Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Rolex Sydney Hobart 2008: Calm Between the Storms

Valheru passing Tasman Island. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

by Giles Pearman

An eerie calm in Bass Strait and light and variable winds along the Tasmanian coast split the smaller and slower boats in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race fleet from the fast-finishing 50 to 55 footers, which have dominated the overall corrected time placings.

Knocked out of contention for the race's major trophy, the Tattersall's Cup, for the overall IRC handicap winner in this general slow-down were some of the overseas entries.

International entries are, however, in the top three placings in two of the four IRC Divisions, which group boats of similar rating.

Chris Welsh's veteran Spencer 65 Ragtime has won Division 2; Harry Heijst's 36-year-old Sparkman & Stephens 41 Winsome is leading Division 4 with near sister S&S 41 Pinta-M, both from the Netherlands, third with yachts still finishing.

Ragtime a narrow-gutted "splinter" of a boat, built in plywood to a design by the New Zealand genius John Spencer 43 years ago, was well ahead of both the major calms in finishing four hours behind the last of the hot TP52s.

The international jury awarded her redress time of one hour 55 minutes for backtracking and standing by the sinking Georgia on the race's first night. That left Ragtime 11th on IRC handicap overall and at the top of IRC Division 2.

41 Sud from New Caledonia. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Ragtime, legendary in USA West Coast racing in the 1970s, won line honours in the 1973 and 1975 Los Angeles-Honolulu Transpac races. After competing in fourteen Transpacs, she slipped into a neglected state. Welsh bought her at a sheriff's auction in 2004.

Welsh repaired the hull, installed a new rudder, new keel, carbon rig, added a new mainsail and five new asymmetrical spinnakers for a highly competitive IRC handicap-racing package.

He says: "We checked all the boxes on what a Rolex Sydney-Hobart race should be. We had a damaged rental car, the sinking of a vessel we were intimately involved with, high winds, changing winds, a lot of surfing like crazy. We had the right sails; had some gear failures."

The biggest problem was the number four jib pulling out of the headfoil four times, every half hour or so, as Ragtime slogged across Storm Bay in 38 knots.

The highest downwind speed Ragtime's crew saw was 26.5 knots. "It was really on fire, we had decent waves to surf," said Welsh. "Geny Tulloch is the strongest driver we have in that kind of stuff. She is truly gifted as a helmsman. She just lights up, the boat lights up and she keeps the boat on the edge of power."

Quantum Racing. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

The first shutdown in the wind, although strong winds had been forecast for the area, split the fleet in two in Bass Strait. Ed Psaltis, co-skipper of the modified Farr 40 AFR Midnight Rambler, among the leaders in IRC Division 3 at the time, said: "We almost got through but didn't and sat there for several hours in no wind at all; an absolute mill pond." Psaltis, who with co-owner Bob Thomas skippered the previous AFR Midnight Rambler, a little Hick 35, to win the storm-swept 1998 Hobart race, added: "It was much different to '98; an easy race but just a frustrating race with too many calms."

The downwind nature of the race did not suit the two Dutch S&S41 IOR designs Pinta-M and Winsome, which are at their best upwind in strong winds and Pinta-M blew out her biggest spinnaker on the first night. Harry Heijst said that yesterday had been a very tough day for Winsome. "We had lots of wind, then no wind just getting close to Tasman Island. We lost it completely and then all of a sudden the wind came from 100 degrees somewhere else and we had no clue what we were doing at that time."

"We were so lucky with the Derwent River because as we entered we were just carrying our number one genoa in 21, 22, 25 knots and even though it should only go to 20 knots we managed to keep it on. We had read that the wind is closed from 10 in the evening until 6 in the morning on the river, and we arrived outside the closing time," continued Heijst.

Sister-yacht Pinta-M finished three and a-half hours later after being becalmed for an hour only three miles from the finish. The wind filled in briefly from the south and she finished under spinnaker, the only yacht to have done so to that time. "We missed out by three miles; finishing an ocean race in a river!" said owner/skipper Atse Blei."

Pachamama: Swiss Top to Top Global Climate Expedition. The first Swiss entry ever in the race's history. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The Scottish Beneteau 47.7 Jus'do it 3 (Ian Darby), 16th in IRC Division 3 after being well placed early in the race, ghosted through the first calm in Bass Strait to stop in the second one off the Tasmanian coast yesterday. Darby said: "We were up to second or third in our class and then went from 40 knots of wind one night to absolutely no wind the next day on the Tasmanian coast. We were 20 miles north of Tasman Island, about five miles out, in no wind and we saw the fleet sail past on the inside and also out to sea.

Darby finished up saying that, "we just sat for the best part of 14 hours going absolutely nowhere. It was disappointing from a position point of view but everybody enjoyed themselves. We had a great race and we would have gone very, very well apart from that one circumstance. We've all loved it. The crew and the entourage have enjoyed it."

By 1845 AEDT, eighty-seven of the one hundred starters had finished the 64th Rolex Sydney Hobart. With seven yachts having retired and one disqualified, five yachts are left on the course, with Murray Wilkes' Nest Property holding last position 10 nm south of Mariah Island on the eastern coast of Tasmania. Ahead of her are Polaris of Belmont, Getaway Sailing 2 - with her mainly Russian crew, the oldest yacht in the fleet, Maluka of Kermandie, and Inca, which is the only one of the five due to finish before midnight AEDT. The good news is that barring disaster in the closing miles all competing crews will be able to see in 2009 ashore in Hobart.

John Walker, of Impeccable, the oldest skipper in the fleet at 86, with CYCA Commodore, Matt Allen. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.


IRC OVERALL (Provisional Top Three)

1. Quest, Bob Steel (AUS/NSW), TP52
2. Cougar II, Alan Whiteley (AUS/VIC), TP52
3. Wot Now, Graeme Wood (AUS/NSW), TP52

IRC Div 0: Quantum Racing, Ray Roberts (AUS/NSW), Cookson 50
IRC Div 1: Quest, Bob Steel, (AUS/NSW), TP52
IRC Div 2: Ragtime, Chris Welsh (USA), Spencer 65
IRC Div 3: Tow Truck, Anthony Paterson (AUS/NSW), Ker 11.3
IRC Div 4: Winsome, Harry Heijst (NED), S&S 41
PHS Div 1: Telcoinabox Merit, Leo Rodriguez (AUS/QLD), Volvo 60
PHS Div 2: Lloyds Brokers - Too Impetuous, Lindsay Patterson (AUS/QLD), Holland 43
Sydney 38: Morris Finance Cinquante, Ian Murray (AUS/VIC)
Cruising: Pippin, Roger Sayers (AUS/QLD), Farr 37

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2008

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