||The fleet may have been one of the smallest in years, but the 2003 Rolex Sydney-to-Hobart bluewater classic was one of the most hotly contested in years. The leaders match raced all the way to Hobart and there was some equally close racing back in the fleet.
|First National Real Estate
Kevan Wolfe reports from Hobart.
Photographs by Ian Mainsbridge and Richard Bennett.
In 1999 Michael Spies, the 44-year-old former 18-footer champion, was co-skipper on the Danish Volvo 60 Nokia when she smashed the race record set by Morning Glory two years before. Although Nokia finished first over the line and won the IRC handicap overall that year, Spies still had some unfinished business – an overall win in the championship IMS division and Australia’s major ocean racing prize – the coveted Tattersalls Cup.
This time it was a decisive win, not only did he sail his Beneateau 40.7 First National Real Estate to victory on IMS to win the Tattersalls Cup but he cleaned up the overall IRC handicap division as well.
|Skandia leads Zana
Spies said that he gained inspiration from his sailing mate, Ashley Reed who died of a heart attack on the boat during the Sydney-to-Mooloolaba race 18-months before.
For co-owner Peter Johnson and 19-year-old navigator Andrew Joyce sailing their first Hobart race it was a win on debut. Spies still remembers the elation he felt when Syd Fischer gave him the break when he was a young sailor and has a policy of “giving young guys a go”.
First National Real Estate crossed the finishing line just after daybreak, and three days and some 16 hours of racing, in a light sou’westerly breeze of only eight-to-ten knots. It was a nervous wait as there were still yachts at sea that could steal the overall win. One was the veteran 34-footer Impeccable, skippered by 81-year-old John Walker. Still 65 nautical miles from the finish Impeccable, which Walker first sailed to Hobart in 1981, needed to average about eight knots to finish at 2.20pm that afternoon if she was to win the event. It proved to be an impossible task.
Spies and his crew sailed to a fairly simple game plan. “Push the boat, keep her pointing to Hobart at 95 per cent of her maximum speed 100 per cent of the time. We were tactically sound. We didn’t go out on any limbs.”
Down the Tasmanian coast the boat had
12 hours of hard spinnaker running and for six hours it was being
sailed right on the edge. “We knew we had to keep pushing
it to stay with the boats we had to beat.”
In running conditions that put a huge
strain on the rudder, Spies must have been having some thoughts
about the 2000 race. In the same stretch of water, when he was in
a strong position to win the race on handicap, the rudder fell off
the boat he had chartered for the race.
First National Real Estate
was becalmed for a while in Bass Strait when the wind died
and Spies thought that they had lost it, but the rest of
the fleet stopped as well. After the wild ride down the
Tassie coast they parked again at Tasman Island but finally
got an early morning breeze in Storm Bay that carried them
up the Derwent River to the finish.
He rated the overall win as
more satisfying than the record-breaking run on Nokia.
“There are only ever about three boats that can win
line honours, but with handicap you have got about 30 boats
that can win the race,” he said.
The Beneteau 40.7 doesn’t have
the look of an out-and-out racing yacht, in fact it looks more like
a cruiser/racer. However, the hull was designed by Bruce Farr and
the boat has been heavily optimised. “We’ve worked hard
to get the rating down. If I listed all the changes we’ve
made it would take a couple of foolscap pages,” he said.
The pre-race hype was dominated
by the clash of the supermaxis. Grant Wharington had unveiled
his brand new 98-footer (30 metres) Skandia Wild Thing
complete with canting keel technology. The huge yacht carried
Wharington’s sail number 10 of his previous Wild
Things from the Melbourne bayside Mornington Yacht
Club. It was just about an all-Mornington affair. Local
retired engineer and part-time yacht designer Don Jones,
who has been noted for some radical and very fast designs
over the years, crunched the numbers for the boat.
The current Cadibarra,
designed by Jones, was skippered by his son Nigel in the
2003 Melbourne to Launceston race to take line honours and
break the race record. Skandia, the 15th boat Don
Jones has designed, was built by Mal Hart in Mornington
and most of the 19 crew are Mornington yacht club members
who have sailed with Wharington on his previous Wild
From across the Tasman came Stewart
Thwaites and his brand new 30-metre supermaxi, Zana
– named after his 13-year-old daughter. Although this
was Zana’s first outing, Thwaites is no stranger
to the Hobart racetrack. He has contested three of the ocean
classics and had a divisional handicap win on the famous
Starlight Express. Zana is the largest racing yacht
to come out of New Zealand and in its conventional configuration
was somewhat of a dark horse. But that didn’t stop
the media playing up the rivalry between the two giants
from either side of the Tasman. One Sydney newspaper even
went to the extent of likening the clash to the Bledisloe
Cup of yachting.
Other international entries
were Zaraffa and Bounder. Zaraffa, a Reichel/Pugh
65, owned by 74-year-old New York Yacht Club member Skip
Sheldon, got off to a slow start and found the going a bit
tougher than the Bermuda Race and the Fastnet Race in England,
which he has won. On arriving in Hobart, Sheldon said to
CYCA Commodore John Messenger, who was on the marina at
Constitution Dock to greet all the boats; “man, that
was one hell of a hard race.”
Bounder, formerly 1999
race winner Yendys, was chartered by Royal Ocean
Racing Club (England) Commodore, Chris Little. The Farr
49 finished with a win in IMS Division A.
When the starting gun was fired
by 84-year-old Gordon Elliot, a veteran of the first Sydney-to-Hobart,
off Shark Island in Sydney Harbour the race was on between
the two rivals to be the first boat out of the heads. Skandia
was first around the turning mark at Sydney Heads and held
a small lead to the seamark. Instead of turning south, Skandia
continued to sea with Zana following, one wag on
a spectator boat was heard to remark that perhaps they were
going to Hobart via Auckland.
|Pale Ale Rager
Close behind was Nicorette
with its radical canting keel and forward, retractable,
canard rudder, that were to later fall victim to the pounding
seas of Bass Strait, then came Sean Langman’s Grundig
and George Snow’s old war horse, Brindabella.
In the moderate southeasterly it was one of the quickest
starts to a Hobart with the 56 starters all out the heads
in just over half-an-hour.
Langman tacked early and set
a course down the coast, mainly to get out of the dirty
air of the bigger boats and the washing machine wash set
up by the hundreds of spectator boats that were following
the fleet to sea. With the fleet following the leaders,
Langman at the time thought that he may have made a mistake
and there was another mark further to sea. His decision
proved to be the right one. At the sked on the first night,
to everyone’s surprise, including Wharington and Thwaites,
Grundig was leading the fleet down the New South
66-footer is virtually a big version of a skiff and the
eight crew included a number of well-known skiff sailors,
like helmsman Chris Nicholson. Grundig is a noted
downwind flyer and was not expected to keep up with the
bigger boats in the southerly headwind.
Back in the fleet, Geoff Ross
was leading the IMS division in Yendys and was
slugging it out with Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban
with fellow CYCA director Roger Hickman calling the shots.
Yendys had won the IMS division of the Rolex Trophy
series in December and was hot favourite for a Hobart win.
Ichi Ban had finished second to Yendys
in the IMS division and Matt Allen was determined to turn
Ross had a talented international
crew onboard his new Yendys, formerly Banco
Espirito Santos, the top IMS-rated grand prix offshore
racer in the Mediterranean in 2002.
included Australia’s Grant Simmer, who now heads the
Alinghi America’s Cup team in Switzerland,
Volvo Ocean Race skippers Lisa and Neal McDonald and Spanish
navigator Juan Vila.
Also sailing well in the early stages
of the race on handicap was the oldest boat in the race, Love and
War, in which owner Peter Kurts won the race in 1974 and again in
Skandia and Zana
virtually matched-raced all the way to Hobart with Skandia’s
sailing master, Ian ‘Barney’ Walker calling
the shots. As Zana’s sailing master, Peter
Sutton, said later: “It became an incredible match
race in the open ocean.”
There were some anxious moments
for Skandia’s crew when a steering idler
pulley pulled off its mount and the helmsman was forced
to steer with the opposite wheel until it was screwed back
in place. With four boat builders in the crew it was a simple
After hitting a sunfish in Bass Strait Skandia
stopped dead and started to go sideways. The crew had time
to drop the sails and assess any damage before continuing.
The biggest scare was when Skandia
parked in Storm Bay after rounding Tasman Island and Zana
sailed up to within three boat lengths before she too parked.
Tactitian Walker broke his golden rule of covering the opposition.
But he had been here before in the same situation in 2001
on the Volvo 60 Team News Corp and had been caught
out. Skandia was tacked to the south away from
the rocky shoreline and as expected found a puff of breeze.
The huge Code 0 headsail was hoisted, Zana failed
to cover immediately and Skandia got the break, accelerating
away to the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent River.
As Skandia entered the river, she faced a slow
beat to windward in a light northerly that was backing to
Zana reached the Iron
Pot 34 minutes behind but managed to close the gap at the
finish to just 14 minutes. As Grant Wharington observed
the race was not over until the big Aussie boat got the
gun at the finish off Battery Point.
For Walker it was his sixth Hobart
win and third line honours. He sailed on Alfa Romeo
last year and the recording breaking Nokia in 1999.
The unassuming champion yachtsman said in Hobart that the
race was more mentally tiring than any race he had done.
He admitted that there was nothing in the boat speed between
the two boats and except for the decision to tack away in
Storm Bay, it was crucial that Skandia covered
Zana the whole way. It is a tactic that has paid
off for Walker even in the Volvo round the world race.
Stewart Thwaites was naturally disappointed.
He had built the boat to win the Hobart race. “Being that
close is hard in some ways because you go through all the ‘what
ifs’, but at the same time it’s better than being a
long way back,” Thwaites said. “I am definitely happy
with second, but I was after line honours.
“We had our chances but they covered
us everytime we tried something and all credit to them.”
Meanwhile back on the race track,
Grundig lost any chance of rounding up the leaders
when the flying 66-footer hit a sunfish off Green Cape at
the entrance to Bass Strait. The impact disabled the leeward
steering rudder and meant that the boat had to be steered
by trimming the sails and with the second upwind rudder.
It was a tough call especially when the eight-man crew had
to also take it in turns to bail out the water that was
pouring into through the damaged bearing. Despite this Grundig
still finished third over the line.
Green Cape holds some form of hoodoo
for Langman. In the past he has been forced from the race with damage
and it has all occurred near Green Cape that marks the border between
New South Wales and Victoria. He has christened the area the ‘Grundig
Triangle’ likening it to the infamous Bermuda Triangle.
Sean Langman admits that the 66-footer
has been developed as far as it can go and is now looking at a 75-footer
built to the same skiff concept.
Bass Strait also put paid to any thoughts
of a place for the highly modified Nicorette. In the large seas
stood up by the south bound current against the sou’wester,
the 80-footer, which won line honours in 2000, had its bow-mounted
canard foil torn off, then, about three hours later, the brackets
holding the canting keel cracked. With her race over she headed
Another casualty was Dysons
Cobb & Co, the former Farr 47 Ninety Seven
that finished first across the line in the storm-battered
1993 race and became the smallest yacht in 30 years to take
line honours. It was the 10th anniversary of that win and
owner Chris Dare, from Sandringham Yacht Club in Melbourne,
had updated the 47-footer with a new carbon-fibre mast.
Dare had invited two members of the 1993 winning crew, Adam
Brown from Sydney and Darren Senogles from Gosford to join
him for the anniversary race.
Plans for a dockside celebration went
pear shape when running under spinnaker before the 15-20 knot northerly
she dropped the mast about 30 nautical miles northeast of Schouten
Island off the Tasmanian east coast.
Back in the fleet there was
a race within a race between the six Sydney 38s. Bruce Taylor
was pushing Chutzpah hard to keep two-times winner
Lou Abrahams in Another Challenge behind him. At
one stage Abrahams, a veteran of now 41 Hobarts, reported
that his Sydney 38 was surfing at 19.6 knots and “just
sitting on rails”. Taylor won the tussle and placed
third overall in IRC handicap, but the ultimate prize –
an overall win – that he has been trying so hard for
over the past 22 years – has once again eluded him.
Five of the Sydney 38s all finished
within an hour of each other while the sixth, Dodo,
retired to Eden with mainsail damage.
Ichi Ban won the tussle
with Yendys to be first to Hobart but lost out
by about an hour on IMS handicap. For Ichi Ban’s
sailing master, Roger Hickman, it was a typically tough
Hobart. Although he enjoyed the competition, it was the
most frustrating rounding of Tasman Island that he has ever
done. “We had 16 sail changes across Storm Bay to
the Iron Pot and only four all the way from Sydney to Tasman
Island,” he said.
The stage is now set for the 60th running
of this classic ocean race in December this year – and there
are a number of owners and crews with some unfinished business.
Five sailors, two of them women, were rewarded for personal
achievements in the Sydney-to-Hobart Race.
Michael Green, sailing master on Quest;
Phil Eadie, navigator on Ragamuffin; and
Kim Jaggar, watch captain on Kaz were presented
with Tasmanian Government medallions to mark having
sailed in 25 Sydney-to-Hobart races.
Michael Green’s father, the late Peter Green, sailed
in 35 Hobart races and this was the first time in the history
of the event that a father and son had sailed in 25 or more
The two women, Felicity Nelson, who sailed on Impeccable
and Sally Grodon, who was a crew-member on Ichi
Ban, received medallions for each having competed
in 10 Sydney-Hobarts.
Sydney yachtsman, Tony Cable, sailed his 40th Hobart
onboard Witchdoctor and joined Victorian
Lou Abrahams (41) and John Bennetto (43) as the first
three yachtsmen to have sailed in 40 races.
The Governor of Tasmania, Mr Richard Butler, presented
the Illingworth Trophy for line honours to Grant Wharington,
owner/skipper of Skandia, while Richard de
Leyser, general manager of Rolex Australia, presented
Wharington with a Rolex Yachtmaster watch and the
Tattersalls Cup and a Rolex Yachtmaster to Michael
Spies, skipper of overall winner, First National