Written by Scott Alle
Photography by CYCA / Jack O'Rourke
25 July 2019
There will be a number of absorbing races within the race when the 78 entries in the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Race hit the starting line in Sydney Harbour on Saturday, but the most intense battle will be between the TPs.
Eleven of the grand prix speedsters will match-up against one another on the 384 nautical mile run north, one more than in last year’s Rolex Sydney to Hobart.
It’s the toughest offshore TP fleet assembled in the world so far this year. The pace-setter will almost certainly be Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban, the 2017 overall Hobart winner, and the boat to beat on corrected time for those with aspirations of heading home with some of the Southport Yacht Club’s silverware.
Relatively new to the Australian TP fray, Sydney based Zen will be out to measure its performance against the big names in the class; Ichi Ban, Quest and Celestial.
“It will be fantastic racing,” agrees Shane Guanaria, Zen’s boat manager.
In the scrap for every metre contest of TP world, it takes just one average sail change or a missed opportunity and you are quickly spat out the back, clawing to make up the miles.
“You will pay for every mistake,” Shane acknowledges. “You are racing against boats right next to you.”
Zen, (previously Synergy), was purchased by long-time Sydney 38 sailor Gordon Ketelbey prior to last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. The team made the starting line but was forced to retire south of Botany Bay with rig damage.
Post Hobart a decision was made to focus on learning the boat, and time out on the water.
“We made a big effort after Hobart to keep the boat in Sydney,” Shane says. “We cancelled plans to send it to Melbourne and Port Lincoln – and we raced it nearly every weekend and Friday night. Working through the bugs and the halyard locks on the main, the spinnakers, and building the crew up.”
That measured approach paid-off with a win in the NSW IRC Championships, and second behind Quest in the CYCA’s Winter Series A1 Division.
But offshore is a different story and Zen’s crew including three-time Farr 40 world champion Mark Langford, 49er world champion Ben Austin and his brother Tim, along with a roster of highly experienced ocean racers, are keen to show their mettle.
“We’re gaining more and more confidence in the boat,” Shane reveals. “And we’re learning where she’s strong and where we need to put in a bit more work.
“At the moment we feel quite strong upwind in anything over 12 knots against the other TPs. But upwind under eight knots and downwind we feel a little vulnerable,” he confesses.
“We’ve watched with interest how Gweilo and Balance have been getting lighter and lighter, so we know we have some adjustment to play with, but we are not going to modify the boat until the crew is as good as the boat,” he rationalises.
Like any self-respecting TP program there are new sails in the pipeline, but a crisp new spinnaker staysail from Doyle specifically for this race is assured of getting some air time.
Shane, who admits to doing around 15 or 16 of what are sometimes “rock-hops” north along the NSW coast, says there isn’t really a traditional Sydney to Southport race.
“The (weather) models have changed a lot over the last 24 hours. Earlier in the week we were looking at 55 hour race, that’s now come potentially back to 38-36 hour race.
It’s certainly looking like more downhill than it was at the start of the week,” he reveals.
As for the Zen crew’s chief KPI for the weekend, Shane is very clear.
“The goal in this race is not to make any major tactical or crew errors.”
If they manage that, then they have every chance of being among the front-runners, expected to start arriving off Main Beach Sunday evening.