Photography by Windcraft
20 November 2023
Even before the crew of Niksen hoist their sails on Boxing Day, they will have already overcome one of the biggest challenges in offshore sailing.
Co-skippers Marc Michel and Logan Fraser are bringing their pocket-rocket Dehler 30od (one design) all the way from Auckland, sailing 1,250 nautical miles across the notoriously rough Tasman Sea that has a well-deserved reputation for testing boats and crews to their limits.
At just 9.14 metres or 30-feet Niksen is one of the smallest yachts in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet of 120 boats. Marc Michel, a former pro sailor with experience in big races all over the world has no illusions about the potential hazards of crossing the “Ditch”, as it’s sometimes referred to.
“It’s much more unpredictable and generally tougher [than an Atlantic crossing]”, he admits.
Niksen’s crew dropped the docklines on Sunday 19 November and at this stage the routing says seven days to Sydney Heads with some favourable southerlies, “but it’s the Tasman so there’s a fair amount of local variation in that,” Michel noted wryly, just before they left.
The forecast is showing southerlies gusting to over 20 knots as Niksen rounds the top of the North Island of New Zealand which means fast beam reaching, a point of sail Niksen with its powerful sail plan for its size, excels in.
“The boat just lights-up,” Michel reveals. “Our rig is probably a metre further back [in the hull] compared to the older 30-footers so when that’s combined with the Dehler’s form stability, the chine and water ballast it’s a big thrill ride. On the last leg of the Round North Island Race we averaged 15 knots for 6 hours, and at times hitting 20 knots as we surfed down waves,” he recounts.
Once safely in Sydney Marc and Logan intend to prepare Niksen for the 172 nautical mile Cabbage Tree Island Race on December 1, their first hit-out against some of their competition in the Hobart’s Two-Handed Division which has attracted 21 entrants all eager to be the first double-handed boat to win the famous 628 nautical mile ocean classic on handicap.
While Niksen and her co-skippers have established a formidable reputation in New Zealand short-handed racing circles with a string of podium places, Michel acknowledges the Rolex Sydney Hobart represents their toughest racing challenge so far.
“There are two objectives,” he states. “First it will be the best looking 30-footer on the Harbour on Boxing Day and second it will be the fastest 30-footer irrespective of rating.”
The award-winning Dehler 30od’s lines are courtesy of well-known designers Judel/Vrolijk, who have given the 30od a reverse profile bow and heavily chamfered topsides/gunwale that reduce windage and panel weight. She looks like a smaller version of the Fast 40 Ran or one of the later Hugo Boss IMOCA 60s. Weighing just 2,800 kilograms the boat effectively handles like a big skiff, responsive to every tweak and burb.
Niksen also boasts a couple of extra arrows in its offshore armoury, usually only found on big custom racing machines.
The first is water ballast, meaning the boat can carry an extra 200kg on the high side, equivalent to three 67kg crew which translates into another half-a-knot of boat speed; a big deal over 628 nautical miles.
The other is the so-called ‘Stealth Drive’. The shaft and prop are on a retractable strut, easily operated by a lever in the cockpit. When lowered, the three-blade prop pushes the boat along at over six knots.
When retracted, the strut is hermetically sealed behind a cover. Dehler have managed to do it on a 30-footer, the drag saving equivalent to an estimated 7–8 seconds a mile.
Downstairs on the Dehler 30od Marc and Logan are surprisingly comfortable. There are two generous quarter-berths aft with padding up the sides. A one-burner cooker pumps out the coffee and noodles, while next to the galley is a secure, moulded locker for cold storage.
Bunk cushions are strapped up out of the way, and a wooden table folds out. One of Marc’s short-handed criteria, he says, is “a boat that looks after its crew.”
Of course, the weather will play a big part in deciding the eventual winner of the Two-Handed Division and the Rolex Sydney Hobart itself. Last year the fleet experienced what was described as “a traditional Hobart” with big winds and seas in Bass Strait on the night of the 27th and a stiff southerly for the two-handed entries trying to get to the finish in Hobart.
With its ability to keep pace with much larger boats in the right conditions and her crew hardened during long miles in tough Kiwi waters Niksen could surprise the dockside pundits. Either way it’s shaping-up to be a memorable international racing debut for this Kiwi speedster.