Friday, 1 January 2010

RSHYR: Alfa Romeo's Rivals Reveal How Neville Crichton Beat Them

Neville Crichton holds the line honours trophy high on arrival at Constitution Dock in Hobart. Image copyright Alfa Romeo.

by Edward Rowe

The skippers of Wild Oats XI and ICAP Leopard have revealed how Alfa Romeo and its skipper, Neville Crichton, beat them in the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, to take his 144th win in the second super maxi to carry the Alfa Romeo name.

Alfa Romeo, the Line Honours winner of the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart, is the second of three yachts owned and skippered by Neville Crichton to carry the Alfa Romeo name. Alfa Romeo 1, a 90 maxi took 74 line honours with Crichton at the helm; Alfa Romeo 2, a 100 maxi now has 144 wins in her account, and Alfa Romeo 3, a 71 foot mini maxi which has taken part in a limited number of events this year, has nine line honours and two regatta wins from her debut season.

On board Alfa Romeo II during the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Image copyright Murray Spence.

Despite this record of success, before the Rolex Sydney Hobart race started on Boxing Day Alfa Romeo, Wild Oats XI and ICAP Leopard were, to most commentators - and the skippers themselves, inseparable for line honours. At the start Alfa Romeo lead Wild Oats XI and Leopard out of Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day, having over taken them both in the sprint out of the harbor and, even during the race, it was so close that all three yachts were in sight of each other.

Yet, at the finish it was not even close. Wild Oats XI finished at five minutes after midnight, two hours and three minutes behind Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo. Leopard, a Farr 100, finished at 0545, five hours and 40 minutes behind Wild Oats XI, nearly eight hours after Alfa Romeo.

Wild Oats' Mark Richards was gracious in defeat. "It was a tactical race and we never got a look in really," Richards said. "They had a little edge on us on the first night and the next morning we were in a big parking lot together. They got out first and put 30 miles on us before we knew what had happened."

Mike Slade, owner and skipper of ICAP Leopard, had an historical perspective of the close three-way battle of the maxis: "When Napoleon turned up at Waterloo he knew he was in for a bad day, he had a bad day at the office didn't he? I've been a bit like that. It was a fantastic race and well done Alfa, bloody marvellous."

Slade said that Leopard had gambled by sailing farther offshore than Alfa and Oats down the east coast of Australia rather than sailing in Alfa's wake. "We went offshore because there was no point in covering Alfa's tracks; she had about 20 miles on us and we just got locked out. We had about four shut-downs and it was as frustrating as hell. We sat there for hours, watching them go away. That cost us. We got punished."

Rounding Tasman Island was the worst Slade had experienced. "There was no wind and appalling seas; really nasty because it's a lee shore, you've got no steerage because there's no wind, but the seas were huge and that took us a couple of hours.

"Alfa and Oats had already gone round. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer, that's what the game's all about. So it was a shocker but we loved every minute of it. We will be back to do another one I think - the boat's a glutton for punishment."

Alfa Romeo II leaving Sydney en route to Hobart. Image copyright Alfa Romeo.

Crichton commented: "They were good competitors but at the end of the day we had the better team."

Crichton said that he was not surprised at the closeness of the race. At one stage earlier in the day Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI clawed back much of Alfa Romeo's lead, to be within six miles of her.

"I always believed you could put a blanket over the two boats and that's the way it was for the whole race. (The difference was) the 21 guys we have. We've got the best crew in the world."

Crichton described the race as very tactical. "There were occasions when we had to take a gamble and hope it paid off. We were very busy the whole race. There were occasions when there was a lot of breeze, and occasions when we drifted, so it made the race much more interesting.

"I don't think there was any part of the race that counted any more or less. We all had periods we were parked up. I think it was the advantage of making the least amount of mistakes of anybody that won us the race."

Tom Addis, Alfa Romeo's navigator, said that the hardest parts of the race were off Gabo Island Sunday morning, and getting through the big hole in the bottom half of Bass Strait last night.

"It was a park-up," he said. "We were confident off Gabo, even though Wild Oats XI came up on us. It was painful, but you just have to be calm and get through it.

"The Derwent is hard too," he added. "You go into it unaware of what the future holds. You see a glassy patch and your heart falls, but you just have to get there and deal with whatever is there, whereas the rest of the race you can plan."

The crew of Alfa Romeo II on arrival in Hobart. Image copyright Alfa Romeo.

Helmsman Michael Coxon said that what made the race so taxing were the number of parking lots. "We averaged a 15 to 20 mile lead over Wild Oats XI but you can park up in the last 70 miles of the race and they can sail straight through you. That's always in the back of your mind."

This is the 144th win Crichton has enjoyed at the helm of Alfa Romeo, but winning line honours this time has been especially sweet. Unfinished business has at last been done.

"The Rolex Sydney Hobart is the ultimate," he declared, "and to win it is a good thing to have on your resume. We've done it twice."

Skipper: Neville Crichton

Alfa Romeo II crosses the line in Hobart to take line honours. Image copyright Alfa Romeo.

Dec 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Line Honours
Dec 2009 Rolex Trophy Passages Series 1 x Line, Handicap Honours
Dec 2009 SOLAS Big Boat Challenge Line Honours
October 2009 HSBC Coastal Classic Line Honours, Race Record
July 2009 TransPac Line Honours, Race Record

Oct 2008 Barcolana Race Line Honours
Sept 2008 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 4 x Line Honours, 2 x Corrected time wins
June 2008 Boat International SuperYacht Regatta 3 x Line Honours, class & event wins
June 2008 Rolex Giraglia Race Line Honours, new race record
June 2008 Rolex Giraglia Cup 3 x Line Honours, 2 x Handicap win
May 2008 Rolex Capri Race Week Maxi Class Event Win, 2 x Line Honours
May 2008 Pirelli Cup Maxi Class Event Win, 4 x Line Honours

Oct 2007 Barcolana Line Honours, race record
Sept 2007 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 5 x Line Hons, 1 x Handicap
August 2007 Rolex Fastnet Retired
August 2007 RYS Trophy, Scandia Race Week Line Honours, Class win
June 2007 Superyacht Cup 1 Line Honours Win
June 2007 Rolex Giraglia Cup Offshore Race Line Honours
June 2007 Rolex Giraglia Cup Regatta 2 x Line Honours to take event
April 2007 Hublot Palmavela Regatta 5 x Line Honours to take event

October 2006 Rolex Middle Sea Race – offshore race Line Honours
October 2006 Barcolana Race Line Honours
Sept 2006 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 4 Line Honours, event win
June 2006 Rolex Giraglia Cup Offshore Race Line Honours
June 2006 Rolex Giraglia Cup Regatta 2 Line Honours, 1 Handicap win
April 2006 Hublot Palmavela 4 x Line Honours wins

Dec 2005 Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2nd Overall
Dec 2005 Rolex Trophy Regatta Win
Dec 2005 CYCA Big Boat Trophy Line Honours
Dec 2005 Savills Short Ocean Championship Line Honours/Handicap win
Nov 2005 Cabbage Tree Island Race Line Honours
August 2005 South Molle/Daydream Islands Race Line Honours/Handicap win
August 2005 Edward Island Race Line Honours
August 2005 Lindeman Island Race Line Honours/Handicap win

Alfa Romeo

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