Tony Longhurst glides across the trampoline of his Extreme 40 racing cat. He’s wearing snug black shorts and a fluoro orange helmet that wouldn’t be out of place in the Tour de France. He’s lean and fit, with an angular frame that once held the Australian waterski record and delivered two Bathurst 1000 motor racing victories, amongst many other sporting titles. These days, he’s committed to his marine business, The Boat Works, and his sailing pursuits. He took time out from his Hamilton Island Race Week schedule to catch up with the team from Club Marine.
After 25 years caressing the wheels of racing cars of all types, Longhurst moved into the slow lane with cruising yachts. He and wife Karen – along with Jet, the family dog – would escape the hustle and bustle of working life in their 48ft Grainger, meandering through remote rivers and bays in Queensland, kite-boarding, fishing and relaxing with friends. But his need for speed hasn’t waned – the Grainger is being replaced with a 65ft carbon-constructed cat designed by Jeff Schionning and built by Julian Griffiths and the Noosa Marine team.
“It’ll be the fastest cruising cat on the seas,” Tony says. “It combines the latest technology from around the world – huge solar panels from Italy, carbon rigging from South Africa (Southern Spars) and sails from America (North Sails) with the latest carbon construction techniques, built right here in Queensland. It will even have two carbon fibre toilets!
Longhurst is committed to winning, and says you need to be a little bit nuts to realise the ultimate success in any racing. “Sailing is very, very intense and very competitive – you can’t make a mistake,” he says. “It’s also an aggressive sport and when someone cuts you off it’s always the other bloke’s fault. I enjoy the success, but when it doesn’t go right, it messes with your head.”
IN THE BLOOD
Racing has always been part of Longhurst’s DNA. At the age of 18, he set the Australian water ski speed record, hooning across the water at 201km/h – and still holds the fourth-fastest speed. He then focused on motor racing, spending 25 years as a professional driver, winning the Bathurst 1000 twice (in a Ford and a Holden), claiming the Bathurst 12 Hour in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and winning the Australian Touring Car Championship in a BMW. He brought many of his motor-racing skills to sailing – most notably, the sourcing of sponsors, finding the best equipment and building the right team.
“Like motor racing, you have to finish every race and not make any mistakes,” Longhurst muses. However, as he discovered at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, mistakes are only a broken halyard away. On the day of our photoshoot, we chased Longhurst and his crew on his Extreme 40 around the southern tip of Dent Island. While racing at almost 20 knots – hard to the wind – the main halyard broke, sending the sail crashing to the deck. With dropped heads and devastated faces onboard, the boat limped back to harbour. But Longhurst remained upbeat, even cracking jokes. “That’s what makes it so great – sunny days, rainy days, windy days and days full of drama,” he grinned.
Asked which career he prefers, sailor or racing driver, the petrolhead wins out. “It’s very difficult to explain the thrill of driving a car at 300km/h an inch from the wall,” says the 58-year-old, while acknowledging that at the elite level, motor racing is a young man’s sport. “You get to the age of 35 or 40, and you just lose the edge. You think you’re just as fast, but you lose a 10th of a second or so – and the young blokes are braver and take more risks.”
And speaking of risk, Longhurst took it to another level in 1994, when he notoriously collided with team-mate Paul ‘The Dude’ Morris on the pit straight at Winton, in Victoria. As the dust settled, Longhurst emerged from his battered BMW and repeatedly punched his team-mate in the helmet – live on national television. Longhurst reflects: “Paul was very respectful after that,” but says they’re good mates nowadays.
A relative newcomer to Race Week, Longhurst was hooked after sailing a 30ft Grainger there last year. The atmosphere of fun and competitiveness drew him back this year with his Extreme 40, a boat recognised as a solid training platform for sailors keen to crew America’s Cup boats.
Longhurst describes the Extreme 40 as very, very fast in all conditions – from 10 to 25 knots. “It’s nimble, like a go-kart, and instantly responsive to helm or sail adjustment. It’s fun to ride in and gets up on one hull and glides very easily, with a top speed of around 30 knots in the right hands – it’s a thrill to be onboard. It always needs fine adjustment – if you make a mistake travelling at over 15 knots it can tip over very easily.”
Fortunately for Longhurst and the crew (and insurer Club Marine), he’s not speaking from experience – yet!
The Extreme 40 is also good racing bang for buck, says Longhurst. He paid €100,000 ($146,000), plus duty, taxes and signage costs and says it’s potentially the fastest sailboat in Australia, for ‘only’ 250 grand. He hopes that more Extreme 40s join the revelry at Race Week, to share the thrills of flying a hull, suspended 15 feet above the sapphire-coloured waters of the Whitsundays.
Another motivator for attending Race Week is publicity for his marine business, The Boat Works, a large slipway and marina on the Gold Coast. Longhurst describes his operation as “the slickest boatyard in Australia, lifting 40 to 50 boats every week.”
Other sponsors supporting his team are Stefan Boating World, who supplied the 21ft tender with 150hp Yamaha, Noosa Marine, Sail Racing Australia, Riviera (owned by Longhurst’s younger brother, Rodney), and Club Marine, which has insured his boats for the past decade.
Longhurst’s sailing vision is not confined to the local scene. He’s involved in trying to stage a lead-up event to the America’s Cup on the Gold Coast – a quest, he says, that comes with many challenges. “It’s something that would bring enormous benefit to all boaties – in terms of tourism and industry,” he says.
If successful, this highly competitive businessman and racer believes it would rate as one of his neatest achievements.
Go to Club Marine TV ‘s YouTube channel for video coverage of the electrifying Extreme 40 racing cat in action.