Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - It is said that gentlemen do not go to windward - and quite so - it is a bit like scrum time in the rugby, best suited to miners and the unashamedly agricultural who can only gawp at the nonchalant elegance of wingers in stainless white shorts.
Jeri Bakker and the Zefiro crew are hoping for southerlies.
Yet on Zefiro, the most elegant, most gentlemanly of yachts, come Boxing Day and the Rolex Sydney Hobart, they want a full blooded southerly. The thought of skipping down the New South Wales coast in a sundrenched sea breeze is anathema.
The racing bug will do that to you.
The drop dead gorgeous Farr 100 Zefiro is a yacht to lust after. Her wide, powerful white hull looks like she is going fast even when tethered to the dock at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
Her blemish-free teak deck goes on for ever. The faultless timber joinery below, the plush cabins, the cavernous galley and the eight separate heads (toilets) are Swan like in their understated extravagance. This is a yacht designed and built to circumnavigate the world in absolute comfort.
Which is exactly what German/Cypriot owner Gerhard Ruether is doing.
Built by Italians in a Cape Town yard, Zefiro first cruised north, to the Mediterranean, competing in all the super-yacht regattas that circle the fabled Sea in summer. Then across the Atlantic for more cruising and racing, down to Cuba and on to New Zealand by way of Panama.
In New Zealand she won the Millennium Cup, and now she is in Australia for the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Next year it will be swimming with whale sharks off the West Australian coast before exploring Indonesia, racing in the Kings Cup in Phuket, and then Myanmar.
Ruether’s multinational shipping management group has offices in Cyprus, Germany, Singapore and Myanmar, where he has a maritime training academy that has produced 5000 graduates over the years, who now work all round the world.
Zefiro’s boat captain Jeri Bakker
Racing was always part of Ruether’s cruising plans, especially the Rolex Sydney Hobart, 'The Hobart has a history of being a hard race,' says Zefiro’s boat manager, Jeri Bakker.
'You have so many weather patterns and tactics to think about. The start on Sydney Harbour, down the coast in a current, across Bass Strait which is very shallow and then around an island. It is a lot of races in a relatively short distance. For us, the 628 (nautical) mile distance is not an issue. We do passages of 3000 miles.'
Of course, these are 628 very intense miles. Lots of weather, potential storms, countless sail changes. And Ruether and Bakker have assembled anything but a cruising crew for the race, with loads of local knowledge and Sydney Hobarts under their belts.
'Our first goal is to get there, and to give it 100 percent,' Bakker says. They are all there to win.
A huge amount of gear has been stripped out of the boat. Spare parts, essential for long distant cruising but surplice to race requirements, will go to Hobart in a truck, as will Ruether’s 600 kilos of books.
Not all the creature comforts will go though. Proper beds, not pipe births, a well-stocked freezer and capacious commercial oven stay.
'There will be no dry food,' Bakker declares. 'We will have proper meals.' Even in racing mode Zefiro will be a palace compared to the no-frills purity of the four other 100 footers and the V70s in the race.
With all that weight, Zefiro is not a line honours contender, unless the going gets very tough and the winds are coming from in front of the fleet. But a good rating gives her a big shot at winning on handicap.
'The rating reflects the kind of boat she is,' Bakker says. 'We have the same handicap as the 60 foot Ichi Ban,' he says of Matt Allen’s new state-of-the-art grand prix racer and one of the race favourites. 'If you sail to the best of your abilities and the handicap is right, yeh. Maybe we can do some good.'
This is why those on board Zefiro want southerlies. 'I don’t mind a nor-easter across Bass Strait, but for the first day and a half I want wind from the south east,' Bakker declares.
'Up wind we can do 13 knots. In fact making the boat go faster isn’t the issue, but slowing her down, depending on the sea state is.
Downwind in a 60 tonne boat, though, is an altogether different matter. Upwind, weight can translate into power. Downwind it is all drag.
'If it is blowing from the north-east we will go below, put a suckling pig in the oven and sit back,' Bakker sighs, thinking of all the good meals that have gone down on Zefiro.
Rolex Sydney Hobart website