Spend only a few minutes with David Tait and Peter Tardrew and their natural repartee very soon becomes infectious. For a couple of laid back sailors who enjoy two-handed sailing they make a compatible team. An essential component as they embark on their biggest project yet – the Melbourne to Osaka two-handed race, the longest two-handed race south to north in the world.

An engineer by profession, David is the dry serious one, Peter, a former schoolteacher who has found his niche in sailing, is an outright wag. Together they deliver spontaneous quips with the timing of a professional comedy duo.
The duo’s friendship has been developed over many years. David and Peter, Toad to his mates, were brought up at Chelsea, a Melbourne bayside suburb. As youngsters they virtually lived on the beach and at the local yacht club, where they sailed regularly against each other. At first in Tasars and then graduating to sports boats like Melges 24s.
The pair has competed successfully together in a number of two-handed events winning the Sandy Kelso trophy in the two-hander to Devonport about eight years ago. During one notable race from Portsea to Hastings they found themselves in a tacking dual with a couple of fully crewed boats. They finished second overall giving some high profile crews a bit of a fright and later admitting that while all the tacking was going on they were listening to the coverage of the Australian Rules football at the MCG on the radio.
But it has taken 12 years for their ultimate ambition to come to fruition – to compete in the Melbourne to Osaka two-handed race. The 5500 nautical mile-race, first held in 1987, is now sailed every four years and is the longest ocean race from south to north in the world.

The course starts off Portsea and takes the competitors into Bass Strait, up the east coast of Australia, through the Solomon Islands and the doldrums of the equator, then into the northeasterly tradewinds and the equatorial current that leads into the Kuroshio (Japan current), which flows up the Pacific Coast of Japan, and to the finish in the port of Osaka on Japan’s Honshu Island.
The competitors will be travelling backwards through the seasons. The race starts in the Australian autumn, they will have summer at the equator and spring in Osaka.
Peter and David’s first attempt at doing the race in 1995 was put on hold when David’s wife, Julie, suffered a serious illness. Julie has now recovered and is undoubtedly their biggest supporter.
For the 2003 race a new 47-foot boat, designed by Graham Radford, has been built and named The Club Marine Wizard.
Solid colours on the hull like Club Marine’s corporate blue tend to bring out imperfections but the finish on this boat is superb. Many people are amazed at the finish especially on a ‘tin’ hull.
“Alloy, the hull is alloy,” David is very quick to emphasise. His company, Tait Engineering, specialises in aluminium construction and welding aluminium is something David has had plenty of experience in.
A lot of thought has gone into the boat. “It’s been a long term thing, particularly with the input from designer Graham Radford. And it has been a very productive working relationship between us,” said David.
Peter added, “I get the feeling that some designers don’t want to listen to other people’s ideas, but with Graham he listened to the suggestions we had, particularly with the rig, analysed them and then made modifications. He was never dismissive of us.”
“From a construction point of view, building in aluminium is a construction I could understand.” said David. “The other issues were to also have a boat that would take impact.”
Eventually David plans to take the boat to Canada and one thing they do have there is a lot of timber in the water.
“I am not worried about the so-called floating container that everyone talks about – I have never seen one.
“The hull is in the moderate weight bracket and has the strength.”

One concern is meeting a whale in the middle of the night or a huge sunfish – a number of competitors in the recent Hobart race reported seeing large sunfish down the New South Wales coast.
“We are in the middle of completing the design of a whale alarm clock, which is basically an electronic device that sends out a signal to alert them we are coming.”
Not that they expect much damage if they do hit something. The keel has been fabricated from 10mm aluminium plate and manufactured in such a way that the centre panel serves as a girder and is welded into the boat, not just onto the boat. On the front is a sacrificial tube to absorb any impact. The next panel back from that is full of lead and the bulb doesn’t project past the front of the fin.
“We think it is strong and we are not going to collect any stuff around it on the way,” said Peter.
Club Marine Wizard has so far proved to be quicker than originally thought. At the start of the Portsea to Launceston race, which was the first trial for the boat, David and Peter elected not to fly a spinnaker to the turning mark at Queenscliff. Despite this they were sixth out of the heads and were the third boat to finish behind two serious racing yachts – Prowler and Volante.
And why are they doing the race? “For me Everest is just a little bit too tall,” David confessed. “It is one of those life things you just do.”
“Same for me I guess,” said Peter. “When you analyse the event, it is probably for people who are over 50 and not going to get a berth on a Volvo 60.”
And the game plan? “Sail really, really fast and head north.”
“We have both done a weather course and spent some time with people like Robin Hewitt and Simon Kellett who have sailed the race before, they have given us a rough idea,” Peter added. “We know we are going to get lots of light air in the middle, we are hoping for the southeast trades this side of the Equator and northeast the other side. The currents as we approach Japan are critical.
“We have the software to know where to sail the boat and the ability to get weather information along the way to help us analyse the conditions we see in front and around us.
“I’ve read the brochure,” he quipped.
Peter and David plan a one off and one on watch system but they expect periods of intensity where there will be substantial sleep depravation. It will be a case of managing their rest periods so that they can still function. There will be other areas in the trades where they can have two or three hours of sleep at a time.
“I am sure that there will be periods when half an hour three times a day is all we are going to get,” said Peter.
The Portsea to Launceston race was part of the 500 nautical mile distance to be sailed as a qualifying requirement for the Osaka race. The race across Bass Strait was sailed conservatively and the boat lived up to expectations. In fact, it performed better than expected. They can now see their long-term goal happening.
“We are really looking forward to it, but absolutely terrified,” Peter confessed.
The Melbourne to Osaka race, organised by the Osaka Hokko Yacht Club and the Sandringham Yacht Club, starts with a feeder race from Port Melbourne to Portsea on Saturday, 15 March. The fleet of 26 starters – late entries could see a few more competing – departs Portsea on Sunday, 16 March for the 5500nm race. The winner is expected to arrive in Osaka in late April-early May.
Melbourne and Osaka are sister ports and cities. The race was originally organised to strengthen ties between the two cities.