Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Rolex Sydney Hobart 2008: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Quest is presented as overall winner of the 64th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

by Giles Pearman

Long-time Sydney ocean-racing campaigner Bob Steel, in a sentimental return to the Rolex Sydney Hobart after a five-year break, has won the race's major prize, the Tattersall's Cup, for the overall handicap winner, for the second time with a yacht named Quest.

Steel won the Tattersall's Cup in 2002 with a previous Quest, a Nelson/Marek 46, and is famously remembered for throwing the watch he was wearing at the time into Sullivans Cove upon receiving the winner's Rolex Yacht-Master.

Peter Goldsworthy's Getaway-Sailing.com. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Inspired by the good competition developing in Australia between the TP52 class boats, which handicap well under the IRC rating system besides racing as a class in the Mediterranean, he bought a two-year-old Farr-design. After performing well in inshore regattas, he decided to have another crack at the Rolex Sydney Hobart with as many of his 2002-winning team as he could enlist.

Syd Fischer, owner of Ragamuffin and eighty-year old veteran of 40 races. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Besides Steel there were five of the old crew present this year, including: sailing master Michael Green, Peter Messenger, Andrew Pearson, Bruce Baker and Carl Crafoord, the navigator in 2002. This win is Crafoord's fourth in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. He joined the 2008 crew as strategist on 72-hours notice, when Steel and Green felt in view of the complex weather situation unfolding that he could help navigator Bruce Baker.

Adrienne Cahalan, navigator on Wild Oats XI, and the woman who has the most RSHYR to her name - seventeen editions. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Green, who was sailing his thirtieth Rolex Sydney Hobart, said: "I asked Carl and Bruce to be a husband and wife team; come up with a result and tell me what to do. That gave me more time to do what I believe I do best, which is making the boat go fast. We were never below top speed the whole way, continually 20 plus."

Quest's winning break from the other TP52s and similarly sized fast boats like Ray Roberts' Cookson 50 Quantum Racing and Geoff Ross' Reichel/Pugh Yendys came on the first night when she gybed away from the pack and headed back towards the New South Wales coast. "We'd been tracking the current, trying to make a decision between wind and current," said Green, describing the critical moment. "When the latest GRIB (computer generated forecast files) came through we realised there was going to be wind inside us so we decided to take the option of going down the edge of the eddy and into more wind, where earlier the GRIB had said there was going to be no wind. We gybed back in, shot down the eddy and once we got down the eddy we came back out."

Green estimated that when Quest gybed back across the line of the other fifty-footers, she was in front by four miles. "I think the current made a knot of difference in the four hours." It may not sound much, but the tightness of the finishing times between the TP52s, four finished within forty-five minutes of eachother, shows how crucial the smallest gain was to the eventual result.

Andrew Short's ASM-Shockwave 5. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Quest held a similar lead over her nearest rival, Cougar II, Alan Whiteley's well-sailed TP52 from Melbourne, at Tasman Light. Steel then anxiously faced a northwesterly gusting over 40 knots in Storm Bay, for the last upwind 40 nm of the race. Cougar II had been superior to windward in winning the IRC grand prix class at the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week regatta by two points from Quest in August. But the heavier keel bulb Steel has had fitted since then allowed her to match Cougar II in the strong northwesterly. "We had all the stiffness, could put the speed on and we got away from them a little bit," said Green, who went on to explain that it had not all been plain sailing describing a gust of 48 knots that hit Quest in the Derwent River, "we had a 15-second warning that it was going to hit," said Green. "We ripped the main and had to nurse that to the finish."

At the announcement of his Tattersall's Cup win, Steel was quick to praise his crew, "this year's was probably one of the best and strongest fleets ever; so to be in front is a real tribute to the crew, so well done guys. I have a serious bunch of yachties here; they did it all for me. I sat right in my corner on one side and they say it's fairly intimidating because I am always looking at them. I say nothing so it's great."

Michael Green says Steel, who is in his mid 60s, is by no means a silent observer, "he's always yapping away; 'Are you off speed, have you thought this one out, have you doubled checked?' He's a team man, a team leader and he just makes it simple. As a motivator he is absolutely fantastic. He has unbelievable endurance. He didn't leave the deck for the first day."

Green went on to explain the crew's all-for-one approach to race, "we had a team meeting beforehand and made the decision as a group that we were going to stay up and help each other out. As the guys started to fall asleep on the deck we put them down below one by one. So basically the crew was up for 48 hours."

Telcoinabox Merit, with Tasman Island in the background. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Telcoinabox Merit's crew, the rescuers of Georgia, arrive at Constitution Dock, Hobart. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

At 1800 AEDT thirty yachts had finished - including Telcoinabox Merit, the rescuer of the Georgia crew - and, with six yachts retired and one disqualified, sixty-three are still racing. Of the international contingent, Géry Trentesaux's Lady Courrier (FRA) is just north of the turning point at Tasman Island; Ian Darby's Jus' Do It (GBR) is 20 nm further back; Walross IV (GER), Mustang Sally (NZL), Time Lord (NZL) and 41 Sud (New Caledonia) are back up the course by Mariah Island, where the two Dutch yachts Winsome and Pinta-M are continuing their paso double, with Harry Heijst's crew holding a ten-mile advantage over Atse Blei's.

ASM - Brindabella, passing Tasman Island. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Wot Yot riding the swells of the south coast of Tasmania. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The central part of the eastern seaboard of Tasmania has been in the lee of the strong west to northwest winds much of today making for testing sailing conditions for the slower and smaller yachts still at sea today. The challenge has been made worse, by the fleet facing up to 25 knots from the west-northwest and two- to three-metre seas as they round Tasman Island.

Race finishers at Constitution Dock in Hobart. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

With news that Swiss yacht Pachamama has retired, last place in the fleet is held by Chris Dawe's Polaris of Belmont, a Cole 43 from 1970, currently 20 nm northeast of Eddystone Point at the northern tip of Tasmania and still with a third of the 628 nm course to go. Sean Langman is more commonly associated with yachts at the front of the fleet and, with his usual rivals all in Hobart within two days, he could be excused for wondering whether he made the right decision to head south in the seventy-six year old Maluka of Kermandie his restored gaff-rigger. Some comfort tonight would be news that, although he is in eighty-ninth place on the water, he currently leads IRC Division 4.

Tasmanian wildlife. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2008

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