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Disappointment Over Wild Oats But Black Jack Returns for Sydney Hobart Race

1st December 2020
Black Jack blasting south after the 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race start Black Jack blasting south after the 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race start Photo: Kurt Arrigo

Ever wonder how much work goes into preparing a yacht for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race – never mind a big boat that has just returned from Europe amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

Peter Harburg had not planned on Black Jack’s return to Australia when he put the 100-foot supermaxi on a ship bound for her new home in Monaco, but COVID-19 arrived, with Europe hit extremely hard.

Harburg’s skipper Mark Bradford says, “We weren’t planning on coming back to do the race. We thought last year was to be the last one."

However, just after the ship left Australia, the virus struck.

“We had a squad of five ready to go to Europe to take care of the boat. But then the virus risk increased, so got we got a team to unload it and put it on a ship back to Australia.

"It’s a bonus we got to come back and have another go.”

On readying the yacht to race, Bradford explained, “Loads and engineering are such a big part of preparing - you have to go through it all again; you have to be as safe as you can; you need to understand loads and that takes a long time because it involves a lot of different equipment that can break if you don’t get it right.

Black Jack leads Comanche as they close in on the 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart finish lineBlack Jack leads Comanche as they close in on the 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart finish line. Mandatory photo credit: ROLEX/Studio Borlenghi

“You also have to learn the changes that have been made to the boat. The bow modification was pretty significant. You have to keep up with the others - Wild Oats XI got better and better - so you learn how to sail the boat again. The fortunate thing is that last Christmas the level we prepared to was pretty high.”

Bradford concedes they are also missing some of their key crew. “Of the Kiwi guys who usually sail with us, Scott Beavis was the only one who could join us.”

The replacements include America’s Cup-winning Olympic gold medallist and world champion sailor, Tom Slingsby. Slingsby was in the afterguard of Perpetual LOYAL (now Christian Beck’s InfoTrack) when it took line honours and broke the race record in 2016.

And if the conditions are right, Black Jack, which took line honours as Alfa Romeo in 2009, could make it a second victory in a year where there is just one other super maxi entered: InfoTrack.

The two boats haven’t much in common. Black Jack is a 2005 Reichel/Pugh design, while InfoTrack was built in 2008 and comes from the drawing board of Juan Kouyoumdjian. Regular updates keep the boats fast and interesting.

“Black Jack is still the boat to beat in lighter wind. Our big advantage is in eight knots. Theirs (InfoTrack) is 20 plus knots,” Bradford said of the boat that bears both Monaco and Queensland on its transom to reflect Harburg’s homes. It is based at Sydney City Marine as it awaits the 628 nautical mile race to Hobart.

“We kicked off training yesterday; the start of two weeks of pretty solid sailing. Racing-wise we’re doing the Cabbage Tree Island Race (Friday 4 December), Big Boat Challenge (Tuesday 8 December) and CYCA Trophy Race (Saturday 12 December).

The two ‘supers’ will have slightly smaller but fast yachts keeping them honest: Thunderstruck, the Botin 80 formerly known as Beau Geste (owned by AUS 80 Pty Ltd and led by Grant Wharington) and Jim Cooney’s Volvo Open 70 Maserati.

“For sure those two could take line honours, but it would probably take some break downs on the 100s, or if it’s a traditional race (hard upwind), but the stars would need to align.”

Bradford admits that if it blew 25 knots the VO70 should be able to do it. “But then the risks go up in that breeze too. You can’t discount them though.” Giacomo (a VOR 70) finished second over the line to Perpetual LOYAL in 2016 when the record went, so it can happen,” he said.

“We’re sailing again with a full crew. We haven’t done it all year, so we’ll have to remember how,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll do more training and we’ll be rusty for sure, but it’s pretty much standard procedure. In 2005 we had no idea how to sail these types of boats, but we’ve had the best part of 15 years’ experience now.

“I’ve been pretty vocal in ‘don’t call the race off until you have to’, and I think it is the right path. It’s great for us, but more so for the event’s history. And it brings money into the marine industry – so I’m happy about that because it’s been tough for so many.

“Right now, I’m just happy to see there will be a good fleet on the start line.

“It’s disappointing not having Wild Oats XI in the race, but I understand the reasons why. We’ll miss the competition. And for Scallywag to get the owner and entourage in from Hong Kong makes it very hard. It’ll be quite different with just two 100s. The two have been close for a long time though, so it’ll still be a great race. InfoTrack’s just got better and better.”

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Afloat.ie Team

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The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is an annual offshore yacht racing event with an increasingly international exposure attracting super maxi yachts and entries from around tne world. It is hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, starting in Sydney, New South Wales on Boxing Day and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km).

The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - FAQs

The number of Sydney Hobart Yacht Races held by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia since 1945 is 75

6,257 completed the Sydney Hobart Yacht race, 1036 retired or were disqualified)

About 60,061 sailors have competed in the Sydney Hobart Race between 1945 and 2019

Largest fleets: 371 starters in the 50th race in 1994 (309 finished); 154 starters in 1987 (146 finished); 179 starters in 1985 (145 finished); 151 starters in 1984 (46 finished); 173 started in 1983 (128 finished); 159 started in 1981 (143 finished); 147 started in 1979 (142 finished); 157 started in 2019 (154 finished)

116 in 2004 (59 finished); 117 in 2014 (103 finished); 157 in 2019 (154 finished)

Nine starters in the inaugural Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 1945

In 2015 and 2017 there were 27, including the 12 Clipper yachts (11 in 2017). In the record entry of 371 yachts in the 50th in 1994, there were 24 internationals

Rani, Captain John Illingworth RN (UK). Design: Barber 35’ cutter. Line and handicap winner

157 starters, 154 finishers (3 retirements)

IRC Overall: Ichi Ban, a TP52 owned by Matt Allen, NSW. Last year’s line honours winner: Comanche, Verdier Yacht Design and VPLP (FRA) owned by Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant, in 1 day 18 hours, 30 minutes, 24 seconds. Just 1hour 58min 32secs separated the five super maxis at the finish 

1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, set in 2017 by LDV Comanche after Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour in port/starboard incident for a finish time of 1d 9h 48m 50s

The oldest ever sailor was Syd Fischer (88 years, 2015).

As a baby, Raud O'Brien did his first of some six Sydney Hobarts on his parent's Wraith of Odin (sic). As a veteran at three, Raud broke his arm when he fell off the companionway steps whilst feeding biscuits to the crew on watch Sophie Tasker sailed the 1978 race as a four-year-old on her father’s yacht Siska, which was not an official starter due to not meeting requirements of the CYCA. Sophie raced to Hobart in 1979, 1982 and 1983.

Quite a number of teenage boys and girls have sailed with their fathers and mothers, including Tasmanian Ken Gourlay’s 14-year-old son who sailed on Kismet in 1957. A 12-year-old boy, Travis Foley, sailed in the fatal 1998 race aboard Aspect Computing, which won PHS overall.

In 1978, the Brooker family sailed aboard their yacht Touchwood – parents Doug and Val and their children, Peter (13), Jacqueline (10), Kathryne (8) and Donald (6). Since 1999, the CYCA has set an age limit of 18 for competitors

Jane (‘Jenny’) Tate, from Hobart, sailed with her husband Horrie aboard Active in the 1946 Race, as did Dagmar O’Brien with her husband, Dr Brian (‘Mick’) O’Brien aboard Connella. Unfortunately, Connella was forced to retire in Bass Strait, but Active made it to the finish. The Jane Tate Memorial Trophy is presented each year to the first female skipper to finish the race

In 2019, Bill Barry-Cotter brought Katwinchar, built in 1904, back to the start line. She had competed with a previous owner in 1951. It is believed she is the oldest yacht to compete. According to CYCA life member and historian Alan Campbell, more than 31 yachts built before 1938 have competed in the race, including line honours winners Morna/Kurrewa IV (the same boat, renamed) and Astor, which were built in the 1920s.

Bruce Farr/Farr Yacht Design (NZL/USA) – can claim 20 overall wins from 1976 (with Piccolo) up to and including 2015 (with Balance)

Screw Loose (1979) – LOA 9.2m (30ft); Zeus II (1981) LOA 9.2m

TKlinger, NSW (1978) – LOA 8.23m (27ft)

Wild Oats XI (2012) – LOA 30.48m (100ft). Wild Oats XI had previously held the record in 2005 when she was 30m (98ft)

©Afloat 2020

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