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In offshore yacht racing the margins are fine, permutations seemingly infinite and influence of unpredictable factors like the weather significant. Concentration, resilience and a deft ability to react to unforeseen change and adversity are a prerequisite for any successful crew. Read how the Irish boats fared in W M Nixon's review located here.

The 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, contested by a hugely diverse and competitive 85-strong fleet, crewed by experienced and talented sailors, provided a reminder of the race’s relentless and changeable manner. For the two winners of the 74th edition’s main prizes, achievements rewarded with Rolex timepieces, calculated tactical decisions made in high pressure, ‘no turning back’, situations proved crucial.

In claiming overall victory on IRC handicap, Phillip Turner and his crew on Alive brought the Tattersall Cup back to Tasmania after a 39-year absence. For the Oatley family-owned Wild Oats XI, the first finisher, it represents an 11th success at the event, nine line honours titles together with the overall victories secured in the record-breaking years of 2005 and 2012. From the spectacular, sun-kissed Sydney Harbour start, it was a race which offered a range of conditions and situations from parking lots to punishing winds.

The 628-nautical mile race, organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) with the support of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, has been partnered by Rolex since 2002. A memorable edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart concludes a year in which Rolex marked the 60th anniversary of its relationship with the sport of yachting.

Overall Victory: Returning to Tasmania

The first Tasmanian success at the race since 1979, Alive’s historic triumph was well received by an enthusiastic local crowd in Hobart. A victory which was the product of an epic duel with Wild Oats X, an all-professional female crewed rival Reichel/Pugh 66, another yacht owned by the Oatley family.

“The race was both a navigator’s nightmare and dream,” reflected Alive’s Wouter Verbraak. “It was about finding the right position at each transition. You don’t always get it right. At a lot of these races it is a question of timing and having the right size boat to face the weather.” When then in position it is a matter of making shrewd and brave tactical decisions based on experience, on intuition, and in Alive’s case, on collaboration.

Formed of professional and Corinthian sailors, the Alive crew is moulded to Turner’s desire to foster a team which encourages the development of young sailors. Wild Oats X provided them with a formidable opponent, comprised as she is of experienced sailors who have completed a vast number of offshore sailing miles, many single-handed or as skippers. “They pushed us and forced us to get the best out of each other. We were within sight of each other for most of the race,” confirmed Verbraak.

They were only separated late in the race. “On the tight reach from Tasman Island it was questionable whether we could hoist a bigger Code Zero sail or not. We talked between each other ‘shall we do it or not – yes or no?’. We decided to go for it and then got the extra speed to pass Wild Oats X,” explained Verbraak. Perhaps equally decisive, Wild Oats X had torn her A2 spinnaker on the first night, a sail which would have been a welcome option coming up the Derwent to Hobart. Alive was the fifth yacht to finish this year’s race, Wild Oats X the sixth.

These factors, together with tireless crew work, excellent navigation and determination in keeping the boat moving even in light airs, helped secure Alive a fourth Tasmanian success since the inaugural race in 1945. It follows the back-to-back victories of Westward, 1947 and 1948, and Screw Loose’s triumph in 1979.

Alive is not unaccustomed to success at Rolex offshore races. In 2016 she won line honours at the 565-nm Rolex China Sea Race setting a new race record in the process.

Stacey Jackson, skipper of Wild Oats X, who finished just 13 minutes behind Alive on the water and second on corrected time, was proud of her crew and hoping to go one better at next year’s 75th edition. “It will be an epic anniversary for the race. I think we’ll see a huge number of boats enter, similar to the 50th. Hopefully you’ll see us return as the same team we are this year.”

Line honours: Redemption and relief

Unlike the previous two editions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, no race record was set this year. However, the nature of the contest between the frontrunners provided numerous anecdotes for future literature on the race. In claiming line honours Wild Oats XI extended her own record of triumphs to nine. This after a contest which saw five 100-footers on the start line and an unprecedented four-way contest up the Derwent River.

For Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, at the helm for each of her successes, this was a victory of ‘redemption’ following three years of disappointments, marking her longest run without success at the event. “This must be the most spectacular race in 74 years,” exclaimed Richards on arrival in Hobart. “It was an amazing contest all the way to the end. All the Maxi crews pushed each other and did a fantastic job.”

Richards pinpointed a significant tactical decision off Tasman Island before the final leg to Hobart as a key juncture. Here Wild Oats XI, in a significant weather transition, was able to sail around the race leader Comanche and when the breeze filled in, found herself in the right spot to take advantage. From that moment on, she assumed control over the race and extended her lead all the way to the finish.

The five 100-footers – also comprising Scallywag (one of six race retirements) and InfoTrack (fourth finisher) all have different characteristics, conditions which suit their individual designs, hull forms and sail plans. Tom Addis, navigator on Black Jack, who has sailed on three of the 100-ft Maxis, admitted that “Wild Oats XI is a great all round boat, built for this kind of race.”

The contest to finish second on the water between Black Jack and Comanche was one of the race’s many fascinating duels, one which was decided in the Derwent when Peter Harburg’s crew found the breeze to move past the two-time line honours winner, prevailing by 63 seconds. It evoked memories of the epic 1982 finish when Condor of Bermuda pipped Apollo by just seven seconds.

The quest for line honours offered a unique, memorable contest between five committed and determined owners and skippers who all optimised their boats for the race and recruited leading professional sailing talent. Every sacrifice was made in pursuit of glory. “This isn’t happening anywhere else in the world, the stakes are really high,” explained Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford. “The five 100-footers in current racing trim with the who’s who of offshore sailing onboard.”

Wild Oats XI’s finish time of one day, 19 hours, seven minutes and 21 seconds was almost ten hours outside the race record set by LDV Comanche in 2017.

Every finish an achievement

Success is not only measured by trophies and accolades but by collective and individual achievements which reward personal sacrifices and those who overcome the race's many obstacles. By the final prizegiving on 31 December, all remaining yachts including the smallest in the fleet, the 30-ft Gun Runner, had long crossed the finish line. Some were able to toast class victories, others personal milestones, united by a sense of enjoyment and camaraderie.

One of the race’s great characters Tony Ellis equalled Tony Cable’s record of 51 races, one he confirmed he will remember for the ‘great guys on the boat’. On Dreki Sunnan, Ken Holmes was sailing his first race as owner. “I’m lost for words,” he explained on arrival in Hobart. “Apart from big seas, the race had everything. It was awe-inspiring to be on the water with the other boats. We’re very lucky to have this race in Australia, it is the race for amateurs.”

Marking anniversaries

This year’s race also provided a poignant moment for reflection, marking 20 years since the 1998 edition of the race when six sailors tragically lost their lives following a severe storm, similar in strength to a low-class hurricane, in the Bass Strait.

As a tribute to those who lost their lives, David Kellett who sailed in that edition of the race, and now leads the team on the race radio relay vessel, addressed the fleet on 27 December with the words spoken by the CYCA Commodore, Hugo Van Kretschmar, at the post-race memorial service held at Constitution Dock in 1998.

Rolex’s affinity with the human achievement embodied at races like the Rolex Sydney Hobart stems from the origins of the company and a desire to support those whose bravery and determination inspired them to transcend perceived limits. Its relationship with offshore racing began in the 1960s, a golden era of accomplishment in yachting, and the exploits of three extraordinary individuals stood out. Francis Chichester, Bernard Moitessier and Robin Knox-Johnston were all guided by Rolex timepieces on their legendary solo exploits. Today this relationship is represented by its long-standing support for demanding 600-nm offshore races.

Next year’s anniversary will hold an even greater allure for those targeting success. In the adrenaline and emotion of victory, this year’s triumphant crew admitted it will be hard to ever replicate this feeling. “These races are so hard to win,” confirmed Verbraak. “So many pieces have to fall into place.” “It is a moment in my life which will never be rivalled,” Alive skipper Duncan Hine’s succinct reflection.

The 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart will start on Thursday, 26 December 2019.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Hobart in Tasmania is a characterful port with a certain style to it, picturesquely located in handsome scenery on the estuary of the River Derwent writes W M Nixon. It’s home to a goodly fleet of sailcraft and motorboats of all types and sizes. And with very many square miles of sheltered island-studded sea within easy reach, it’s a dream place to sail if all you want to do is potter around, or take part in a local club race if there happens to be a reasonable breeze present.

But if you want to use the port of Hobart as the finish point for a major offshore race with finishing times spread over a day and more, then for some competitors the final miles can become exquisite torture. Yet since 1945 the annual Sydney Hobart Race has started in the outer reaches of Sydney Harbour – sometimes a flukey enough bit of sailing water in itself – and then the fleet has been expected to sail every inch of the 628 miles, more or less right into the heart of downtown Hobart.

comanche at speed2With a decent breeze, Comanche led on the water

Now in summertime, this can be okay if your boats is of the size group which is approaching the final miles as the day develops, and the warming sun strengthens the sea breeze blowing up the harbour to bring finishers in at a respectable speed.

But if the peak of the day’s heat has passed, then it’s often downhill all the way as far as favourable winds are concerned. There may be zephyrs off the land from dead ahead, or there may be no wind at all. In this final approaches to Hobart, there’s an historic navigational marker known as The Iron Pot where many a boat has come to a halt, and some Sydney-Hobart regulars will be found - after they die - to have Iron Pot inscribed across their hearts……..

iron pot 3Calm at the Iron Pot Lighthouse in the approaches to Hobart

All of which is a roundabout way of accustoming ourselves to the feeling - the reality indeed – that the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race 2018 looked for 80% of its distance like being a good old-fashioned clean sweep for Irish ex-Pats, but in the end it wasn’t.

Just a week ago right here, we featured Jim Cooney (of Ballivor) and Samantha Grant’s extraordinary 100ft supermaxi Comanche making enormous knots, and looking everything like being the line honours winner if the forecast north to northeast breeze held up.

cooney maguire4Jim Cooney (left) and Gordon Maguire – for 80% of the current Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, the former held the lead on the water while the latter had a substantial IRC Overall lead

Well, for a while it did. And in a favourable puff of only 20 knots or so, Comanche was having mighty speed bursts of 30 knots as she stayed in front ahead of fellow giants Black Jack, Wild Oats XI and InfoTrack.

The Supmaxi tally was down to four, as the Hong Kong entry Scallywag had retired with a broken bowsprit. These machines sail so fast that the wind almost always seems forward of the beam, and the bowsprit is essential for the winning sail configuration, which in Comanche’s case sometimes saw a total of four sails in use at once.

How they got those sails to work together is one of the sacred mysteries, but it kept her in the lead despite the occasional soft patch until they were approaching Tasmania, where the wind lost its sense of purpose, and showed tendencies to come from the south or even the southwest.

Sydney hobart race route5Once you get out of Sydney Harbour, the race to Hobart is fairly straightforward until you get into the final fifty miles on the Tasmanian coast

In such conditions, the hyer-skinny Wild Oats XI skippered by the wily Mark Richards is as slippery as an eel. She took over the lead after the entire quartet of super-maxis had spent the race within five miles and usually less of each other, and then lengthened away to come into Hobart in relatively solitary glory, as she was all of 28 minutes clear ahead of Peter Harburg’s Black Jack, which was in a much closer finish just one minute and three seconds ahead of Comanche, which in turn had twelve and a half minutes on InfoTrack.

Even though it was happening in benign summer weather in relatively slow motion, a finish as close as this among four Supermaxis is headline stuff, and the pressure is being kept up by the news that the Race Committee itself is protesting Wild Oats XI on the grounds that the Oatley family’s big boat did not activate the onboard AIS, a requirement of the race which put a dampener on things until on Saturday the Jury decided that the protest – originally made by Black Jack – was invalid.

But meanwhile no sooner had the simple wonder of the Supermaxi finish been filed than attention could then turn to the overall IRC win. There, Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban - with Howth’s own favourite ex-Pat Gordon Maguire very much on the strength - was for most of the race looking good to take the prized Tattersalls Cup for the second year running. In fact, looking very good indeed – at times Ichi Ban was putting it all together so perfectly on the long and difficult run down from Sydney that she was showing all of three hours clear ahead of the next boat, and was consistently sailing in company with bigger boats around the 60ft mark.

ichi ban silhouette6Summer sailing at its best – and in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race too. Ichi Ban at the perfect moment, when she also was leading IRC overall by a substantial margin. Photo: Rolex/Borlenghi

ichi ban crew7Quiet concentration to keep Ichi Ban at optimum performance – Gordon Maguire is not on the helm, but is at the stern like a conductor guiding a very special music group. Photo Rolex/BorlenghiBut once again those pesky approaches to Hobart were the undoing of Irish hopes. In fact, so contrary are those final miles that some Australia commentators have suggested that, to be a real race, it should all finish at a point about 40 miles from Hobart itself. Be that as it may, the nearer Ichi Ban got to Hobart, the more it became clear that the time of day and the underlying wind pattern were increasingly stacked against her.

But that was of little interest to the good people of Hobart, for they were looking at a developing scenario where it looked as if the race finish for 2018 was being shaped with the benefit of 66 footers in mind, and at the head of those 66 footers was the Reichel Pugh designed Alive, owned by Phillip Turner of the Derwent Sailing Squadron of Tasmania.

alive racing8Local boy makes good. Tasmania’s own Phillip Turner with the Reichel Pugh 66 Alive is the new winner of the Tattersallls Cup for the Overall IRC win in the Hobart Race. Photo: Rolex/BorlenghiIn other words, it was shaping up to be a classic case of Local Boy Makes Good. In such circumstances, you could expect little interest or sympathy for Ichi Ban’s rapidly-declining fortunes. In fact, all the drama was in Alive maintaining her lead over another RP 66, the Oatley family’s Wild Oats X. But Alive did it so well that she was fifth on line honours. Only the four Supermaxis bested her on the water. Yet as is the way with this race, although Hobart will celebrate Alive’s home win for some time, the fact that Wild Oats X was next in, and raced by an all-woman crew skippered by Stacey Jackson who was doing her 12th Sydney-Hobart, will make a more lasting impression internationally.

And as the clock ticked away and the night wind trickled away with it, Ichi Ban fell down the rankings while the Tasmanian boat was confirmed in first on IRC Overall, and Wild Oats X was confirmed in second, with the RP 63 Voodoo (Hugh Ellis) third, the Carkeek 60 Winning Appliances (John Winning) fourth and Ichi Ban trickling across the finish line at less than one knot to take fifth on CT. That was far and away the best of the 50 footers, but it’s small consolation for a crew who’d had the world at their feet when the breeze allowed them to sail.

So the story is that the people’s favourite Wild Oats XI has taken line honours as Nature intended, but there’s a protest against her which give it all a certain sense of déjà vu. As for the winner of the Tattersall’s Cup for overall success, that’s local boy made good Phillip Turner with Alive, and the joint is jumping at the Derwent Sailing Squadron. But before we get carried away by that, let’s hear it for the woman of Wild Oats X sailing under the Ocean Respect Racing banner towards a fine second place overall.

wild oats x9With an all-woman crew, the RP 66 Wild Oats X was second overall on IRC. Photo Rolex/Borlenghi

The skipper was Stacey Jackson, while the navigator was Elizabeth Greenhalgh, and the rest of the lineup includes some names you’ll recognize, as they’re Bianca Cook, Carolijn Brouwer, Dee Caffari, Faraday Rosenberg, Jade Cole, Katie Pellew, Katie Pettibone, Keryn McMaster, Sarah Crawford, Sophie Ciszek and Vanessa Dudley, the veteran of the crew – she was doing her 23rd race to Hobart.

Just next door in third place was Voodoo navigated by Irish-born Adrienne Cahalane doing her 27th Hobart Race, so gender equality afloat is very much part of the Sydney-Hobart ethos and experience.

But so too - inevitably – is disappointment and frustration. The way that the chips fell, it was not a good race at for boats around 45ft, but that’s exactly where Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee found himself aboard the Sydney 47CR Wots Next, which is not only plumb in the middle of this year’s unfavoured size range, but is comfortably equipped as a cruiser-racer, so Wots Next is down the line in a group around 50th place.

However, at least the likelihood of the former Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race winner getting to Hobart is very high, whereas two high-powered challenges from Europe won’t even have that as consolation. Hungary’s sailing reputation may be rising by leaps and bounds, yet it tripped up soon after the start of the Hobart Race 2018 when their chartered TP 52 M3 Team Hungary was dismasted.

team hungary10Everything to hope for, but she fell at the first fence. Hungary’s TP 52 was dismasted soon after this photo was taken. Rolex/Borlgenghi

But at least they’d got across the starting line, something which was denied to 29 keen sailors out from Poland to do the race on the veteran Volvo 70 Monster Project. They’ve campaigned before with this big chartered machine, when she becomes known as Kosatka Monster Project. But unfortunately in Sydney the authorities weren’t satisfied with the insurance arrangements in place to allow the big boat to race. In fact, so dissatisfied were they that they welded the boat to the dock (no, I don’t know either, what with one being plastic while the other is wood), and now it’s being contested in the Federal Court.

kosatka crew11Bursting with hope. The Polish crew of Kosatka in Sydney before they were told their boat did not comply with the regulations to race to Hobart
All of which is a timely reminder that while many Irish and European sailor would like to be part of the extraordinary scenes in Hobart when the great race from Sydney is drawing to its festive conclusion, in order to qualify properly you need an awful lot of things to be just right before you get there.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Val Oatley described Wild Oats XI’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours victory perfectly alongside the dock in Hobart this morning: “Three years of misery to this moment,” and you could not wipe the smile from her face or that of her sons, Sandy and Ian, as they waited for their super maxi to moor alongside Kings Pier.

Three years of trauma for the Wild Oats family when the yacht retired from the 2015 race with a torn main followed by Bob Oatley’s death in January 2016. Another retirement in 2016, this time with hydraulic ram issues. Then came last year’s much-publicised finish when Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour after an incident with Comanche and lost her line honours crown and a new race record to Jim Cooney’s ‘aircraft carrier’.

This year’s victory makes it a new record of nine line honours for Wild Oats XI, which broke the seven years of line honours stranglehold of Kurrewa/Morna in 2014 with her eighth line honours crown.

Perennial skipper Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards generously handed the helm over to the Late Bob Oatley’s grandson, Daniel (Ian Oatley’s son), on his third Sydney Hobart on the family yacht, before they crossed the finish line after gybing all the way up the River under Code Zero.

Wild Oats XI won the hard-fought battle between four of the five super maxis entered in the race. Until 6.30am this morning, the four were still locked in a tight fight for honours - just 4 nautical miles separating them before Wild Oats XI came into her own.

Peter Harburg’s Black Jack from Queensland was second over the line at 8.35.06am, followed by Comanche at 8.36.09am, after the two went gybe for gybe to the finish after rounding the Iron Pot. Christian Beck’s InfoTrack finished at 08.51.17am.

Never before in the history of the race have we witnessed four yachts fight for supremacy throughout the entire race. It kept us all on tenterhooks the most exciting Sydney Hobart line honours stoush since Bob Bell’s Condor of Bermuda beat Jack Rooklyn’s Apollo over the finish line by seven seconds in 1982.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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In the closest contest in the history of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the four remaining super maxis in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race were separated by just five nautical miles this morning - Comanche leading the way

Jim Cooney, who hails from Bolliver in County Meath, and Samantha Grant’s Comanche are off record pace, 34nm behind her record of last year, but lead the pack from the Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI, with Mark Richards at the helm. Peter Harburg’s Black Jack and Christian Beck’s InfoTrack have taken the inside lane closer to the rhumb line as they try to slip past the two leaders.

The four yachts are south-east of Gabo Island in Victoria, ready to sail across Bass Strait this morning.

Chris Links reported from Wild Oats XI this morning: “We crossed tacks with Comanche a couple of times this morning between 3 and 4am. We can just see Black Jack too. There’s nothing in it. We’re doing 18 knots in a northerly of 15 knots. We’re on the edge of Bass Strait – entering it.”

Links conceded, “This is the closest race we’ve been in – we’ve been in close races with Comanche before, but never been in such a close race with four of us.”

It is early days to talk overall contenders, but it will be no surprise to anyone that Matt Allen’s TP52, Ichi Ban, continues to lead the race for the Tattersall Cup. Bruce Taylor’s Caprice 40 Chutzpah is revelling in the conditions she was built for, and is currently in second place from the Carkeek 60, Winning Appliances and Ray Roberts’ Farr 55, Hollywood Boulevard.

Carl Crafoord reported from his and Tim Horkings’ Sail Exchange this morning: “We are going great,” he said from 10th overall. “We’re first in Division (3). We’re gybing in current, 30 miles off Bermagui with Enterprise (the modified Farr 40 owned by Anthony Kirke). All well on board – we’ve had a good night.”

A fourth retirement from the race overnight, with M3 Team Hungary, led by Roni Ormandlaki, suffering a broken rig and on her way back to Sydney. She joins other early retirements, Zen (NSW), Sun Hung Kai Scallywag (Hong Kong) and Patriot (Vic), leaving the fleet at 81 and nine internationals.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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What would Christmas be like without sailing? Such a state of deprivation just doesn’t bear thinking about writes W M Nixon. But thanks to the wonders of modern communication - which at other times can be too much of a good thing - your Irish sailor who finds Christmas is becoming over-powering can hide away and dial up the already busy entry list for next summer’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, or follow the racetrackers for the Golden Globe or the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, and there he or she is – gone…….

Marvellous. You don’t even need to go sailing to get sailing at Christmas. There’s the ongoing drama of the Golden Globe to take you away. In it, the wonderful senior sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede (who looks for all the world like Willie Nelson’s much healthier brother, and sails every bit as well as Brother Willie sings) is hanging onto his lead despite his rig being in shreds, and in recent days has even managed to hold his distance ahead of the very determined Dutchman Mark Slats.

jean luc van den heede2Separated at birth…..? Singer Willie Nelson and sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede 

willie nelson3

Slats doesn’t look like any iconic singer that we know of, but we’re open to suggestions, for our knowledge of the Dutch music scene is limited, and this is the season of goodwill. That said, we’re all rooting for Willie (sorry, for Jean-Luc), for the man has sailing talent and courage to spare.

For the rest of us, if the complete lower shroud mast fitting started cutting its way down through the alloy extrusion of the mast itself, then it would be a matter of getting to port pronto under power, putting professional riggers on the job, and maybe even getting m’learned friends to write a letter to the manufacturers.

But when it happened to Jean-Luc after a massive knockdown of his Rustler 36 Malmut, he was in the middle of nowhere, yet somehow this 73-year-old guy got himself up the mast in the midst of the very rolling ocean and did enough between the shroud tangs and the lower spreader sockets to stop the shrouds cutting any further south.

mark slats boat4Mark Slats’ Rustler 36 Maverick looking decidedly purposeful. Despite two knockdowns in the storm which dismasted Gregor McGuckin and Abilash Tomy, Maverick’s rig is still intact and he is remorselessly hunting down the damaged Golden Globe leader Malmut

It did mean that he could no longer drive his Rustler 36 Malmut as hard as he would have liked, as the mast at times has been giving a passable impression of a piece of spaghetti. So in going on round Cape Horn and such things, he was forced to be sailing with three reefs in when one or two would normally have been all that was required.

Thus an astonishing lead of well over a thousand miles on second-placed Slats has been steadily whittled away, but as of today (Friday) van den Heede is through the 3,900 mile barrier to the finish and 707 miles ahead of Slats. But with some very difficult conditions to be negotiated with this dodgy rig before he gets beck to Les Sables d’Olonne, his problems will be prodigious, for there’ll almost certainly be rugged windward work in the Northeast Trades, and the cobbled-together rig setup emphatically dislikes slugging to windward.

If he does get back under his own steam, there’ll be some party, and this item here from Facebook shows that Jean-Luc isn’t shy of giving it a bit of a lash with the old vocal cords himself. It may not be comparable with Willie Nelson giving his defining rendition of The City of New Orleans, but then we doubt if Willie could get up a mast and carry out the repair which has carried Malmut over thousands of miles.

Meanwhile, the Southern Ocean is now becoming quite cluttered with abandoned Golden Globe racers, and all of them mastless. Gregor McGuckin’s Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance is the most salvageable at the moment, as she has drifted to within 1,250 miles of Western Australia.

Although any salvor would have to think about a new rig in due course, at least there’s the bonus of the special Glendalough whiskey which - all being well - is still safe in its barrel down below decks, as the pre-race foredeck location at Dun Laoghaire, Falmouth and Les Sables was for display purposes only. Ultimately, the idea was to bottle it at race’s end as a collector’s item, with each bottle selling for ginormous amounts. It could happen yet.

glendalough whiskey5Attention all whiskey enthusiasts in Western Australia…..this unique barrel of Glendalough is stowed below aboard Hanley Energy Endurance only 1250 miles away from Perth. Photo: W M Nixon

IRISH INTEREST IN SYDNEY-HOBART

When we think of what the Glendalough barrel and the boats have been through since this Golden Jubilee Suhaili circumnavigation re-enactment began on July 1st, it does rather put the claims about the Rolex Sydney-Hobart being one of the most rugged in the world into perspective. But for sailors who aren’t superhuman, the 628-mile annual classic can be quite enough to be going along with – a view which is supported by the many Volvo Ocean Race veterans who will be on various boats of significance when the race to Hobart gets going on December 26th.

Among them is ex-Pat Gordon Maguire, very much an Australian sailor these days, but he cut his sailing teeth in Howth. He did his fair share and more of successful Volvo racing, but next Wednesday the number one item on the agenda is getting the best performance out of Matt Allen Botin 52 Ichi Ban, with which the Allen-Maguire team took the Tattersalls Cup – the overall IRC winner – in 2017’s race. If they manage it again this time round, it will only be the third time in the race’s history that it has been won back-to-back.

ichi ban6Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban, with Gordon Maguire on the strength for his 21st race to Hobart, is looking for another overall IRC win for the Tattersalls Cup in next week’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart race

ichi ban7A potent yet simple racing machine – tiller-steering enthusiasts see their dreams fulfilled aboard Ichi Ban

Inevitably much interest focuses on the half-dozen hundred footers, with the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI increasingly fancied, as it doesn’t look as though there’ll always be enough wind around to get the best out of the big fat girls such as Jim Cooney’s Comanche and Christian Beck’s Infotrack.

There’s Irish interest in both of them, as Jim Cooney maintains family links with Ballivor in County Meath and Justin Slattery is in his crew, while Infotrack we knew well when she wasn’t quite looking her best – she was then called Rambler 100, and was more than somewhat inverted at the Fastnet Rock in August 2011.

P

infotrack racing8The boat of many identities. The JK100 Infotrack has had several different names over the years, and looks decidedly different these days in Australia (above) than when last seen in Irish waters near the Fastnet Rock in August 2011 (below)

rambler capsized9

Other Irish interest focuses on the attractive Sydney 47 Wot’s Next, as Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee (overall winner of the 2013 Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and June 2013 Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month”) is in the crew. Wot’s Next is as Australian as the kangaroo - the Sydney 47 marque was designed by Murray Burns and Dovell in 2004, and they’re built in state-of-the-art style by Sydney Yachts, which was spun out of the late Ian Bashford’s raceboat building company. The word is the Sydney Yachts inheritors build just slightly more ruggedly than Bashford aimed for. He was so obsessed (and quite rightly so) with keeping weight out of the ends, that it’s said you could almost push your finger through the transoms of his all-conquering J/35s. Maybe so, but they did the business - they were winners every which way.

wots next10The attractive Sydney 47 Wot’s Next will have former Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race overall winner Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee in her crew for the Sydney-Hobart Race
sydney 47 accommodation11The accommodation style in the totally Australian Sydney 47 is very much ahead of the curve

ENTRIES ROLL IN FOR VDLR 2019

Christmas is a time for mixed feelings this year for the organisers of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, for this week they lost one of their founding fathers with the sad death of Owen McNally. Afloat.ie will carry an appreciation of Owen in the near future, and he of all people would have been delighted with the healthy uptake there has been in early entries for 2019’s staging of Ireland’s ultimate sailfest, whose dates are July 11th to 14th.

Already they’re pushing towards the hundred mark, with early entries in 22 of the 39 classes for which racing will be scheduled, and notably strong input from outside Dublin Bay.

You may recall that Half Ton Classics Champion Dave Cullen with Checkmate admitted - after he’d won the title in Belgium - that he always like to have things done well in time, so doubtless Checkmate has already been prepared for next season by Alan Power at Malahide. Meanwhile, she’s firmly on the list for Dun Laoghaire next July, as too are the two HYC-owned J/24s which - in a sign of the times - are to be campaigned by Under 18 crews.

In the depths of the economic recession, they were sailed by Under 25 crews, but in these boomtime days, it seems that any capable 24-year-old is expected to have secured his or her own boat by some means or other, but Under 18s deserve a helping hand.

Either way, getting the entry in early is not only efficient and evidence of good management, but it acts as a very positive signs for existing or potential crew, and it’s of interest to note that from the home fleet at Dun Laoghaire, those signed up include the Goodbody clan with their successful J/109 White Mischief, and the Dublin Bay 2018 First 31.7 champion Camira (Peter Beamish & Andrew Jones

camira racing12The Dublin Bay First 31.7 champion Camira (Peter Beamish & Andrew Jones) is already signed up for next summer’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Published in W M Nixon

Few international sporting events gives a stronger sense of the cohesive nature of the Irish diaspora than the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Race writes W M Nixon. For there were certainly sailors of Irish descent in the first race of 1945, which was largely inspired by offshore racing legend Captain John Illingworth of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, who happened to be stationed in Sydney as a naval officer as World War II drew to a close and new distance races were once again possible.

Since then, Irish crew either chartered complete boats, or were significant parts of crews. But the real breakthrough came with 1991’s Irish three-boat team’s overall winning involvement in the Southern Cross Series, of which the Hobart Race was the climax.

In the final inshore race, the boat being campaigned by Howth sailors Gordon Maguire and Kieran Jameson was dismasted in a collision with an Australian boat which was at fault. Points allocations were adjusted accordingly to the end of the series, but this led to personnel changes for the race to Hobart, in which Ireland now had only two boats.

atara 1991 sydney2John Storey’s Atara in Sydney Harbour, celebrated on the Afloat magazine cover after she took her place in history as overall winner of the 1991 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, sailed by Harold Cudmore and Gordon Maguire.

One was the John Storey’s 43ft Atara, which was being skipppered by Cork’s Harold Cudmore, who promptly drafted Gordon Maguire into his helming lineup. Ireland got their first Hobart race overall win and the Southern Cross Trophy with it, while Gordon Maguire’s gradual progession towards becoming a leading Australian sailor got under way, though several years were to pass before he moved Down Under for good.

While he was always in the frame in any Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race he sailed, his next overall win didn’t come until 2011 with Steven Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 Loki. And now, after several years of successful partnership with Australian Sailing President Matt Allen in a number of boats all called Ichi Ban (it’s Japanese for No.1), Maguire has recorded one of the finest overall wins yet achieved, in the most demanding section of perhaps the most competitive fleet ever assembled.

When that was added to Jim Rooney’s super-maxi LDV Comanche being awarded the Line Honours prize with Justin Slattery as bow-man, it put the Irish links on the pinnacle of success. But this was only the start of it. For in addition to noted Irish-Australian names to be found at the front of several classes, four Irish sailors had travelled out to Sydney to take part.

The one who had got there by the longest route was of course Conall Morrison of Derry/Londonderry, skippering HotelPlanner.com in the Clipper 70 Round the World race. The Sydney-Hobart’s inclusion in the Clipper programme has been good for the sailors of Lough Swilly, as Sean McCarter also won this leg when he was racing round the world. But while Sean McCarter was to be awarded international recognition for a rescue at sea in a different stage of the Clipper Race, Conall Morrison and his crew carried out a man-overboard rescue of a crewman from another boat racing to Hobart, and did it with such exemplary skill that eventually both boats were able to continue with the race, with HotelPlanner.com’s redress of rescue time giving her a clear win in the Clippper Class.

Meanwhile at the front end of the fleet, international navigator Ian Moore, now Cowes-resident but originally from Carrickfergus, was calling the shots on the Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32. In a races round which the TP 52s fitted perfectly, it was only occasionally that a Cookson 50 figured prominently in the rankings, yet somehow Moore placed Mascalzone to such good effect that at some stage she was in the top three, and at the finish was fifth overall and second in Class 0.

As for our general impression of the race, it is Ian Moore’s opinion that Ichi Ban was raced “exceptionally well throughout” which carried most weight. But meanwhile that second in Class 0 mustn’t obscure the fact that Class 0 was won by the American-owned former Volvo 70 Wizard (ex Giacomo) aboard which Dublin-born sailmaker Noel Drennan was sailing his 32nd Sydney-Hobart Race.

emmet kerin3Emmet Kerin of Limerick (centre) in Hobart with the Class 3 trophy won by Ariel

For Limerick GP Dr Emmet Kerin, who normally sails out of Kilrush on the family’s First 36.7, the jaunt to Sydney to race with Ron Forster on his First 40 Ariel is a yearly highlight, but 2017 will be remembered better than most – Ariel won Class 3.

A noted Irish sailor making his first foray to Hobart was Mini-Transat hero Tom Dolan. He shipped with a mixed Australian-Chinese crew on the veteran Jarkan 12.5 China Easyway, and they’d their best race yet, recording third in Class 4. But that was only the beginning of success in Class 4, as Offaly-born navigator Adrienne Cahalane was doing her 26th Sydney-Hobart, and she did it aboard a veteran-plus – the 1931-built Sparkman & Stephens Dorade, which won the Fastnet Race in 1931 and again in 1933, but has been so well restored by American owner Matt Brooks that she’s able for the rugged Sydney-Hobart Race, and not merely as a survivor – Dorade, at 86 years old, took second in IRC Class 4.

Briefly annotated, the achievements with Irish involvement are:

Line Honours and 19th overall: LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney and Justin Slattery).

First Class 1 and First Overall: Ichi Ban (Gordon Maguire).

First Class 0 and Fourth Overall: Wizard (Noel Drennan).

Second Class 0 and Fifth Overall: Mascalzone Latino 32 (Ian Moore).

First Class 3 and 34th overall: Ariel (Emmet Kerin).

Second Class 4 and 31st overall: Dorade (Adrienne Cahalane).

Third Class 4 and 32nd overall: China Easyway (Tom Dolan)

mascalzone latino 1The Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino revelling in the stronger winds, on her way to second in Class 0 and fifth overall. She makes for a fascinating comparison with the TP 52 Ichi Ban (below). For although the Cookson 50 theoretically offers a cruising option with ample accommodation and the comfort of twin wheel steering, the TP 52 is total racing, crewed by bruised and battered athletes, and with massive tiller steering only for people who really know what they’re at.

ichi ban racing5

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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As Afloat.ie indicated yesterday here, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban with Howth Yacht Club's Gordon Maguire onboard has been confirmed as the overall winner of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

With 28 races under his belt, this is the culmination of a quest to claim the top prize at one of the world’s most revered sporting occasions by one of Australia’s stalwarts of the sport of sailing. The coincidence of a new boat and a forecast that encouraged the 50-footers, made Ichi Ban one of the pre-race favourites. That should not in any way diminish the scale of this achievement. Ichi Ban needed to sail a near perfect race to beat their immediate opposition, both on the water and on handicap.

Victory was celebrated at the dockside prize giving, where Allen and his crew received the coveted Rolex timepiece and Tattersall Cup as just reward for the persistence, courage and skill exhibited throughout the race. For Allen, the moment was not without emotion. A winner of the race back in 1983, as crew on Challenge II, this is his first taste of success as an owner and skipper. Allen has come close before, including last year when the Derwent arguably robbed him and his crew.

“Winning this race is a dream for us all,” said a grinning Allen, who detailed their preparations. “We built a fast TP52 hull, strengthening and waterproofing it for offshore racing and the rigorous conditions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. We took the rig from our old boat, incorporated the latest technology and combined it with the most amazing crew I have ever sailed with.”

Over the years, Allen and his crewmates have become accustomed to the vagaries of the race, its ability to punish weakness and to be selective with luck. “We had to push the boat all the time,” he explained. “You are not going to win this race without pushing and the crew did just the most incredible effort, from the judgment calls by Gordon Maguire and Will Oxley to the guys driving the boat. The crew left nothing on the table, they worked for each other and were inspirational.”

The race was not without issues. Sails were damaged and bodies bruised in the hard, downwind driving conditions of the second day. There was an alarming, fortunately brief, park up on the Derwent. Sailing Master, Gordon Maguire, on his 17th race was quick to recognize the crew’s contribution: “It was not the boat that won us the race and it wasn’t good fortune. We won it through sheer hard work and effort.”

Races can often be won and lost by decisions over when to press and when to pull back. In Ichi Ban’s case, there was little of the latter. There was no room. The usual caution to protect equipment and people was put to one side in a calculated throw of the dice. “It was everything or nothing,” according to Maguire, who has won the race twice before. “There was no point in not pushing 110% on the 27 December, because that was where the race would be decided. A point came where we said ‘stuff it’, forget the sails, just keep going. If it breaks we are out, if we don’t push we are out.”

Navigator, Will Oxley, also emphasised the critical significance of the human component in this race: “We’ve learnt a lot over the years and invested effort in making sure things function in all conditions. That allowed us to get the information we needed to make the correct decisions. But in this race, the most important element was the guys on deck, driving the boat and trimming. Those guys really won us this race.”

Bob Steel, the two-time winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, whose boat Quest posed the biggest threat to Ichi Ban, eventually finishing second overall, confirmed the importance of people: “The downhill conditions suited our boat, but it was hard work. You had to concentrate 24/7. It was physically very challenging. The guys on the winches grinding the spinnaker and the main in and out needed rotating every 10, 15 minutes to avoid complete exhaustion.”

The threat to the boat in such conditions can be severe, as Steel agreed: “As every puff comes through, you risk being knocked down and your race being over. You can completely wipe a boat out accidentally gybing at 30 knots.”

John Markos, Commodore of race organizer the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, expressed the club’s delight at Matt Allen’s success: “Wins like this are career pinnacles. They reflect the effort that people put into their sport. Matt’s engagement in sailing and this race is total. As an administrator, he is on the board of the CYCA and is a past Commodore; he is President of Australian Sailing and is on the board of the Australian Olympic Committee. This is his 28th race; it has been a long time coming and we couldn’t be happier.”

Both Oxley and Maguire have raced around the world, and continue to compete at the highest level. They are professional yachtsmen held in high regard by their peers. When they speak, it is with measure and certainty; hardened sailors they may be, but they take pride in their work and this win clearly means a lot.

Maguire commented “Winning this race is a life experience. To do so once is amazing. The second time, it doesn’t diminish. Each race is so individual. The battle to win the trophy becomes its own entity and each medal has its own story, its own memories. This will probably be my most memorable because everyone on the boat wanted it so much. There wasn’t a quitter among us. Everyone backed everyone.”

“This is the first time I’ve won this race on handicap,” advised Oxley, whose experience as a navigator spans close to 40 years. “As an Australian, this is the biggest race you can win. I’ve done five round the world races, but the first question people ask you in Australia, when they know you are a sailor, is whether you’ve done the Rolex Sydney Hobart and how many. In that respect, this is certainly the biggest win of my career.”

Passion and determination go hand in hand in any form of success. Both are required to overcome the hurdles, the disappointments and frustrations. If Allen’s result this year is anything it is a sporting lesson: “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The Rolex Sydney Hobart – it’s the premier event – everyone follows it and knows the winners of this race. I did my first in 1980 at the age of 17 and I’ve been planning this race since about 2001. It’s been a long-held passion to win it.” And now he has.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

A time penalty of one hour. That is the punishment meted out today by the International Protest Committee to Mark Richards and the hundred footer Wild Oats XI for the near-collision with Jim Cooney’s LDV Comanche in a port-and-starboard incident on Tuesday afternoon 15 minutes into the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race 2017. The means that LDV Comanche is now the official Line Honours Winner writes W M Nixon. 

With boats this size, any impact is dangerous. The full-blown collision which was narrowly avoided by Comanche’s swift action thereby averted the very real danger of the high-tension carbon fibre hulls exploding in lethal splinters. Thus Cooney and his team felt they had to go ahead with their protest in the interests of safety as much as sportsmanship, and the very definite nature of the penalty means that the Protest Committee emphatically agreed with them.

comanche protestWild Oats tacks in front of Comanche, a maneouvre later penalised by the protest jury

Scroll along the timeline on the vid below to 20 minutes to see County Cork bowman Justin Slattery on Comanche signal the incident that led to Wild Oats losing line honours victory.

The orginal Line Honour top two placings are thus reversed, with LDV Comanche officially recorded as first to finish on 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, and Wild Oats 33 minutes astern on 1 day 9 hours 48 minutes and 50 seconds, but still nearly two hours clear of the third placed Black Jack (Peter Harburg).

Listen to Cooney talk to the media in the ABC newsclip after his Hobart protest victory here

In the equally important – some would say more important – handicap placings, the TP 52 Ichi Ban (Matt Allen), with Ireland’s Gordon Maguire as Sailing Master, is now firmly in first overall. But there has been a welcome up-grading for other Irish sailors, with the American-owned Volvo 70 Wizard, whose crew includes Noel Drennan, now officially fourth overall and first in Class 0, while the Italian Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, navigated by Ian Moore, has moved up 5th overall and second in Class 0, just 11 minutes behind Wizard.

In classes still racing though now with no chance of challenging the overall winners, the First 40 Ariel with Emmet Kerin of Limerick in the crew is currently third in Class 3 with 112 miles to race, while the veteran China Easyway with Tom Dolan from County Meath on board is currently fourth in IRC Class 4 and third in ORC Class 4.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Gordon Maguire, originally of Howth Yacht Club but now well established as a leading figure in Australian sailing, looks set to be confirmed for his third overall win in the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Race this (Thursday) morning writes W M Nixon

Although most of the fleet still had to finish, as Sailing Master aboard Matt Allen’s new TP 52 Ichi Ban, Maguire had the satisfaction of hearing his skills praised as a primary factor in a fine win after a very hard-fought race.

While they were the leading TP 52 from an early stage, sail damage hampered their progress. And then this morning as they came into the final flukey stages in the Derwent River with a good margin in hand, a local calm patch had them parked for 20 minutes within sight of the line.

But they got going again and in the end their elapsed time of 1 day 19 hours and 10 minutes proved to be a course record for a boat with a non-canting keel and no water ballast, despite being only a 52-footer.

As for their corrected time of 2 days 12 hours and 13 minutes, this gave them a clear margin of 21 minutes on the next in line, another TP 52, the much-fancied Quest (Paul Clitheroe & Bob Steel).

Other sailors of Irish interest who have come in within the top ten include Dublin-born Noel Drennan aboard the American Volvo 70 Wizard, who can expect to be at least sixth overall and possibly better, and top navigator Ian Moore on the Italian Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino 32, currently rated eighth overall but again with a chance to rise in the rankings if boats still at sea are slowed back.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

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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