by Ian Grant
The warm tropical waters of Pioneer Bay will become a distant memory for Whitsunday Sailing Club skipper Leo Rodriguez when he contests his fifth consecutive Rolex Sydney Hobart Race starting on Boxing Day.
Merit and Optimus Prime meet off Tasman Island - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2011
It’s a long journey just to get to Sydney and her crew are aware that they face an even more demanding test of character when the former Volvo Globe race sloop Merit sets sail in what is already regarded as the toughest 628 n/ml race on the international ocean racing calendar.
Merit which was unanimously awarded first place in Performance Handicap in 2008 when her crew exercised outstanding seamanship to save the crew off the sinking yacht Georgia would welcome a moderate to fresh spinnaker sailing or two sail reaching wind forecast to blow in on Boxing Day morning.
Her crew suffered some personal torment from the weather forecast last year finishing 11th in line honours and 13th overall in the Performance Handicap class.
Naturally her joint owners Leo Rodriguez and Ian Bishop would appreciate the chance for Merit to show her class with the sails particularly her spinnaker emblazoned with –I would rather to sailing in the Whitsundays- being stretched at the seams with a brute speed sailing breeze.
Unfortunately they apart from some speculation have no idea what the weather conditions will be when they tension the sails and head south on another challenge against the wind tormented Tasman Sea.
They will also face a formidable challenge to be the first Volvo 60 to fasten their mooring lines to Hobart’s historical Constitution Dock.
Merit is one of three former Around the World race yachts entered for the Rolex Sydney Hobart along with the Simonas Steponavicius skippered Lithuanian sloop Ambersail and the Andrew Wenham helmed New South Wales Volvo 60 Southern Excellence.
All three have the potential to stage their own private match race while the Bob Oatley owned and Mark Richards helmed Wild Oats X1, the Syd Fischer skippered Ragamuffin Loyal, the recently modified Grant Wharington helmed Wild Thing, Peter Millard’s aging maxi Lahana, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban and Peter Harburg’s super fast maxi chaser Black Jack skippered by Mark Bradford remain favoured to do battle for the line honours trophy.