by Zoe Hawkins
Alfa Romeo - HSBC Coastal Classic
The international supermaxi entered in this year’s HSBC Premier Coastal Classic certainly has the waterline length to overshadow other entrants, but will she have the speed?
When Alfa Romeo II set a new race record from LA to Hawaii earlier this year, she achieved an average boatspeed of just over 16 knots.
When, back in 1996, Split Enz set the record for the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic race from Auckland to Russell, she achieved an almost identical average boatspeed of 16.3 knots.
These numbers leave the outcome in next Friday’s famous Auckland to Russell yacht race wide open for speculation, says Coastal Classic spokesperson Jon Vincent.
'It could be very close. On one hand, Alfa Romeo – which already has 141 race wins to her name - has the size to deliver top performance in all conditions. But given the right conditions, a number of the multihulls can easily sustain speeds in excess of 20 knots. However, they depend on exactly the right conditions to do so.'
The last supermaxi to appear in the HSBC Premier Coastal Classic, Zana, was able to beat the existing monohull record comfortably in a time of 8 hours 29 minutes and 50 seconds, but still failed to come close to touching the overall race record – Split Enz’s best time of 7 hours 20 minutes and 51 seconds.
'What’s remarkable is that Split Enz’s record has stood for 13 years,' says Jon. 'Sailing technology has changed drastically since then, yet so far our record is untouched. It goes to show how incredible the 1996 race was in terms of serving up exactly the right conditions.'
Split Enz, which has returned to the country after a number of years in Noumea, is still sailed in a very similar configuration to the 1996 race.
The crew of Taeping – only rivaled by Frantic Drift in racing over recent seasons - thinks that given the right conditions, they could potentially average around 17-18 knots, with bursts of 22-23 knots. Speeds that the 100 footer may well surpass.
The clash for line honours is most likely to be between the Australian supermaxi, and several other boats less than one third of her in size, including Taeping, Frantic Drift, Timber Wolf, Dirty Deeds and Attitude.
Many of the front runners have been modified since the 2008 race. Taeping, an 11.6m Grainger designed catamaran owned by Aucklander Dave Andrews, has taken line honours in the last two events, and has impressed throughout its 2009 race season. This year the boat has added half a metre to its carbon mast, plus a carbon front beam and main beam, lighter rigging, and equipment to assist with tricky night sailing.
In the race between Taeping and Split Enz, Jon Vincent sees Taeping as favoured.
'She's 5ft longer on the waterline, has a new carbon mast and beams, new sails, new rudders and is sailed exclusively by local sailors. The actual sail plan between the two boats (based on working sails) appears to be very similar. Tai Ping has a slightly more radical square head as the boys onboard believe the carbon mast can take the load. Split Enz runs an alloy rig and has very new sails but is not as radical. I'm not sure how they compare on weight but I'd guess Split Enz to be slightly heavier.'
He also explains that Split Enz has better freeboard on the bow, so may not bury as Taeping does, but that Taeping’s five foot waterline bonus may nullify that.
'Last years Coastal was unpleasant and certainly required skill but Taeping had the race to themselves really so that extra 10% wasn't needed.'
Frantic Drift, owned by Olympian Dan Slater, has trailed Taeping to the finish in the last two editions of the race, and is crewed by a line up of world class sailors: Dan, Ed Smyth, Nathan Handley and Aaron Macintosh, showing an edge over Taeping in round the buoys racing.
'With a South-Westerly of 5-10 knots we will have a chance,' says Dan.
Improvements to another fast tri, Timberwolf, include a new carbon rig, more sail area, and structural changes, tipped by the owner to make the boat a good 4-5% faster.
'In the right conditions [light to medium breezes and flat seas] we feel we have a good chance in our division, and in perfect conditions could be an outside chance to be first Multihull to Russell,' says owner Tim Willets.
'We have exactly zero chance against the supermaxi, because in the only conditions that she is slightly weak, we are even worse.'
Line honours victories always steal the show in terms of media coverage and attention, but there are dozens of races within races that will be closely watched within the sailing community, and competition is no less fierce.
Starting at the smallest end of the fleet, the littlest boat entered is one that considers she has the biggest task ahead.
Owned by Grey Lynn resident Rob Hielkema, Geralda is an Elliott 6.5m trailor sailor that will race with just two crew to Russell.
'If the weather plays into our hands we intend to beat some much bigger boats, and we hope to challenge the PHRF and two handed divisions,' says Rob of the boat which has been modified from its original design and has a very similar rig to a Shaw 6.5, plus a 2.4m prod to hold a generous amount of sail area.
'If the weather is not in our favour – if it’s a northeaster – then we hope not to be the last boat through the finish.'
Geralda is one of around 30 boats entered in Division 5, including the youngest skipper on the racecourse, Edwin Delaat.
The thirteen year old will race aboard the Farr 727 Crac-A-Jac, a boat which he dreamed about owning since he was four, and saved for by doing odd jobs for over three years. Edwin, who is sailing with several older and more experienced adults, but keen to call the shots, has done hundreds of miles on the water, and earned a string of qualifications, starting with a VHF Certificate earned when he was nine, and a Boatmasters Certificate. He took part in last year’s HSBC Premier Coastal Classic aboard Starlight Express, but is aware that completing such a long race in such a small boat, will be a very different experience.
Moving on up, Division 4 is next in the size/speed bracket. Featuring a diverse range of mid sized boats, including some very competitive racers of older design, a handicap win is nearly as sought after as a win on line, and to get both is like the holy grail.
'We are in the race and I am looking for the double,' says Bob Bilkey, owner of the updated Ross 930, Drop Dead Fred, and near the top of the handicapper’s favourites for the division.
Bob wants a downwind race this year, and his competition will be No Worries, Recreation, Cool Change, and Cadibarra 6. But if it’s on the wind, then First by Farr, Roy Dickson’s Playbuoy, Oracle, Pink Cadillac, or the Stuart 34 Prism, will be favoured.
'We are consistently improving our performance with new sails, we are using a smaller main, and have a new tactician,' says Bob, of the entry which has finished every year it enters, regardless of conditions.
'Some years the Coastal is a drag race, the others it is very tactical' says owner of Pink Cadillac, Basil Orr. 'You just have to sail around the inevitable wind hole that catches up with everyone else to wind. I note that there are many more boats that sail well at night now - 10 years ago most of the fleet lost ground after midnight.'
Dominating this division is last year’s winner, Roy Dickson and his boat, Playbuoy. The septuagenarian is father to Chris Dickson, and with a remarkable race career dating back over fifty years and instrumental to putting New Zealand sailing on the world map, regarded as one of the most canny sailors around. Needless to say, the crew of any boat in its size range that crosses the line ahead of Playbuoy deserve a pat on the back. Playbuoy is one of eigh