Written by Scott Alle, CYCA
Photography by Jack O'Rourke / Carlo Borlenghi
28 November 2018
A fleet of 91 boats and around 1,100 sailors will tackle one of the great challenges in ocean racing, and the rivalry for both line and overall honours has stepped-up a notch from last year.
Unlike past years where there have been only a couple of serious contenders for the honour of being first to Hobart, this year there are five very well-prepared teams, each with different strengths.
“It’s the toughest (super maxi) fleet we’ve seen in the history of the event,” acknowledged eight- time line honours winner and Wild Oats XI skipper, Mark Richards at today’s media launch for the 74th bluewater classic.
“They (Comanche) have done a lot of training and a lot of modifications. It’s quite interesting,” noted Richards. “Two or three years ago we (the 100s), we were all in different areas. Everyone’s converging to a more common area. It must be tough for Jim (Cooney, the owner of Comanche). “That boat is an amazing boat but when it gets very light they struggle. If its fresh reaching they are over the horizon.”
Not surprisingly Comanche’s owner and skipper disagrees with that analysis, and also rejects the notion that there is unfinished business between Comanche and her sliver-hulled arch-rival, after the protest last year which cost Wild Oats XI victory and the race record.
“I’m not so much focused on proving anything to do with last year,” Cooney responded. “It’s all about this year’s race,” he stated.
She is a fundamentally different design to Wild Oats XI, but initially Comanche’s freakish reaching speed was tempered by a weakness in light airs. That weakness has well and truly been addressed according to Cooney who took the plunge and purchased the American-built super maxi just a fortnight before the 2017 start.
“I’m confident we’ve improved our light air performance significantly enough that it’s no longer a real threat to our success,” Cooney told Sails. Significant weight savings have come from converting the manual grinding pedestals to powered winches, but there’s also gains in the crucial area of sail trim.
“What I do have to prove is we’ve enhanced our performance in the light air, and in general crew work is a lot slicker, and we’re able to trim the boat more aggressively and sail it the way we like to rather than waiting for changes.”
In the race for the overall crown in the race, the Tattersall Cup, is equally absorbing.
Last year’s winner Ichi Ban and her skipper Matt Allen, is back to defend her title, and if successful, will re-write the race annuals by becoming the just second boat in fifty years to win consecutive Hobarts on handicap.
“Like last year, it will be one of the most competitive IRC fleets seen anywhere in the world. Like every Rolex Sydney Hobart, you have to be able to beat those of your own size – and then the rest,” Allen said.
You have to go back a long way – to the mid 1960’s- to find the last time a boat managed to secure back-to-back overall wins in the race. Back then it took yacht of the calibre of Freya which went one better, (and it has never been repeated) and notched-up the so-called hallowed ‘triple’ – victories in 1963, 1964 and 1965 Hobarts.
“Those were very different times, the boats had wooden hulls and less advanced material for sails, but the Halvorsen brothers, (Trgyve and Magnus), personally designed, built and raced them to Hobart.
“But records are made to be broken, it’s all part of the rich tapestry of our sport,” Allen said philosophically.
Phillip Turner’s Alive, one of three Tasmanian entrants, is among the 60-70ft yachts that could deny Ichi Ban. The RP66, owned by Phillip Turner and skippered by Duncan Hine, will have near-sistership, Wild Oats X, a second Oatley family entry skippered by Stacey Jackson, to push her along.
“The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is basically everything I have experienced in the Volvo Ocean Race but jam-packed into two-and-a-half days, it’s a huge test of endurance and tactical ability,” said Jackson.
Four others with runs on the board add a bit of mystique: Sean Langman (NSW), Hugh Ellis (Vic), John ‘Herman’ Winning (NSW) and the Shelter Island Transatlantic Partners (USA).
Langman bought the RP65, Moneypenny, renamed Naval Group; Ellis purchased the RP63 Limit, rebadging it Voodoo; Terrance Glackin will skipper the Mills 68 Prospector for her first tilt at the southern hemisphere’s great ocean race, while Winning has chartered Matt Allen’s Carkeek 60, Ichi Ban, renaming her Winning Appliances.
These are serious contenders, but we are yet to see their capabilities.
Then there is Triton. David Gotze/Michael Cranitch’s Lyons/Cawse 60 will provide Tony Ellis his 51st ride south, when he will equal Tony Cable’s record for the most Sydney Hobarts by an individual.
In the 50ft range is the TP52, M3 Team Hungary. Skipper, Aron ‘Roni’ Ormandlaki says, “I am very proud to be the first Hungarian entry in the race – and to be the skipper. I have only crewed for Australians in the race two times before.”
Whoever grabs the silverware for both line and overall honours will be guaranteed of the warmest of welcomes In Hobart; regardless of the weather or what time they arrive.