In a sport where a person's status is judged by how many Sydney to Hobarts they have sailed in, Lou Abrahams is at the top of the list. In fact, if there was a royal family of sailors in Australia, he would be a senior member.

By Kevan Wolfe

The softly spoken, weather-beaten, 73-year-old, who sails out of Melbourne's Sandringham Yacht Club, has long passed the 25 races which has been achieved by a only small band of dedicated blue water sailors. Last year's race was Lou's 38th and it puts him well on the way to passing the record of 40 races held by the Cruising Yacht Club's "Sightie" Hammond, who has now hung up his sea boots. It is also significant that when he pulled out of the storm-lashed 1998 Sydney to Hobart race others followed suit. One skipper said that if Lou pulled out because he thought it was too dangerous to continue, he would do the same. Such is the respect others have for the veteran sailor's seamanship.
Why does he spend the summer holiday season bouncing around Bass Strait, often cold, wet and hungry, when other men of his age are at home pottering around the garden or pursuing less demanding hobbies? "To win it," was his unabashed reply.

And win it he has - twice - and on several other occasions he has come agonisingly close. One year he missed out by just over a minute after three-and-a-half days of racing. "It would be nice to win it a third time, but I think it is getting a bit hard with all the divisions," he told Club Marine. "The rules are so fragmented that it is hard to know what rule to sail under." At the moment IMS is the Grand Prix rule but there are not many boats being built to the rule and many skippers are opting to sail under the less complicated IRC rule. Lou is one of them, he believes, that in time, organisers of major races such as the Sydney to Hobart will be forced to implement the IRC rule as the GP handicap system.
After 38 trips south, Lou says that no two races have been the same, each one has been different. "The weather conditions play a big part, you have to decide if you should be inshore or offshore, and the flow of the current has to be taken into account.
He admits that there is a certain amount of luck in the race, "you can do all your homework with the weather but it is a very narrow gap between being in the right place and the wrong place. However, nothing beats sailing the boat well." Most of the old hands will tell you that a boat can be sailed well across Bass Strait and up Storm Bay only to find itself becalmed in the Derwent River and see the race slip from its grasp. Lou Abrahams has managed to "lose the race a few times in the Derwent. One year he was a mile ahead when the wind dropped out at the John Garrow light, just two miles from the finish. He was over an hour in front on corrected time and it took that long to get to the finish line and he finished second.
"It was so frustrating sitting there watching the time fritter away," he recalled. Despite the 1998 storm, Lou believes that last year's race was the coldest and the toughest he has sailed in. He says it may be because he felt it more at his age, but then there were a lot of sailors half his age that agreed with him in Hobart.

Lou has almost lost count of the boats he has owned over the years, "it's seven I think." But the parallel of sailing his 38th race in a brand new Sydney 38 named Another Challenge has not escaped him either. He has sailed a series of boats named Challenge but it was the first one in which he won the Blue Water Classic in 1983. Even though this boat performed exceptionally well this year his favourite will always be Challenge II and before that Vittoria, which he says was a magnificent boat.
Unlike other owners who leave the crew to return the boat from Hobart, Lou enjoys the delivery trips. He is always along on the trip up the coast to Sydney before the start of the Hobart race and always brings the boat home from Hobart. He even goes as far north as Hamilton Island for the annual race week.
With other skippers continually on the look out for crew it is never a problem on Another Challenge. It can be attributed to the fact that the boat is always sailed competitively and professionally and on Port Phillip the Challenge yachts are the benchmark that other skippers strive to achieve.

"It is a very narrow gap between being in the right place and the wrong place. However, nothing beats sailing the boat well"

Even though he admits that it is getting harder to come up on deck in a Bass Strait blow, Lou Abrahams has no intention of hanging up his sea boots. Well not for a while anyway, despite admitting that there are one or two Sydney/Hobart races left in him and he will take them one race at a time, his name will most certainly appear on the race entry list for some time to come yet.