems glued to the water as she glides towards the finish line

The race has been going so quickly that we’re still getting info about the Irish who are involved. So let’s hear it for Dr Emmet Kerin of Limerick, who sails out of Kilrush on the family’s First 36.7 Zallaq, but is doing the sprint to Hobart for the second time on the Beneteau First 40 Ariel (Ron Forster). They were third in IRC Division 3 last year, currently they’re second and they’re also first in ORCi-Div 4, so there could be celebration on Shannonside very soon.

Dublin-born Noel Drennan on the Volvo 70 Wizard, doing his 32nd Sydney-Hobart, has just 2.5 miles to go to the finish, but with a speed of 3.9 knots that finish line is still a tricky place to reach, though Wizard looks like taking second place in Class 0. Offaly-born Adrienne Cahalane, navigating the mega-classic Dorade of 1931-vintage for Matt Brooks, is on her 26th Hobart Race, and still has 303 miles to go, but must be in line for some sorts of classics prize.

As for Mini-Transat sailor Tom Dolan, he’s doing the race with some Chinese and Australian shipmates on the very veteran Jarkan 12.5 China Easyway, but as they currently lie 3rd in IRC Div 4, it looks as if this golden oldie is doing the business. This gallant boat won the IMS Division in 1991 when she was new and Gordon Maguire was new on the Australian scene and won the Hobart Race overall with Atara, so it looks like a case of what goes round comes round.

Race tracker here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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