by Ian Grant
Tropical blue water ocean racing skipper Leo Rodriguez has entered the important date of April 6th in his personal log book.
Merit under kite and passing one of Sydney’s iconic Harbour ferries.
The Whitsunday Sailing Club skipper and joint owner Ian Bishop who have recently became acclimatised to the cut and thrust of racing their Volvo 60 Merit on the storm tormented waters of the Tasman Sea - including the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart race, will again line up to contest the Hempel Gosford to Lord Howe race on April 6th.
Merit holds the distinction as the present race record holder after her crew set the impressive average of 12.42 knots in gusty 20-30 knot south east trade winds.
As expected there was endless spray on the deck when Merit romped along the ideal angle to set her impressive 33 hour 34 minute 21 second race record 11 years ago.
Her experienced skipper who also has a Rolex Sydney Hobart Performance Handicap class trophy recorded in his log book understands that he faces a supreme test to protect his 2002 record when the start signal is hoisted for the 416 n/ml race on Saturday April 6th.
Size and sail power suggests the speed sailing New South Wales Volvo 70 Sothern Excellence 11 the former ( Matt Allen owned and skippered Ichi Ban) will be the line honours favourite.
New owner skipper Andrew Wenham who is yet to come to grips with racing the super charged Volvo 70 will be hoping for a favourable forecast of two sail or spinnaker reaching angles to chase down the previous best time set over a decade ago.
However while the Southern Excellence 11 crew deserve to remain as the line honours favourite they can expect that the older and smaller Merit will apply pressure and chase hard all the way to the finish line off the Lord Howe Island Lagoon.
Interest will also centre on what promises to be a close tactical encounter for handicap honours featuring the Ed Psaltis skippered and Bob Thomas navigated Sydney sloop AFR Midnight Ramble.
This combination who won the tragic 1998 Sydney Hobart race are no strangers to racing over this course and their clash with the Rod Jones helmed A5 Alegrie V from Queensland’s Sunshine coat for handicap honours is expected to unfold into an intense tactical dog-fight.