Tuesday, 29 December 2009

RSHYR: Pre-race favourite now waits for others to decide her fate

Niklas Zennstrom's JV72 RAN passing Tasman Island at sunrise. Image copyright ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo.

by Jim Gale

Fresh from her outright win in the Rolex Fastnet race, the British Judel Vrolijk 72 RÁN, campaigned by her UK based Swedish internet entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom, was immediately identified by local grand prix offshore sailors as the boat to beat for the Tattersall’s Cup.

RÁN looked even more ominous after the pre-race weather forecast tipped a lot of fresh, windward work, the conditions in which the 72-footer is blindingly quick.

And in the early stages, all the local forebodings looked prescient indeed, as RÁN dominated the handicap table. But after such a variable, on-again off-again race, RÁN is now sitting tied up in Hobart, nervously waiting to see what her fate will be.

“We have re-calibrated our objectives,” Zennstrom said as his yacht was being secured dockside. “We realised that our first objective was to win in our class. And in our division we are racing against 51-footers (which are still at sea). We give them eight hours or so (on handicap) so they are sailing in completely different conditions to us.”

Zennstrom described RÁN’s race as a mixture of spectacular beats and reaches in amongst dispiriting lulls, when they had the wind seeker out, trying to find whatever whisp of breeze they could.

“It was very frustrating because it was a very complex race,” he said. “The weather forecasts changed a lot. We knew they would before the race, but when we got out there it was very, very different from what we had seen before. We got parked up way too many times. It was very, very frustrating.

“Yesterday afternoon though, we had a fantastic run, reaching at up to 24 knots boat speed, and this morning was very good.”

RÁN’s handicap aspirations took a huge knock in the middle of Bass Strait, a patch of dead air so big there was no way round it. “That hurt us a lot,” Zennstrom said.

Zennstrom saw the three supermaxis slip through him just before the wind gate closed, and “the small boats (that arrived much later) didn’t get the worst of it, but we were just in that spot where we got the worst of it.

“That was our bit of bad luck for this race, but we also got more bad luck last night when we parked up for hours.”

Overall though, the crew of RÁN are very pleased with how they sailed their race. They don’t feel they made too many mistakes, though the constantly changing conditions sometimes made genius calls look bit ordinary an hour later.

Still, Zennstrom described the race as “fantastic”. The uncertainty both during the race and now, as he waits to see whether the small boats will get home in time to rain on his parade, is a contrast to his winning Rolex Fastnet experience.

“The Fastnet was much more predictable weather and also we had a tidal gate that we made, so we knew after the first seven hours that it would be very difficult for the small boats.

“This race was much less physically demanding than we prepared ourselves for. It wasn’t tough at all. Mentally, though, it was much more difficult.”

So will he be back for more?

“I would not rule that out.”

A slight pause.

“It also depends on the results,” he chuckles.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

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