Warrior spirit

The battle lines have been drawn in this year’s Rolex Sydney to Hobart, with the great race south promising some celebrated showdowns.

Written by Scott Alle

29 November 2017


The 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet is the best offshore racing fleet assembled in the world this year.

At the big end of town there are four grand-prix supermaxis, then the most competitive gathering of ocean racing TP 52s – ten in all, plus three Cookson 50s. Snapping at their transoms in the 40-50 foot category are boats, like Patrice, Indian, and Concubine, that would embarrass larger rivals anywhere in the world. The quality permeates right through the entry list to Shane Kearns’ Komatsu Azzuro which, thanks to a dedicated policy of carbon optimisation and sail upgrades is probably the fastest S&S 34 in the world today.

Kearns came tantalising close to winning the race overall in 2015, becalmed just 100 metres from the finish line for an hour, he and his crew watched the Tattersall Cup slip from their grasp.

This year absolutely nothing has been spared in the quest to find that extra fraction of a knot in boat speed.


“The latest is our racing toilet,” revealed the enigmatic Kearns at today’s race media launch.  “Anything the TPs have we’ve got to have” he explained.  “I don’t think Olin Stephens when he designed the boat in 1968 would have had any idea how many things I could change to carbon,” he said.

And Kearns’ crew, which includes Felicity Nelson who’s notching up her 23 trip south, are warming to their skipper’s effusive confidence.

“I’ve told the crew this is the winning edge,” Kearns confided. “I have the most pessimistic hand-wringing crew but even they are starting to drink the cool-aid now and believe we can win.”

The weight focus is a pre-occupation among the 107 strong fleet.

Neville Crichton who skippered Alfa Romeo to a rare defeat of Wild Oats XI in 2009, has convinced his friend and Netscape founder Jim Clark to fire-up the record breaking supermaxi Comanche for another ‘crack’ at what he says is one of the most sought after prizes in yachting.

“Clearly if you win the Hobart race it’s a big deal,” Crichton said. ‘Likewise the [Rolex} Fastnet, but both are right up there.”

LDV Comanche isn’t the same boat race fans saw secure line honours in 2015. Two years on and many records and wins later, ‘the aircraft carrier’ has been tweaked to improve what was her Achilles’ heel – light air performance.

‘It’s without doubt the fastest maxi in the world in breeze,” Crichton stated.

“The upwind performance is fine. There’s been a lot of work done on the boat to sail in lighter conditions. Anything over 10 knots I think we’re ok,” he predicted.

Crew numbers have also shrunk from 2015 – down to 18 from 23, and among them Jimmy Spithill, in between America’s Cup gigs, and Stan Honey, one of ocean racing’s truly great navigator’s; eleven time winner of the Transpac race and the Volvo Ocean Race.

Crichton is renowned as a fierce competitor and Wild Oats XI will have to draw upon on all of their legendary success to secure an unprecedented ninth line honours victory.

The competition will be just as intense throughout the fleet, among the TPs and the Cookson 50s, and right in there with a chance if it turns-out to be a small boat race is Zoe Taylor’s Cookson 12 G.O.

Taylor, a former national standard rower, has put together a crack crew and admits she loves the thrill of the contest.

“There’s not a single boat in the fleet that doesn’t want to win. I think that warrior instinct is pretty embedded on-board and I find it hard to hide to be honest.”

All of the contenders know however, it will be the weather that has the final say in who will have the best shot at victory in what is indisputably one of the hardest yacht races in the world to win.



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