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The notoriously light and flukey night sailing conditions of the Derwent River in the final stages of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race are frustrating what has been an otherwise textbook performance by Jim Cooney's super-maxi LDV Comanche writes W M Nixon at 1000 hrs Wednesday December 27th.

Having led the rival Wild Oats XI (Oatley family) ever since clearing the entrance to Sydney Harbour in an often strong favourable breeze which saw both boats topping 30 knots at times, LDV Comanche’s much beamier hull has been at a disadvantage in the gentler going in the long sheltered approaches to the finish, whereas the extra-slim Wild Oats has been making ground all the time, and accelerating more quickly when a favourable puff of wind arrives.

Now with darkness coming on at 9.10 pm local time, Wild Oats has just 5.5 miles to sail and has accelerated to 9.5knot, while LDV Comanche has 6.3 miles to sail and is recording 8.2 knots. In the rest of the fleet Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban with Gordon Maguire as sailing master continues to lead the TP 52s on the water, but at the moment is lying fourth overall on IRC with 152 miles still to race.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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In the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the two leading supermaxis LDV Comanche (skippered by Irish–Australian skipper Jim Cooney with Cork's Justin Slattery as bowman) and Wild Oats XI are heading to a race record finish in the Derwent tonight.

They are each sailing down the Tasmanian east coast at 20-30 knots before a strong north-easterly wind, LDV Comanche 11 miles ahead of the eight-time winner.

The computer prediction shows a finish for both after 7pm tonight, though that could extend to the later evening once they turn at Tasman Island and tackle Storm Bay and the river. The good news is that the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a continuing north-easterly in the river tonight, which, while not from a favourable direction, at least represents continuing wind.

To break Perpetual Loyal's 2016 race record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds, the first boat must be in before 0231 tomorrow.

Should LDV Comanche maintain her lead, it could render irrelevant her protest against Wild Oats XI for a tacking incident between the two shortly after the race start in Sydney. Oats had the opportunity to complete a 720-degree penalty but chose not to, indicating she feels she did nothing wrong.

Therefore, with a penalty of a minimum five minutes at stake, if Wild Oats XI crosses first, the line honours result could depend on the outcome of an international jury hearing in Hobart of the Comanche protest.

Wild Oats XI had managed to close the gap during the morning despite ripping the top out of the headsail most suited to the conditions. Skipper Mark Richards reported that the yacht had sailed "bare-headed" - mainsail only - for some time while the remnants of the damaged sail were recovered and a new sail set.

Corrected time honours are between the next wave in the fleet, with Matt Allen's new TP52 Ichi Ban ahead of last year's winner, the Volvo 70 Giacomo, now sailing as Wizard under its new American owners, Peter and David Askew.

The fleet stands at 101, with one retirement, the German TP52 Rockall, which suffered a broken rudder south of Eden this morning, The NSW Water Police boat Falcon was due to rendezvous with Rockall late this morning and is likely to take her in tow and head back to Eden, a slow passage that could take about five hours or more.

Bruce Montgomery (

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Irish sailors (as previewed by here) are in the mix today as grey skies could not diminish Sydney’s enthusiasm for the start of its seminal ocean race. Crowds flocked to the foreshore and the Heads, while an assortment of vessels filled the harbour as the 102-boat Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet set off on the great adventure south. Peter Harburg’s 100-foot Black Jack led the length of the harbour and out into the open sea, hotly pursued by LDV Comanche under Irish Australian skipper Jim Cooney and Wild Oats XI.

Starting at 13.00 local time in 5-7 knots of easterly breeze it was a slow glide out of the harbour rather than the furious pace of recent years. Once out into the Tasman Sea the wind built slightly to 8-10 knots and backed a little to the north opening the angle and allowing yachts to hoist reaching headsails.

The sedate start caught fire as the leading yachts approached the ocean turning mark. Wild Oats XI, on port, appeared to tack on top of LDV Comanche, on starboard, in a move more reminiscent of an inshore regatta rather than a 628nm bluewater race. The message was clear. No quarter will be given in the clash of the titans engaged in the dash to be first to finish. Comanche protested the manoeuvre of Wild Oats XI; the outcome will not be known until after the finish.

Leaving aside this altercation, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, John Markos, reflected that: “we’re thrilled the fleet got away and that the spectacle lingered longer than usual because of the light airs. The leaders were engaged from the off, which was exciting to watch, and the rest of the fleet came through pretty well. It will be really interesting to see how this race unfolds down the coast.”

The forecast is for the winds to build steadily as the afternoon draws on and turn further to the north east. An increase in the wind speed will be a relief to the crews who had to endure a sloppy, uncomfortable sea state as they began their march to Hobart.

Ahead of the off, excitement was palpable right through the fleet. Tom Addis, the navigator of Black Jack, was looking forward to the start buoyed by a forecast which would favour his yacht in the early stages: “It looks like another fast race, although more downwind with more pressure, so big spinnakers and having to gybe. It’s a real boat speed race; tactically we don’t have any real major transitions to get through, any ridges to cross or a front to set up for. It’s going to come down to the crew that can move the fastest."

Joseph Mele, skipper of the Cookson 50 Triple Lindy from the USA, is taking part in his second race, although this time on a new boat: “I think this is the most exciting day in yachting in the world. Personally, I’m balancing excitement of the known with the uncertainty of the unknown. Overall, though, we are feeling pretty good. We’ve added some experienced hands to last year’s crew. Knowledge of the race with Brad Kellett with 25 races to his name and knowledge of the boat with Ed Cesare, the navigator of Privateer, the Cookson 50, which finished second in this year’s Rolex Fastnet.”

Taking part in one’s first Rolex Sydney Hobart can be daunting even for the most experienced of sailors. Italian Flavio Favini, a multiple world champion, has made the journey to be with Mascalzone Latino: “The Rolex Sydney Hobart is a mythical race, one of the most important in the world. We are very happy to be here and able to take part. For me, it is great to add this race to my career. The weather forecast looks good for our boat, but we’ll have to see how it really is!”

For Conrad Humphreys from the United Kingdom, sailing on Hollywood Boulevard, 2017 marks his third race, but with a hiatus of several years since the last: “It’s fantastic to be back. To have a forecast as good as this is a dream. To do well, we need to sail well. What’s going to make the difference is really good crew work, really good helming. Sailing low, fast and in a good mode will be key. It’s going to be about two days, so not much sleep!”

As the fleet power south into the first night, any pre-race nerves will have soon given way to the thrill of participating in one of the world’s great ocean races. Crews will be settling into the rhythm that best suits their boat, the conditions and their ambitions. From front to back tactical decisions will need to be taken and pressure maintained, especially if the effort and determination exerted over the next few days is to be converted into success.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Ireland has a direct connection to the fastest and most modern super–maxi yacht in the world, thanks to its new owner Jim Cooney, a fourth generation Australian of County Meath descent. 

Cooney, who hails from the town of Ballivor in Meath, and still has family members in the town, races on St. Stephen's Day in his eighth Sydney-Hobart race, and is already tipped for debut success in the mighty 100–foot LDV Comanche. 

Cooney, a renewable energy entrepreneur, added the spectacular super maxi to his impressive Sydney Harbour fleet when he purchased the boat from American owner Jim Clark this month. 

'This campaign is Irish from bow to stern. You've got me at the back and Justin [Slattery] at the front'. Cooney told dockside in Sydney.

Cooney, who has lined up a who's who of the world's best sailors to crew the yacht has among his team Cork's Slattery, a double Volvo Ocean Race Winner. 

'LDV Comanche is a truly awe-inspiring yacht, and the chance to race to Hobart, alongside my children Julia and James with a world class crew, is a once in a lifetime opportunity too good to pass up. I started ocean racing 30 years ago and we have raced as a family in many parts of the world for 12 years, but this is an incredible opportunity for us to challenge for the world’s toughest blue water classic,” says Cooney, who finished sixth on line in last year’s race at the helm of his Volvo 70 ‘Maserati’ and campaigned his iconic maxi Brindabella for seven years before that.

ldv comanche3The Super Maxi LDV Comanche has been dubbed an ‘air-craft carrier’– her new Irish Australian owner does not rule out bringing her to Ireland to race in 2019 or 2020

Tuesday's race will be no walk in the park for the fastest boat in the fleet, however, not least navigating the 100-footer out of a congested Sydney harbour in thefirst few minutes of the 600–miler with rivals jostling for every advantage.

For the first time in the race's history, the fleet contains four super maxis making the stakes for Cooney even higher. 

“This year competition is fierce, with the strongest line up of super maxis ever seen in one race. Depending on conditions, any of the 100 footers could take line honours, it threatens to be one of the best races in the history of the event,” Cooney told

Immediate sailing plans for Comanche include more regattas on the Australian East coast but a northern hemisphere campaign may be in the pipeline for 2019, a Fastnet Race year. It's early days, but Cooney told he would not rule out a future Round Ireland Yacht Race bid either.

Read: WM Nixon's Sydney-Hobart Preview here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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It is one of the world’s classic offshore races. And its timing plumb in the middle of the Christmas holidays make it an essential safety valve for serious sailors being smothered in festive cheer in the Northern Hemisphere. For although it’s only 630–miles long, the annual Sydney-Hobart Race has everything, from its colourful in-port start on Tuesday in one of the most spectacularly beautiful harbours in the world, to a course which takes the fleet southward into colder climes, with every mile sailed bringing them nearer to the mighty challenge of the Southern ocean and its foretaste in the Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. W M Nixon looks at the prospects for the top Irish sailors in 2017’s edition of the annual dash to Hobart.

With just a couple of days to go to the start, the weather forecast for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2017 could scarcely be more benign, particularly when it’s set against the recollections of the many times that this battle southwards has developed into a crew-bruising, boat-breaking slugathon.

In fact, as California’s legendary Stan Honey, the navigator on the hundred foot line honours favourite LDV Comanche has pithily puts it, any change in the forecast can only be a disimprovement for those seeking easy sailing. The Bureau for Meteorology’s New South Wales specialist predicts that the race will start in a moderate sou’easter which will soon back into a favourable nor’easter which will blow the fleet swiftly all the way down to Tasmania.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Course Map Photo by Rolex KPMSThe 630 mile Sydney-Hobart course is straightforward until you start trying to get up to the finish line at Hobart in the Derwent River

Problem is, once you get to Tasmania, the long haul up the narrowing Derwent River to the sacrosanct finish line on the Hobart waterfront has the leaders trying to race in light or nonexistent winds which can bear little resemblance to the prevailing conditions out at sea. This is particularly so at night, when it’s said the Derwent is an old lady who likes to go to sleep at 10.0pm, and not really waken up until 10.0 am.

Thus the super-maxi LDV Comanche – which Jim and Kirsty Clark have sold to Irish-ancestored Australian international engineer Jim Cooney – is facing the crazy scenario of gradually pulling away from the three other hundred footers as the rising wind gives her wider hull extra power and speed, yet then the predicted time of arrival would have her coming into the Derwent just as the power goes out of the local breeze.

It would be frustration in spades, as LDV Comanche has the speed when the breeze blows. She showed this on July 20th 2015 when, as still just plain Comanche and in a Transatlantic blast under the command of the great Kenny Read, she’d a 24-hour run of 618 miles, an average of 25.75 miles which still stands as the Mono-Hull 24-Hour Record.

ldv comanche3The world’s fastest mono-hull ocean racer, the 100ft Comanche, is now LDV Comanche, and owned since December 14th by Irish-ancestored Australian Jim Cooney. Among those sailing with him in the race to Hobart will be Justin Slattery

Jim Cooney is doing his eighth Hobart Race, and though the familiarisation period with his newly-acquired giant is brief, he is maintaining as much crew continuity as possible with such noted talents as Stan Honey as navigator, while Jimmy Spithill is also on the strength. And if LDV Comanche does get to the line first, it will be an Irishman who’s first across, as the hugely experienced Justin Slattery is aboard as bow-man.

In the generally-predicted weather scenario, in theory it should be possible - from a fleet of 105 boats - to pick a boat size and type which will tend to be closing in to the mouth of the Derwent towards 10.00 am, with every prospect of carrying a good afternoon breeze all the way to the finish and a near-certainty of victory.

And there’s a view that the TP 52 fits the slot better than most. This has sorted boat selection problems for Australian Sailing President Matt Allen and his longtime Sailing Master Gordon Maguire, who won his first Hobart Race sailing for Ireland in 1991, and has since become Australian himself.

Normally, the Allen-Maguire team would be debating whether to race their Carkeek 62 Ichi Ban, or their TP 52, also called Ichi Ban. As usual, both were entered at an early stage on the understanding that only one would race, depending on expected conditions nearer the start time.

But for 2017, Matt Allen has a brand new Botin-designed TP 52, and this latest Ichi Ban is the hottest thing on the coast, wellnigh unbeatable. So when in recent days the weather numbers began to favour the TP 52s, it became a no-brainer.

However, it puts Gordon Maguire in the uncomfortable position of being one of the pre-race overall favourites. Already, other TP52 skippers are calming their own supporters’ high hopes by suggesting that the expected nor’easter may actually become too fresh for the TP52s to give of their best.

Either way, it’s a burden to be the favourite. But Maguire has broad shoulders, and as someone who has often been on the Hobart podium and has already won overall twice, he’ll take it all in his stride.

And if it should pan out that boats of another size and type are favoured, Irish sailing has other options to claim vicarious success. For instance, it could be yet another race in which the enduring Cookson 50 hits the target. We’ll, we’ve one of the best out there in the form of Italian Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino 32, the overall winner of the 2016 Middle Sea Race.

mascalzone latino4The Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino is the Hobart Race’s strongest European challenger. She is seen here at the start of the Hong Kong-Vietnam Race in October

mascalzone latino crew5Navigator/tactician Ian Moore (centre second row) in the midst of Mascalzone Latino’s jubilant crew after their clear win in the Vietnam Race

Although their navigator, Ian Moore of Cowes and Carrickfergus, has already sailed 3 Sydney-Hobarts (and done well in all of them), most of the rest of the crew are Hobart virgins. So they had to do the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race back in October as a qualifier, and won it going away after recording a speed burst of 30-knots plus.

Even for a Cookson 50, that is is going some, but with Ian Moore being in a uniquely experienced position as the navigator/tactician who has been down the course three times before, watching Mascalzone Latino’s performance is going to be fascinating.

We think of Australia as an ancient place geologically, yet inhabited by people who are into novelty. But they’ve as much respect for classic yachts as the rest of us, and the 2017 Hobart Race has two very special Sparkman & Stephens yawls, Dorade from 1931 (when she won the Fastnet Race, and did it again in 1933), and the 72ft Kialoa II which started life as a sloop in 1963, but was a yawl by the time the great Jim Kilroy brought her to Australia to race to Hobart in 1971, and in a rugged windward bash, he took line honours.

kialoa11 as yawl6Kialoa II as she was when she raced to Ireland in 1969 for the Quarter Millennial Celebration of the Royal Cork Yacht Club

Now owned by the Broughton brothers and beautifully restored, Kialoa II became an Irish favourite when she did the Transatlantic Race to Cork in 1969 as part of the Royal Cork’s Quarter Millenial Celebrations. Jim Kilroy had strong family links to the southern city, and Kialoa II did the business by wining her class and placing second overall to Ted Turner’s 12 Metre American Eagle.

As for Dorade, since her restoration by Matt Brooks and Pam Rorke Levy, she has re-sailed many of the classics, but this will be her first Sydney-Hobart. And it will be very special for Irish-born navigator Adrienne Cahalane. Last year, she became the first woman to have raced 25 Sydney-Hobarts. This year, with the 87-year-old Dorade, she is calling the shots on one of the most special boats in offshore racing, a boat which is both historical and yet still a potent performer today.

dorade sailing7The 87-year-old Olin Stephens-designed classic Dorade, navigated by Irish-born Adrienne Cahalane, will be doing her first Sydney-Hobart Race, while for Adriennne, it’s her 26th.

The final major linkup between Ireland and next Tuesday’s big race is, to say the least, unusual. We last took our leave of Mini Transat solo hero Tom Dolan after he had emerged undamaged from a pitchpole two days from the finish of the Gran Canaria-Martinique second leg of the Mini Transat 2017, and went on to finish fifth in Leg 2 and sixth overall out of 54 boats in the two part race, far and away the highest placing ever obtained by an Irish skipper.

Those of you who followed the Dolan story closely on will be aware that Tom also runs an Offshore Racing Academy at Concarneau, and the Chinese sailing authorities selected him to coach two of their more promising trainees. He found that while they were brilliant with instrument work, they lacked a seat-of-the-pants sense of sailing, and he recommended they get as much sea time as possible.

One way they’re doing this is through the Sydney-Hobart Race, where they’ve linked up with Australian skipper Travis Read and his veteran Jarkan 12.5, which has become China Easyway. One of Tom’s students, Wei Hua Pan, has already done the race twice, his mate J Lui has done it once, and now they’ve persuaded Tom to join them on December 26th for his first Sydney-Hobart.

tom dolan8Tom Dolan as he is used to sailing – on his own, on IRL 910

China easyway9This is how things will be for Tom Dolan next week – the only Irishman in an Australian-Chinese crew of ten on the veteran Jarkan 12.5 China Easyway

With the enormous potential of Chinese sailing, he’s intrigued by it all, and not least with the notion of sailing with ten people, when for years he’s mostly had only his own company out on the ocean. So although we’ll be homing in on LDV Comanche and Ichi Ban and Mascalzone Latino and Dorade as the race tracker gets going on December 26th, it’ll be interesting to see how China Easyway is shaping up too

Published in W M Nixon
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The Bureau of Meteorology has given the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet an early Christmas present - speaking at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia this morning, Bureau of Meteorology's Manager, Weather Services NSW, Jane Golding, delivered a forecast that points to a fast, mostly broad reaching and running race.

"The race will start in a moderate east/south-easterly breeze around 10 knots," Golding expects, "and the winds will shift around to the north-east during the afternoon, to around 15 knots off Batemans Bay."

All four models the Bureau use point to the nor'-easter building overnight and the next day to around 20 to 25 knots in Bass Strait and down the Tasmanian coast, and those favourable winds will hold into the 28th as well.

The models are split about a weak southerly front that will develop on the southern Tasmanian coast on the 28th, but Golding describes the change as fickle, and it may not even reach the fleet before it is pushed out to sea by a big High in the Tasman.

It is a wonderful forecast for the Line Honours favourite, LDV Comanche, this month purchased by Australian Jim Cooney. In these conditions, the wide, powerful 100 footer should expect to pull away from her narrower rivals Wild Oat's XI, Black Jack, and InfoTrack, which, as Perpetual Loyal, broke the race record in somewhat more robust but similar weather last year.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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The 73rd Rolex Sydney Hobart promises much, with 107 yachts currently scheduled to cross the start line in Sydney Harbour at 13.00 (AEDT) on 26 December. Some 30 international entrants will participate, with a high-profile battle for line honours and fierce contest for the overall win expected. The 628-nautical mile race has never yet failed to deliver intense drama and great spectacle - the 2017 edition looks set to be no exception. First held in 1945, the Sydney Hobart is organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia with the cooperation of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. Rolex has been title sponsor since 2002. An unquestionably iconic sporting challenge, the race sits alongside the other offshore classics, such as the Rolex Fastnet Race and Rolex Middle Sea Race, that underpin the Swiss watchmaker’s association with the sport.

First held in 1945, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is organized by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia with the cooperation of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. Rolex has been title sponsor since 2002. An unquestionably iconic sporting challenge, the race sits alongside the other offshore classics, such as the Rolex Fastnet Race and Rolex Middle Sea Race, that underpin the Swiss watchmaker’s association with the sport.


Last year, a four-way competition to finish first in Hobart resulted in a record-breaking performance by Perpetual LOYAL. Anthony Bell’s 100-foot Maxi rewarded her crew’s persistence and resolve, as man and machine combined to take nearly five hours off the previous fastest time.

Once again, four 100-foot powerhouses are in the running. Wild Oats XI will be seeking to re-establish her benchmark status by adding to her eight line honours successes and taking back the record, weather permitting. Against her, the American Maxi Comanche, first to finish in 2015, is competing under the stewardship of New Zealander Neville Crichton, a two-time line honours winner himself.

Peter Harburg’s Black Jack is the former Alfa Romeo – the fastest yacht in 2009 with Crichton. The Reichel/Pugh design has spent the past five years dominating the northern hemisphere big boat scene. Completing the quartet is Christian Beck’s InfoTrack (previously Perpetual LOYAL).

Racing these highly-tuned Maxis at full tilt over some of the most difficult seas in the world is a true test for both crew and yacht. Any weakness in organization, skill or determination will be ruthlessly exploited by the opposition and the conditions. Preparation is critical and one month out from the start, the race has already begun in earnest for the owners and crews of these pure thoroughbreds.

Away from the rarefied atmosphere of the 100-footers, the majority of entrants are competing for a variety of reasons. Some are relatively simple: a passion for the sport, the camaraderie of teamwork or the opportunity to pit oneself against the challenge. There are prizes throughout the fleet, with classes separated into different bands under handicap. At the finish in Hobart, Tasmania though, one boat will stand head and shoulders above the rest. The crew that wins overall will receive the deserved recognition of their peers and take a place in event legend. Beyond these less tangible rewards, there are the coveted Tattersall’s Cup, with its many years of history, and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual timepiece, engraved with the race name, the year and the words “Overall Winner”.

Over the past fifteen years, the title and rewards have been shared across the fleet, with yachts in the 40 to 50-foot range winning five times and yachts between 50 and 60 feet also winning five times. There have been three wins from the 60 to 70 feet yachts and two wins from the 100 footers. The prevailing weather will be significant in determining the outcome of the race. Inevitably, the conditions favour different lengths of yacht at different times; the strength of the wind and the state of the sea play critical roles. Crews must manage their resources astutely and sail to their yacht’s full potential throughout the period at sea. Complacency and inattentiveness can be ruinous.

The 2016 overall winner is back, although in new hands and renamed Wizard. David and Peter Askew from the United States will have their work cut out to repeat the achievement of Jim Delegat and the crew of Giacomo. The last boat to secure back-to-back wins was Freya in 1965. Bob Steel, from New South Wales and owner of Quest, will be hoping the conditions suit the 50-footers. A winner in 2002 and 2008, his current boat also triumphed under the name Balance in 2015. Steel, too, is up against it. This segment of the fleet is full of pedigree. Italian yacht, Mascalzone Latino owned by Vincenzo Onorato, enters after back-to-back wins in her last two 600-mile outings: the 2017 Hong Kong to Vietnam Race and the 2016 Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Chris Opielok from Germany, owner of the TP52 Rockall, may be relatively unknown at this race but he is a proven offshore challenger winning the Admiral’s Cup twice. American Joseph Mele will continue his pursuit of bluewater racing’s greatest prizes. Fresh from participation at this year’s Rolex Fastnet and Rolex Middle Sea Race, Mele and his Triple Lindy team are entering their second successive Rolex Sydney Hobart.

The 52-foot Dorade will debut at the Rolex Sydney Hobart, some 80-plus years after making a name for herself winning some of the world’s classic races. Current owners, Matt Brooks and Pam Rorke Levy, have undertaken an ambitious itinerary in recent years, believing Dorade was born to race in open water and should continue to do so despite her advancing age. The same philosophy could equally apply to Sean Langman, whose Maluka is another octogenarian yacht to take the course; although, in Langman’s case, this has become something of a tradition. Kialoa II will also raise a cheer; a line honours winner at the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1971, she is on a journey to revisit the scenes of past glories in the hands of Patrick and Keith Broughton. Though the prospects for repeating former triumphs are slim, all three crews will surely win hearts and minds of spectators and crew for their spirit and endeavour.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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The traditional timing of the London International Boat Show as soon as possible after New Year’s Day may have been shifted about in recent years as the changing dynamics of the European marine industry and the sheer dominance through size of Dusselboot (this year’s is 21st to 29th January) have changed the map of international boat selling. Nevertheless the idea that the very beginning of the New Year is an ideal time to interest people in a new boat still holds good, as they’ll invariably be convinced they’ve thought only of gifts for others over Christmas, while their entire lives have been taken over by family festivities. So when New Year arrives, a personal treat with a change in boats is well earned. But is it necessary to get a completely new boat? W M Nixon points to a different solution.

The most significant fact to emerge from the final results of this week’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race is that no new boat figured in the top five places overall. All were boats of varying vintage, some quite old relatively speaking. And all had been - at the very least - tinkered around with more than somewhat, even if none had been modified so frequently and completely as the Oatley family’s hundred footer Wild Oats XI.

Admittedly Wild Oats didn’t even finish, but she was leading on the water well past the halfway stage when she had to pull out with a failed keel ram. It could well be that this was one of the few original items in the boat, for Oats has been radically changed so often - with new longer bows fitted at frequent intervals with the stern shortened still further to keep her under a hundred feet – that she now looks for all the world like a one-masted schooner.

Wild Oats XI Wild Oats XI has had so much added to her length forward and so much chopped off her stern that she now looks like a one-masted schooner

Yet at no stage have any of her skillfully-executed hull mods failed. Down in Australia, and in New Zealand too, they’re past masters at doing incredible things with epoxy which, once the job has been finished, look as if they’ve been there from the start. And the fact is that when we look back on the history of sailing development, when timber construction was dominant, the more individualistic shipwrights were game to take on all sorts of challenges for they knew – or at least most of them new – just what could be done with wood while retaining the overall sea-going integrity of the much-changed vessel.

It was only when fibreglass took over as the dominant boat construction material in the 1960s that we went through a period of nervousness of configurational change, when what you got in a plastic boat stayed as what you got in that plastic boat. For a while, people were scared stiff of making any changes to what had emerged from the mould and subsequently from the finishing shop.

But if your boat happened to be of wood, or better still of aluminium or steel, you could emulate the modifiers of old and introduce changes which managed to be locally strong, and also strong within the overall structure of the boat.

Once upon a time, back in 1974, we found ourselves berthed in Crosshaven outside Eric Tabarly’s 64ft ketch Pen Duick VI after an RORC race from Cowes, which he had won both on the water and on IOR. Despite this, the great man was dissatisfied with the location of the sheet leads for the Yankee jib (he had an Illingworth-style cutter rig). So he and his lads got hold of a generator, and there before our very eyes they set up an aluminum welding workshop, cut off the eye, and re-located the sheet leads to the skipper’s satisfaction.

Eric Tabarly’s alloy ketch Pen Duick IIIOnly the coachroof coaming was timber - Eric Tabarly’s alloy ketch Pen Duick III was easily modified if you’d the aluminium welding kit.

For sure there was singed paint in every direction, but the job was done, and Pen Duick won the next RORC race to somewhere in Brittany even more convincingly, while we sailed home to Howth reflecting that maybe there was more to aluminium than a rather soul-less material best used for building aircraft.

But of course we didn’t need to look very far to see boats that had been modified, sometimes beyond all recognition, in order to maintain appeal to a new generation of sailors. While the Howth 17s of 1898 may have stuck stubbornly to their original design – which they still do – the Dublin Bay 21s of 1902 had since 1963 been changed to Bermudan rig with a new coachroof.

Dublin Bay 21 KeelboatDublin Bay 21 in original form – they kept their crews busy, and offered scant comfort or shelter. Photo: Rex Roberts

 Dublin Bay 21 plansThe Dublin Bay 21s as they were from 1963 until 1986 - more easily handled, and the luxury of a doghouse,

Cork harbour one design yachtCork Harbour One Design with classic rig, and open cockpit. Photo: Tom Barker

cork harbour one design yacht bermudanCork Harbour One Design in bermudan-rigged cruising mode, complete with coachroof and doghouse. Photo: W M Nixon

And in Cork Harbour, the more senior Cork Harbour One Designs of 1896 vintage had become able little Bermudan-rigged cruisers with an extensive coachroof – complete with doghouse – which allowed them to log some very impressive cruises.

But in both cases, while the boats may have looked completely different above the deck line, their basic hull shape remained the same. Yet if you cared to look in the Coal Harbour in Dun Laoghaire, until the early years of this century a regular resident was the 32ft Bermudan sloop Bonito, which had started life as a plumb-bowed gaff cutter built in Strangford in 1884, yet by the time she reached Dun Laoghaire she was spoon-bowed and sloop rigged under the Bermudan configuration, her owner-skipper being Roy Starkey, whose regular crewmate was Bob Geldof Senr.

In fact, re-configuration seems have been a fact of life for Bonito during much of her existence, as at one stage she was yawl rigged too. But the fascination abut her lay in discerning where the constructional changes had been made to transform her appearance, and it’s a matter of regret that when her life came ignominiously to an end some time after Roy’s death, with the powers-that-be breaking up Bonito and consigning her to a landfill, it was over and done with before anyone was sufficiently aware of what was happening to ensure that her breaking-up a forensic dissection rather than a crude scrapping.

Of particular interest would have been the way in which her straight stem was lengthened into the spoon bow which became fashionable in the 1890s, and has remained fashionable with foredeck crews ever since, as it means you can work at the stemhead without being immersed in every wave, whereas straight stems – or worse still, the reverse stem as seen on CQS in the Hobart race – are a semi-permanent waterfall.

Yacht design undergoes strange mutations which can persist in exaggerated form, and one of the worst was the heavily-canted rudder which began to emerge in the 1840s when the main measurement for handicap and other purposes was along the length of the lower side of keel. The boat builder and designer Thomas Wanhill of Poole in the south of England was soon turning out boats which were significantly larger than their keel length – and hence their rating measurement – suggested, simply by increasing the angle of the rudder.

John Mulholland’s 1865-built EgeriaJohn Mulholland’s 1865-built Egeria
So even though the sweetly-steering schooner America with her vertical rudder came across the Atlantic in 1851 and swept all before her, in England the trend towards angled rudders persisted, and in 1865 Wanhill built his most successful schooner, “the wonderful Egeria”, a 99-footer for linen magnate John Mulholland of Belfast, and she performed like a dream despite her markedly angled rudder.

Having the angle enabled the rudder head and the tiller to be well aft to keep the deck amidships clear for crew work, but somehow the idea persisted and indeed became exaggerated until the 1960s, with the Sparkman & Stephens-designed Clarion of Wight, overall winner of the 1963 Fastnet Race, having a rudder which today looks absurd. Admittedly she was a dream to windward, but offwind and particularly with spinnaker set, she was a nightmare on the helm.

Clarion of WightShe may have won the 1963 Fastnet Race, but in her original form Clarion of Wight had carried the angled rudder to absurd levels.

Firebrand in 1965Clarion’s successor Firebrand in 1965 showed some modifications to the old rudder shape, but Dick Carter’s new find-and-skeg configured Rabbit won that year’s Fastnet.This particular line of development was knocked in the head when Dick Carter won the Fastnet Race overall in 1965 with his own-designed Rabbit, which was fin-and-skeg with a virtually vertical rudder, and was well-behaved on all angles of sailing. But at the time most sailors persisted in what they thought were improved versions of the old form, and in ’65 Dennis Miller, one of the part-owners of Clarion in ’63, appeared with the new similarly-sized Firebrand with a less steeply-angled rudder which had a pointed tail to give extra power at maximum depth, and that did improve things slightly. But nevertheless Firebrand continued to be the most beautiful-looking boat with the drawback of challenging helming under spinnaker, though as we’ll see, that was to be sorted in due course.

Meanwhile Clarion of Wight continued to be a handful, so before the 1960s were out, builder Clare Lallow of Cowes was asked to perform the then-major operation of transforming her after-body underwater to give her a fin-and-skeg configuration master-minded by Sparkman & Stephens, who were now advocating this shape with all the zeal of the convert, and in fact had used early versions of it in boats like Deb, later Dai Mouse III, now Sunstone, which had been built in 1965.

Clarion of WightClarion of Wight in the 1971 Fastnet Race in Rory O’Hanlon’s ownership, when she won the Philip Whitehead Cup. Her new vertical rudder arrangement is discernible.

Thus to some extent it was the conservatism of owners which persisted in keeping the old style, and of course the vertical separate rudder had long since been advocated by designers like Ricus van de Stadt and Uffa Fox. However, getting the change to into favour with the mainstream in sailing was a different proposition altogether, and you’ll still meet those who prefer keels as long as possible with “gracefully angled” rudders, and good luck to them.

But increasingly the tendency was to the new form, and for those who cannot see any boat without wishing to modify her in some way, it was a magic time, particularly in places like Australia and New Zealand where there seems to be a skilled craftsman round every corner, and regular major boat modifications are almost a way of life.

As for the mainstream, the process was more gentle, but when the most accomplished offshore racers of their generation, the Americans Dick Nye and his son Richard, went to designer Jim McCurdy for a new race boat in 1968, the 47ft alloy-built Carina was given a conservative fin and skeg configuration complete with trim tab on the aft end of the fin keel.

Carina yacht 1968Jim McCurdy’s plans for Carina in 1968 showed a conservative interpretation of the fin-and-skeg form, and relied on a trim tab on the aft end of the fin keel to give added lift to windward.
carina yacht 2016Carina as she is today, and still winning races. She has a spade rudder and Peterson/Holland fin keel arrangement designed by Scott Kaufmann.

But that trim tab was punished by changes to the rating rules in the early 1970s. So by 1978 they’d gone to New Zealand-born, New York-based Scott Kaufmann, and he came up with a real dream of a re-configuration with a very positive spade rudder with perfect end-plate effect on the underside of the counter, and a fin keel of the type favoured by Doug Peterson and Ron Holland.

Thanks to Carina’s alloy construction, it was a very manageable job, even if those actually doing it in Bob Derecktor’s famous boatyard found the initial aluminium grinding and cutting to be dusty hard labour. One of that work team was Rives Potts, who has now owned Carina himself for many years, and she continues to win races.

As for her seaworthiness under her new keel and rudder, that was immediately proven beyond all doubt with her successful participation in the 1979 Fastnet. But not all rudder conversions have been so successful. The lovely Firebrand ended up in America, and some owner decided she needed a fin and skeg rudder arrangement. The job was done, but then when she was sold back to Europe, the new skeg broke clean off while sailing Transatlantic. But thankfully it was an add-on rather than an insert into the basic construction, so she got across in one piece.

And then her luck turned. She was spotted by international yacht designer Ed Dubois, who fell in love with her, and decided to make Firebrand his pet boat. Her personally designed a special spade rudder which would retain the classic character of the yacht while improving the steering, and under this arrangement, between intervals of designing superyachts for other people, he had many cherished times sailing and cruising this most beautiful vanished boat before his untimely death at the age of 63 earlier this year.

It’s a great compliment to the beauty of the hull designs of Olin Stephens that a designer of Ed Dubois’s standing should not only choose one of his boats, but at the Dubois home it was a fine photo of Firebrand under sail which had pride of place above the living room fire.

So boats can go through good times as well as bad, and one much worked-on boat which is currently sitting pretty is Anthony Bell’s hundred foot Perpetual LOYAL, line honours winner in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race, and second overall on corrected time. In that kind of company, it is an achievement comparable with Rambler 88’s performance in the Volvo Round Ireland Race back in June. Yet in all the excitement, how many now remember that back in August 2011, Perpetual LOYAL was Rambler 100, and she was very upside-down with a broken keel out at the Fastnet Rock?

Perpetual LOYALPerpetual LOYAL leads the fleet out of Sydney Harbour five days ago in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2016. Photo Rolex

new boat16Once upon a time, near the Fastnet Rock..…..Perpetual LOYAL as she was as Rambler 100 in August 2011

Published in W M Nixon

Irish Navigator Adrienne Cahalan who is, one of Australia's most celebrated yachtswoman, arrived in Hobart aboard the Brenton Fischer skippered TP52 Ragamuffin this week, to cement her place as the first woman ever to compete in 25 Sydney Hobart Yacht Races.

And like all the others, this 25th race has been a mixed bag. No real terrors this year, and mercifully brief time working to windward, but if ever there was a race of two halves this has been it.

Blisteringly fast running and reaching most of the first half, and frustratingly slow in the second half for yachts in the 50 to 65 foot range.

"I prayed for an exciting race and this was that," Cahalan says. "We knew there were going to be some tricky bits, particularly at the end. It was fast, wet and wild at first, particularly on these boats."

Unfortunately it was a little too fast for one crucial moment on the first night. Ragamuffin dove into a wave and emerged with a shredded spinnaker.

"After that, we were playing catch-up, but without that sail we were down a couple of knots. We worked hard though, and eventually recovered.

"Actually we were quite happy with the second half of the race, it suited us. We sailed well through the transition zones and caught back some time. Because we had that sail problem, we missed the gate into Bass Strait, and after that there were three distinct fleets.

"It's worked well for me before - and sometimes it hasn't, but I'm philosophical - some of it is out of your control."

Adrienne was part of the Cheyenne crew which broke the Round the World World Speed Record in 2004, she has circumnavigated the globe on several projects, and has had four World Yachtswoman of the Year nominations.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under

While Ireland basks in unusual January sunshine, in the alleged Southern Hemisphere summer the normally picturesque approaches to Hobart in Tasmania have seen dull, damp and drifting conditions for the groups of legendary Australian and international racing machines struggling to finish the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2016 writes W M Nixon

After magnificent sunny sailing conditions for much of the 628 miles down from Sydney had been able to sweep local hero Anthony Bell’s hundred foot Perpetual LOYAL to a new course record, the fair winds kept up only for long enough to bring New Zealander Jim Delegat’s Volvo 70 Giacomo (ex-Groupama) in to conclude a superb performance which put the Kiwi contender firmly into the Best Corrected Time slot.

At that time, the fleet overall leader on corrected time for most of the race had been Matt Allen’s TP52 Ichi Ban, with Ireland’s Gordon Maguire as sailing master. In such a fast moving race, it says everything for the way that Maguire and his crew have got to grips with this smaller boat in a relatively short time. After two years of campaigning the Carkeek 60 of the same name with mixed success, the 52ft Ichi Ban was able to open up prodigious leads of thirty miles and more in the race from Sydney on her closest rival, Paul Clitheroe’s TP52 Balance, overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2015.

But that was only when the going was good out in open water. With a low pressure area developing to the northwest of Tasmania, just seven minutes after Giacomo had swept across in such style, the rain came in and the wind took off. The already tortuous approaches to the finish line in the heart of Hobart at the head of the Derwent Estuary became the Waterway of Wasted Hopes. Big boats and then not-so-big boats came sweeping along to within forty miles or less of the finish, and then hit a complete blank wall of total calm and mind-numbing drizzle, such that at one stage three maxis were kedged within a mile of the finish.

But none suffered more in overall terms than Ichi Ban. As Sydney-Hobart veterans, they well knew the problems they faced, for although they led on paper, they’d to sail the last sixty miles in six-and-a-half hours if they were to maintain the exalted winning position they’d held for more than a day.

For Hobart Race aficionados and Gordon Maguire-supporters worldwide, it was agonising last night to see it all fade away with the speed down to less than a knot at one stage, yet all the time out to sea, comparable rivals such as Balance and the Chinese Cookson 50 UBOX were making hay in a still brisk breeze.

When you’re first into the calm, there’s always the added pain of knowing that boats you’d seen off a day or two before could come up with a new wind and actually pass you. But at least Ichi Ban managed to avoid this, though only just. She made it across the line still ahead of Balance by 48 minutes, and had 54 minutes in front of UBOX.

Both were within hailing distance. Yet only 24 hours earlier, they’d been very invisible from Ichi Ban, far beyond the northern horizon astern. But to provide the final downer, as both had marginally lower ratings, they moved into corrected times ahead of the Matt Allen/Gordon Maguire team.

In what has become a big boat’s race in the style reminiscent of the Volvo Round Ireland Race back in June, the overall winner is the Volvo 70 Giacomo, but thanks to those Hobart calms, the new record holder Perpetual LOYAL now lies second overall, while UBOX is third, Balance is fourth, and Ichi Ban is fifth.

In theory, some smaller boats still at sea could change this, but they’ll have to sail fast and steady to do so, and the conditions aren’t too favourable for that kind of showing. As to other Irish hopes, the JV62 Chinese Whispers, which has Shane Diviney in her crew, made a better showing than most of the slow finish, and crossed the line 18 minutes ahead of Ichi Ban, which had led her on the water for much of the race. However, Ichi Ban stayed ahead on corrected, as the larger Chinese Whispers was calculated into 9th overall.

Out at sea, Barry Hurley and Kenneth Rumball on the First 40 Breakthrough still have 198 miles to race, and currently are 13th in Division 3, but the way this event has panned out, many things are still possible for them before they get to Hobart.


Published in Sydney to Hobart
Tagged under
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