#SYDNEY-HOBART – With the wind fading for the smaller yachts so this morning (local time) Stephen Ainsworth's Loki was announced the handicap winner of the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
At a presentation on board their white four year old Reichel Pugh 63 footer, Ainsworth and his crew were presented with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece by Patrick Boutellier of Rolex Australia and the much coveted Tattersall's Cup, for winning IRC handicap honours, by Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, and Graham Taplin, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.
"We are elated, it is a fantastic feeling, a huge thrill to win this race," said a jubilant Ainsworth. "Having done 14 races, I know how hard it is to win this race. I have been trying for a long time. So many things have to go right for you and the wind gods were with us. Our race went extremely well. The aim for the navigators was to avoid stopping and we successfully did that, although we came close a couple of times. Look at what happened to Wild Oats XI - that could easily have happened to us."
The present Loki was launched three years ago after Ainsworth's previous boat was lost after she was abandoned in severe conditions when her rudder broke during the 2007 Rolex Middle Sea. The new boat was built for offshore racing and specifically to win the Rolex Sydney Hobart. This was Ainsworth and his crew's fourth attempt in the latest Loki.
Ainsworth and Loki are one of the most successful teams racing in Australia at present. Last year they won the Australian IRC Championship, the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race and this year Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Personally, this month Ainsworth was voted the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's joint Ocean Racer of the Year.
Typically they sail offshore with 18 crew and of these only one third are professional, led by Irish Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Gordon Maguire. On board typically Maguire helms while Ainsworth trims the main sheet. The other pros on board for the Rolex Sydney Hobart included other much capped round the world race sailors Anthony Merrington, Jeff Scott and sailmaker Alby Pratt, while a regular with Ainsworth is his long term navigator Michael Bellingham.
However, Maguire points out that many of their 'amateur' crew are among the most talented sailors in Australia. "We have really good sailors from all walks of life. It is more rewarding when you line up against fully pro crews."
For the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year, Loki was fitted with a new, bigger mainsail and for the first time they had an on board weather expert to assist Bellingham in the form of British navigator Will Best.
According to Maguire, during the race they were always in contention, but down the east coast of Tasmania the 100ft maxis had stretched away. "They were getting out to 120 miles in front of us and at that distance it was hard to stay in touch on handicap. But they parked up at Tasman Island and that brought us right back into them. We took 60 miles out of them that morning. So the handicap win came when the big boats parked up. We were always very confident that we had time on the boats behind us, particularly with how the weather patterns were going to shape up from halfway down the east coast to the finish."
Ainsworth said Loki would return to the Rolex Sydney Hobart next year to defend her title.
Slow boats up the Derwent
Meanwhile for today's finishers the pace had distinctly slowed. Over 11 and a half hours, last night and into this morning, just one boat arrived as the water turned to glass on Storm Bay and the Derwent River leading up to Hobart.
Darryl Hodgkinson, skipper of the Beneteau First 45 Victoire summed it up best: "I thought it was going to be carbon copy of last year's where we sat in the Derwent. This year we actually camped in Derwent! The last miles from the Tasman Light to the finish typically takes six to seven hours, on this occasion it took 15.
Ed Psaltis, co-owner of AFR Midnight Rambler arrived in Hobart suffering from an infected arm and unhappy with their performance. "It was very disappointing, our race. We made a few wrong choices. Entering Bass Strait we were in good shape against all the opposition and doing well overall, but we found a hole [in the wind] bigger that anyone else did and we sat there for six hours going nowhere. We also had northerly, adverse current in Bass Strait so we did very well going the wrong way."
Between two scheds AFR Midnight Rambler lost 25 miles, but once the wind turned favourable and they could set the kite on their new Ker 40, they managed to make up the deficit. Then they too had a slow finish. "It was probably the slowest passage I've had from Tasman Light to the finish – and this is a pretty quick boat. But that's how it is," said Psaltis. "Next year it will be a lot better than it was this year."
Australia's solo sailing star arrives
This afternoon the marina of Constitution Dock was packed five deep with spectators waiting patiently for the arrival of 18 year-old Australian solo sailor Jessica Watson. Since 2010 when she became the youngest person ever to have completed a singlehanded voyage non-stop around the world, Watson has become a media sensation in Australia.
In this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Watson achieved her ambition to lead the youngest crew ever to compete in the race. She and her seven crew - among them fellow youth solo round the world sailor, Britain's Mike Perham – raced in the Sydney 38 class aboard the pink hulled Ella Baché Another Challenge.
"It was really, really good, everything you would expect," said Watson upon her arrival. "We had three quite bouncy nights on the nose. We didn't see any severe conditions, but there was some pretty uncomfortable stuff for quite a while there."
Having previously sailed on her own, Watson was full of praise for her crew. "The crew were awesome. It was the best sailing we've ever seen them do. It's what we have been training for and they did exactly that. Everyone did an amazing job. All credit to them – I just held on for the ride."
Her round the world voyage also didn't involve competition, something which she seems to have relished in this Rolex Sydney Hobart. "The last leg in was amazing, some really close racing with the Sydney 38 fleet, changing positions all the time. Then to come in second was just awesome. It was as good as anyone could hope for. We had a really close battle with The Goat." She added: "The race wouldn't have been the same if we didn't have that close boat-on-boat racing." Watson was especially pleased to have beaten their coaches, sailing on Deloitte As One.
Since lunch time, boats have been flooding into Hobart, with 26 arriving between 13:23 (local time) and the latest arrival at 17:24 of Tony Warren's Kiss Goodbye to MS, the 49th finisher. 28 boats remain still racing with John Bankart's Eressea, bringing up the rear, some 137 miles from the finish.