AFR Midnight Rambler wins Lion Island-Botany Bay Race

AFR Midnight Rambler took a morale booster ahead of the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart race after winning the 60 nautical mile Lion Island-Botany Bay Race on Sunday. Bob Thomas, Michael Bencsik, and Ed Psaltis withstood an unpredictable wind pattern and strong challenge from their competitors to move into third place in the Blue Water Pointscore Series (BWPS).

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 60 nautical mile Lion Island-Botany Bay race was won by the Ed Psaltis/Bob Thomas/Michael Bencsik owned AFR Midnight Rambler and will long be remembered for the time it took and the patience required – it became a midnight ramble for the five at the tail-end of the fleet, while three others packed it in, unable to deal with the fickle conditions.

Psaltis and his co-owners will long be remembered for winning the atrocious 1998 Rolex Sydney Hobart, and the same patience and perseverance was utilised to take out the Lion Island Botany Bay Race, which started on Sydney Harbour at 10.00am yesterday morning, and for AFR Midnight Rambler, finished some eight hours later at 8.24.02pm last evening.

Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki got the gun at 6.25.06pm to claim third place overall, behind Warwick Sherman’s Occasional Coarse Language 2, which pulled up at the finish line at 8.31.19pm.

Sam Haynes is on a mission to win the Blue Water Pointscore Series. Credit Andrea Francolini

Psaltis and company timed their win beautifully in this penultimate race of the series, with the Rolex Sydney Hobart to decide the winner of the Blue Water Pointscore Series, in which AFR Midnight Rambler, a Ker 40, has moved into third place on countback, on equal points with second placed Celestial (Sam Haynes) which finished the slow and frustrating race in fourth overall.

Psaltis takes up the story, describing how the conditions did not meet the predicted 15-20 knot north easterlies and 20-30 knot north/north-easterlies: 'It was a very disturbed weather pattern – all over the place – you really had to concentrate,' he said of the oscillating winds that reached 15 knots at top and 6 at the bottom.

After getting away to a brilliant start on the favoured west side of the Harbour in around 6 knots, AFR Midnight Rambler had to stay in touch with both the Rogers 46, Celestial, and Warwick Sherman’s Ker GTS43, if she was to win the race and stay in touch with the top boats in the BWPS.

'We led Celestial, but it got through us north of Long Reef and we knew we had to stay in touch with it. Coming home, we heard Loki was just off the Heads at around 4.30pm, but she must have had just as terrible as us there. It was a north-easterly offshore, but we found a light westerly at the Heads. It took us close to an hour to sail from the Gap to Watsons Bay – it was awful,' Psaltis recalled.

'We had a hard look at what we needed to do, and decided to stay hard east. We banged in hard to Lady Bay and got a whisper of breeze that took us to Nielsen Park and the finish. We overtook Celestial just inside the Heads, and we were sure we’d held our time on Loki,' said Psaltis who said they had also had a great tussle with Occasional Coarse Language 2.

'We’d be neck and neck – then we’d draw away – and then they’d come back. Like Celestial, they didn’t go hard east like we did, and that’s where we won the race. It was all so close,' he said.

Loki, the 2010/2011 BWPS winner, still retains the lead for the current series on five points, using this race’s third place as its drop. With only the Rolex Sydney Hobart remaining, Ainsworth’s boat has a five point lead over Celestial and AFR Midnight Rambler, which are on 10 points apiece.

'We were worried the breeze, which was north-east, north-west and west at times, would drop out and favour the big boats. Now we’re in a position, that if the Hobart favours the smaller boats, we have a good shot at winning. We’re really pleased with how the boat is going and that we were able to concentrate and hang in.' said Psaltis, who praised Roger Hickman (sailing the Farr 43, Wild Rose) for holding on to finish the race.

'We passed Hicko off Ben Buckler (North Bondi) and he was still going south while we were headed home,' he said.

While the steely Hickman hung in to sail Wild Rose over the finish line just over an hour past 1.00am this morning, for sixth place overall and to cement fourth place in the BWPS, it all got too much for the likes of Rob Hoile (Kaliber), Tony Kirby (Patrice Six) and Kim Jaggar/Travis Read (Illusion) who were finding the going a little tough.

As Loki was heading towards the South Head signal station with around 12 nautical miles to make the finish, Illusion, a Davidson 34, has just approached Lion Island. The sight of Sydney Harbour was just too alluring, so instead of heading on to Botany, Bay, a number did a hard right into the Harbour.

The race started at 10.00am at Point Piper. The fleet exited the Harbour on an incoming tide that turned at 10.31am. The last boat over the Rushcutters Bay finish line was Jonathan Stone’s Beneteau F40, Breakthrough, at this morning.

In the ORCi and PHS pointscores, well-sailed Celestial has become a real threat this season, and leads both. AFR Midnight Rambler is second overall in ORCi by two points, with Wild Rose a further 14 points in arrears in third. Southern Excellence, Andrew Wenham’s Volvo 60, is second in PHS and Loki third, with only six points between the top three.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, starting Boxing Day, December 26, will decide the outcome of the Blue Water Pointscore Series. The winner will be announced at the race’s official prize giving at Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania on New Year’s Day and presented with the Jack Halliday Perpetual Trophy.

For full race results and provisional Blue Water Pointscore Series standings click here.