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