with AAPT and
on the Harbour on Boxing Day.
“When we hit the southerly storm on the second
day, we just raced on, but we made barely 25 miles in the next
36 hours and we didn’t realize that the rest of the fleet
behind us had reverted to cruising mode.”
Sixty years on, and a whole world later, Ray Richmond’s description
of his experiences aboard John Illingworth’s Rani in the
first Sydney to Hobart race in 1945 remain as current as ever.
For all of the technological advances in hull design,
foil developments and exotic materials in the intervening years,
the essential challenges of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race remain
largely unchanged; prepare well, enjoy the fanfare ride down Sydney
Harbour and, as the spectator boats fade away, hunker down for
the tough ride south.
So it was that the 2004 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht
Race would prove as much of a challenge as any of its 59 predecessors,
with little more than half of the starters finally berthing in
|Eventual retiree, Konica
toward second across the line.
barely lasted two hours
The anniversary race drew 116 yachts to the start,
with competitors having almost as many reasons for being there.
From those with an eye to a win, to the must-do-it-once crews,
veteran boats and skippers back again, cruisers enjoying their
own class for the first time and even owners with a view to spreading
a message, the appeal of the race remains broad.
In the latter category, polar expeditionary and
environmental campaigner, Robert Swan entered his 67-foot BT Challenge The
Active Factor. Skippered by Bret Perry and sporting sails
made in part from reused PET bottles, the crew included a community
initiative competition winner, Brett Austin from Newcastle. Brett
is a former trampoline champion and non-sailor who had less than
three weeks to learn the ropes, literally.
After a week of ominous Bureau of Meteorology forecasts
that were progressively downgraded as Boxing Day loomed, the large
fleet got the anniversary race away in ideal conditions from two
lines on Sydney Harbour.
In a 12 knot northeaster and bright sunshine, AAPT led Konica
Minolta and Skandia away from the eastern end of
the northern line, whilst the newly launched Nicorette,
favouring the western shore, gained first bragging rights. She
led Skandia and
Konica Minolta around the seaward mark by a mere three
seconds, with AAPT snapping close at their heels.
|The crew of Skandia abandon
their stricken yacht.
With the prospect of a strong southerly change early
on Monday morning, the fleet sought to gain maximum leverage from
the building nor’easter. But barely two hours into the race, Stephen David’s
60 footer, Targé (formerly Wild
Oats) limped into Botany
Bay as the first retirement, with water-induced electrical problems
affecting control of her canting keel.
By evening, the whole fleet was reporting ideal
conditions, with the maxis surfing south at speeds up to 21 knots,
enjoying a two knot following current and reaching Eden ahead of
Nokia’s 1999 record time.
However, few were under any illusions that the dream
run would last and the vexing decision for most tacticians was
when to forego the benefit of offshore current, gybe for land and
gain the optimum angle for the impending strong southwesterly.
Sure enough, by 6am on the Monday morning the front-runners
were well reefed down and plugging into a 25-knot southwester
entering Bass Strait, happy at least that they’d gained a
bonus 40 miles south thanks to a three-hour delay in the predicted
By late afternoon, the retirements were already
building as the bulk of the fleet reached the first decision point
abreast of Eden. The yacht tracker soon showed that those in mid-fleet
who had gybed early enough were forming a southward procession
that hugged the NSW south coast.
As night fell, conditions worsened, with wind speeds
reported at 45 knots and more, accompanied by steep 5 to 9 metre
seas and painful hailstorms.
|Yendys stands by one of Skandia’s liferafts.
With little prospect of any relief down the track
for another two days, the tactical decision to close the mainland
proved sound seamanship, allowing many to exercise the option of
retiring to Eden or holding over in Twofold Bay to wait for better
conditions before crossing the Strait. But for some, like the Sydney
38 Yeah Baby, it was just getting all too hard as she signed off “retired,
heading to Sydney, no fun”.
One who was going to avoid boosting Eden’s summer tourism
at all costs was Geoff Boettcher, racing his new Reichel Pugh designed
Secret Men’s Business. “They call me The Mayor of Eden,” he
said on finally arriving in Hobart. “I drew a big arc around
Eden and said to
the guys, ‘we’re not going in there!’.”
The drama at the front of the fleet was, however,
only just beginning.
The summer-long tussle between the 98-foot super
maxis Skandia and Konica Minolta was getting more intense as they
crossed Bass Strait, with the boats almost neck-and-neck when both
skippers decided they were well enough positioned to head for the
lee of the north east coast of Tasmania.
The change of tack proved fateful for both, with
the seemingly less threatening southerly swell leading to their
combined downfalls within an hour of each other early on Tuesday
morning, only a few miles short of calmer water.
First, Skandia reported she had fallen off the back
of a large wave and was retiring with her hydraulic keel rams snapped
and her keel jammed to port. An hour later, Konica
that she had “barrelled off a gi-normous wave” and
the top of the keel tower had rotated forward, creasing the deck
across the cabin top.
Both yachts unsuccessfully attempted to affect repairs,
with Konica Minolta eventually retiring and motoring to Binnalong
Bay, near St Helens.
|(Clockwise from above) Love & War took
out the 30 Year Veteran Class and IRC Div. E.
Tilting at windmills.
Victoria won the 20 Year Veteran Class. Outlaw pushes
But the drama on Skandia was to escalate as images
from the ABC helicopter showed. With Yendys standing by, Skandia’s crew jumped into two liferafts, from which the water police boat,
Van Diemen recovered them within minutes.
“I always expected that if this ever happened to me I would
step up into a liferaft,” said a philosophical Grant Wharington
later of his difficult decision to leave the boat whilst help was
It proved a wise decision; their concern that the
keel, which was beginning to chop out the inside of the hull, would
eventually break loose and the boat capsize transpired within hours
of its abandonment. A tug was soon ordered out to retrieve Skandia,
with the rebuild costs mounting by the day.
Meanwhile, Nicorette had worked steadily at recovering
time on the two frontrunners across Bass Strait after a time-consuming
spinnaker wrap the previous evening. Tactics called for short
tacking in a narrow band down the north Tasmanian coast in 20-35
knots of wind, where the sea state was less dangerous and her speed
On hearing of the fate of the two super maxis, and
with a 50-mile lead on the, now second-placed AAPT, Ludde Ingvall
throttled back a little, mindful of last year’s experience that to win,
first you have to finish.
|After two days and 16 hours, Nicorette crosses
|Ludde Ingvall and crew celebrate a hard-won line honours
And finish she did. Having followed the coast from
Wineglass Bay, Nicorette’s skipper completed ‘Ludde’s scenic
tour of the Tasmanian Coast’ by sailing inside Maria Island,
hooking around Tasman Island, across Storm Bay and reaching up
the Derwent River in a steady southerly at almost 12 knots just
before dawn on Wednesday morning.
Nicorette crossed the line after two days and 16
hours at sea, 21 hours short of Nokia’s 1999 race record, but in less than
half the time taken by Rani and crew 60 years before. “It
was a good trial for the boat,” said a happy Ingvall of Nicorette’s first offshore race, adding, “this is the two toughest days
you can spend in ocean racing – it feels like three weeks.”
There had been plenty of scepticism about Nicorette’s prospects
prior to the race, with many doubting that a boat straight out
of the box would last the course. Indeed, Ingvall admitted, “the
boys were boatbuilding all the way down the course”. But
he praised designer, Alex Simonis for his collaborative and innovative
approach in “designing the boat around the keel”.
Both Ingvall and the retiring skippers of the two
keel-damaged super maxis agreed that building to the 30 metre upper
limit rule posed some very real sailing and design challenges in
the sort of hollow-backed seas commonly encountered in this race.
Sean Langman and fellow skiff sailors aboard downwind
flyer AAPT showed they also have what it takes to handle a heavy
upwind track, surviving a major knockdown and debris collision
before finishing second across the line, more than two hours ahead
of George Snow’s
For a while it seemed Nicorette would take out the
line honours and handicap double, but with some apt symmetry the
British/Greek owned Aera was to take the Tattersall’s Cup for overall IRC
handicap winner, 60 years after Englishman John Illingworth’s
|Jez Fanstone and the crew of Aera celebrate
Cup/IRC Handicap victory for Britain, 60 years after Englishman
John Illingworth’s inaugural race win.
|Owner Robert Swan,
sailing rookie Brett Austin and skipper Bret Perry of
The Active Factor,
celebrate their Hobart arrival.
Aera, a Jason Kerr 55 owned by Nick Lykiardopulo
and skippered by Volvo Round The World yachtsman, Jez Fanstone
crossed the Strait in good shape, enjoying an arm-wrestle with
Ichi Ban over much of the race. Fanstone banked on a southeasterly
change and took the punishment of heavy seas, staying well east
of the rhumbline down the Tasmanian coastline.
The decision paid handsomely. When the predicted
shift arrived, she was able to lay Tasman Island, leaving Ichi
Ban further east in less favourable breeze and putting Aera in
an almost unassailable position for overall handicap honours as
she reached rapidly across Storm Bay and up the Derwent.
Further up the coast, three of the five Sydney 38s
left racing from the original 11 starters were running neck-and-neck
on parallel courses east of the rhumbline, all waiting for the
left-hander that would let them
Bruce Taylor, a veteran of 24 Hobarts and last year’s class
winner, used all of his guile and experience to judge the time
and place, picking the change and hooking Chutzpah into a westerly
land breeze and flat water overnight to reach south parallel to
the coast. Meantime, Rupert Henry’s Team
Lexus and Another
Challenge, skippered by 21-year-old, Chris Leuwin and crewed by
his Melbourne University colleagues, were still trying to exit
a dying southerly and sloppy seas further offshore. Chutzpah finished
ahead of Team Lexus, with Another Challenge a creditable third.
John Woodruff and Eric Robinson’s Seriously
Ten was one of
only three of the five Volvo 60s to finish the race, taking out
her class (despite a one-hour penalty for missing radio reporting)
and winning PHS overall ahead of Nokia and DHL Getaway.
The weather gate closed out on the third evening
as the wind died on the coast south of Wineglass Bay. Any prospects
of a challenge from the non-finishers were removed, with Aera being
declared the IRC Division A and overall IRC winner on New Year’s Eve morning.
“The Blue Brick”, as Howard De Torres describes his
robust Nips and Tux, won IRC Division C from First
National Real Estate and Chutzpah, with Loki winning Division B from Interim;
the first Tasmanian boat across the line. The evergreen Love
and War won IRC Division E and the 30 Year veteran class, with Bacardi winning the 20 Year veterans. Tasmanian boat, Pippin took second
in both IRC Division E and 20 Year
The Active Factor finished fourth in IRC Division
B, with Hobart-initiate, Brett Austin remarking with unintended
resonance for a trampoline champion: “It was a wonderful experience; three days of incredible
highs and lows.”
The disappointment for those unable to finish was
put into sharp perspective as the scale of human tragedy from the
Asian tsunami of Boxing Day unfolded during the race. Stewart Thwaites
spoke for many when asked how he felt about his boat’s retirement: “I’m
coming to terms with the situation pretty easily,” he said,
adding “after all, this was only a boat race”.
Inevitably, comparisons of this year’s race and its attrition
rate were made with that of 1998 – even race-hardened veterans
and former race winners such as Syd Fischer, Lou Abrahams and Geoff
Ross had been forced to retire – but in the end most agreed
it was simply a race that had lived up to its 60-year reputation
as one of the world’s toughest ocean racing challenges.
As the luckless, but philosophical Grant Wharington
said while facing a $2 million rebuild for Skandia: “I’ll be back;
after all it’s the Great Race.”
Such sentiments would doubtless have pleased