by Ian Grant
Whitsunday Sailing Club Flag Officers will be in the final stages of preparation s for the annual Meridien Marinas Airlie Beach Race Week when their famed racing pennant is securely tied to the backstay of Merit Stratco Racing in Sydney.
’’Merit’’ - Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2010
Merit launched in 1997 to contest the Volvo around the World race and now owned and successfully raced by Whitsunday Sailing Club’s Leo Rodriguez will contest the 384 n/ml Audi Sydney to Gold Coast race starting on Saturday July 30.
Skipper Leo Rodriguez believes the now 14 year old Volvo race challenger is better suited to the longer coastal passage races and promises to become a distinct challenger for the Performance Handicap class trophy following his success in winning the prestigious trophy in the 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
The tropical water racing crew who have proved their combined skill and seamanship over the longer Sydney-Hobart Race are hopeful of racing in a cold blast provided by the mid-winter South Westerlies.
They are aware that Merit Stratco Racing has the proven pedigree to produce her best performance in fresh and frightening spinnaker sailing winds and will need these conditions to outpace her handicap rating against their more modern rivals. As expected the crew of Whitsunday sailors are hoping for a strong wind forecast and wave surfing conditions to prevail when they set their personal escape from experiencing the Sydney chill factor.
However while life on deck will become particularly cold at night the crew will remain focused of logging the fastest passage towards the warmer climate. They will not be alone in what promises to be the most interesting race since the George Snow skippered Brindabella set the present race record of 27 hours 35 minutes three seconds in 1999.
If there is any hint of strong southerlies blowing then the Bob Oatley owned and Mark Richards’s skippered Sydney Hobart race record holder Wild Oats X1 will be chased by the Peter Millard skippered Brisbane to Gladstone race line honours champion Lahana to seriously challenge Brindabella’s 13.92 knot benchmark.
This race presents Wild Oats X1 with the first opportunity to test the recent hull modifications to upgrade her speed potential in preparation for the Sydney Hobart Race starting on Boxing Day. Interest will also focus on the pace setting performance of the Marcus Blackmore skippered TP 52 Hooligan which has dominated the results over short courses to currently lead the Audi Australian championship.
Hooligan, the former Team New Zealand Merit Cup champion and overall winner of the Brisbane to Gladstone Race over the Easter weekend, has been the star performer winning regattas in Victorian and New South Wales.
However her crew will need to repeat this form to head off the challenge from the 2010 Audi Australian champion Loki and the 2010 Meridien Marinas Airlie Beach Race Week champion Living Doll, to remain as the crew to beat when the finals are decided during the Audi Hamilton Race Week in late August.