by Ian Grant
Leo Rodriguez and his dedicated crew onboard Merit sailed a physically tough 628 nautical miles to Hobart on a special mission of loyalty for a lost mate. They dedicated the race to well known Sydney Hobart race sailor Nick Wells who passed away in November.
Merit heads south
Nick Wells besides being a respected friend of Merit’s skipper and numerous other Sydney Hobart race sailors, was a line honours winning crew member on the yacht Tasmania in the 50th anniversary blue water classic.
'We made the decision to dedicate our race to Nick, a gesture that was appreciated by his son and Merit crew mate Ben,' Leo Rodriguez said.
Unfortunately, their bid to win a second Hobart Race Performance handicap class title suffered a major setback when the fleet faced the fury of the ‘Southerly Buster’.
Merit a former Volvo Globe race sloop built to handle the rough stuff including the fresh and frightening winds and growling seas suffered a critical tear to her main and while the headsail was also damaged during the blow.
Apart from the damaged sails the race for the Merit crew was not without incident with Leo Rodriguez bearing a facial scar after being struck by a food container during the hobby-horse type slog towards Hobart.
However while Merit was slowed due to the sail damage her crew remained focused on finishing the race and completing their personal tribute to Nick Wells.
The crew were further tormented when Merit became motionless for almost six hours in the normally windy Storm Bay before they finally completed the race with a relatively slow 6.6knot average and an elapsed time of three days 22 hours 55 minutes 28 seconds.
'Usually rounding Tasman Island is a highlight but unfortunately we became ‘parked’.
'Merit is a boat that sails best in heavy weather and we just didn’t have that,' He said.
There was the expected jubilant celebration on the deck of the Anthony Bell owned Sydney maxi Investec Loyal when she claimed a narrow three minute eight second line honours win over Wild Oats X1.
Both crews had little rest during their 628 nautical mile match race where the lead changed on several occasions before the Loyal Foundation team claimed the closest line honours result in 29 years with the faster .299 seconds per nautical mile elapsed time.