by John Curnow
The 40th consecutive Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster will get underway from the Portsea Pier at 10am on December 27, 2011. The Eastcoaster, which is the other Heemskirk Consolidated race to Hobart, will also take to the world-renowned Bass Strait and begin their journey South at the same time.
Whilst the latter event is much newer, having been first run as its own race in 2008, the Eastcoaster has its own dedicated band of followers and continues to attract new competitors with its many nuances and intricacies. Heemskirk’s CEO, Kevin Robinson, will be competing in the 2011 Eastcoaster in his boat, No Fearr, which won the fabled Westcoaster in 2006, when she was owned by Matt Hannaford.
So why then is the Westcoaster so revered?
Well, they said it couldn’t be done. Perhaps this is why Stan Gibson, then Commodore of the ORCV, had studied the weather patters and together with Dr Joe Cannon of Hobart, they were determined to put the soothsayers out of business. 40 years on, they have not only achieved that, but they have created a unique race, as it is the only one to go down this side of Tasmania. The Westcoaster also has an enviable safety record, as just the best take on the challenge of the only Christmas time race to enter the mighty Southern Ocean. Their reward is some of the most dramatic and wonderfully scenic coastline you will ever see. That’s not when it’s dark or under mist, for the West coast does a very dark night indeed, and the mist can be somewhat impenetrable, as well.
Today there are only just a couple of sailors from the very first Westcoaster still with us. Bruce Legg was there; a sprightly 25 years of age at the time. He recalls, 'We were certainly going into the unknown. The whole 'Prophets of Doom' thing came from the media more than any of the yachties. For sure it was not exactly benign, as the predicted 40 knots did arrive, but I had faith in the crew, however, so was never concerned by it.'
'My experience of it all and the really eerie thing, is that you see the coast in the other race, but not the Westcoaster - and that's the difference. The other thing is that it was bitterly cold - so freezing that you almost cannot put words to it', said Bruce.
Bound for Hobart via the Westcoaster in 2011 is another vessel and man making a significant and unlikely to be surpassed milestone. The race itself is 40 years old. Robin Hewitt and his steel sloop, Yoko, have done the last 30 consecutive Westcoasters together. Now 30 + 40 = 70 and that is exactly how old Robin was just a few weeks ago. This year’s race forms part of his celebrations.
The Bob Miller (later to be known as Ben Lexcen) and Craig Whitworth penned Yoko will also celebrate this huge achievement, as she takes to Bass Strait once more with her original mast still intact, which is something of miracle these days. She has done two 5500nm Melbourne to Osaka races, one 1100nm Brisbane to Gizo events and one 1885nm Melbourne to Vanuatu haul. The latter is very significant, for joining Yoko in the Westcoaster is the winner of the 2010 Vanuatu race, Tevake II.
Once around though it's much smaller sails. Steel IOR, such as Yoko offers a comfy ride... - Melbourne Latitude Series
Tevake II heads a fleet that will be certainly keen to see some spinnaker action, as Spirit of Downunder and Addiction are there with her. Reigning Offshore Champion, eXtasea, will be hard to beat no matter what and certainly always more than a chance for the handicap honours. Boats like Hot August Night from the Derwent Sailing Squadron and Slinky Malinky will be more of a chance when the wind is on the nose.
Last year’s main combatants, Gusto and Goldfinger are back, except this year, they’re both going to Hobart in the Eastcoaster. Goldfinger may well have set a new record last year, but her bigger rival excels when the wind goes towards the beam and beyond, so conditions will play a major role in who will be the eventual winner there.
Once more, as well, both Veloce and XLR8 will be on East coast to ensure those two vessels remember the golden rule; that in order to finish first, first you have to finish. Chikara Outlaw will be keen for a piece of that action, too.
The 2011 rookie prize winner is doing the Eastcoaster, too. Cavarlo may be new to ocean racing, but the Irvings have assembled a significant crew to ensure they have a great trip and do well on handicap. Speaking of handicap, the most popular boat for that reason currently, would have to be the Beneteau First 40. The Eastcoaster has three of them competing. No matter what, Bandit, Dry White and Halcyon will be having a great race amongst themselves.
Gusto exited Port Phillip Heads in grand, if somewhat dramatic style in 2010 Westcoaster. - Melbourne to Hobart
To get the fleet down from Melbourne to Port Phillip Heads there is the Boxing Day Dash race on December 26th. Melbourne to Hobart entrants can compete in the King of the Derwent on January 2nd to complete their own three-race sets - the Sovereign Series and Salamanca Series for West and East, respectively. Winning any one of these is a mark of a crew’s all-round ability.
The global miner, Heemskirk Consolidated, is proud to be associated with the ORCV, for not only was it the name of Abel Tasman’s flagship during his voyages of discovery, which included Tasmania, it is shared with Mt Heemskirk in South West Tasmania. See heemskirk.com for information about them.
Part of the Melbourne to Hobart fleet moored at the Elizabeth Street pier. - Melbourne to Hobart
Further information about these great races and the ORCV’s other activities can be found at orcv.org.au