Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012 - Are these the Serious Handicap Contenders?

ICHI BAN, Matt Allen catches the sunrise off Tasman Island - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2011
Former CYCA Commodore Matt Allen, one of Australia's toughest offshore yacht racing campaigners, is preparing to sail in his 23rd Sydney Hobart race.

He believes that if the current forecast comes to fruition that only a small number of the 77 boat fleet, the bigger boats in the race will be in a position to take the overall handicap victory in this year’s Sydney to Hobart Race as the faster boats will have the best of the race weather.


His racing yacht Ichiban is in that group. She is an Australian built Volvo 70 which sailed in the 2005-2006 Volvo Round the World Race. Ichiban has delivered some great Sydney to Hobart results for Allen, second on line honours in 2006 and third in 2007 and 2008. He has come so close to winning the race overall on handicap too; fourth in 2006 and fifth in 2007 and is looking for a win in 2012.

Ichi Ban's skipper Matt Allen explains that the 60 footers are in there with a chance. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2102
Allen, who was the CYCA’s 2004 and 2005 Ocean Racing Yachtsman of the Year, explains ‘‘we are very happy with the weather forecast at this stage. It is a bit hard to work out which boat it’s going to suit exactly but it certainly suits all the bigger boats and that includes us as well.

‘We have not done a lot to our boat, the changes we did last year should stand us in good stead and we have got a whole working sailing inventory all in very new condition.

‘We have plenty of experience, with Michael Spies going into his 36th race this year, Robert Case his 27th and we reinforced our crew with a lot of guys who have done the Volvo Ocean Race recently to push it like a Volvo 70.

‘Dave Rolfe who is with Mike Sanderson on Sanya this year as was Daryl Wislang who was on Camper. We have got Rodion Luka, who did the Volvo in the Russian boat in 2008-2009. We have also got Mike Giles who was with the Sanya team in the last Volvo race.

‘I think these guys learn so much when they are going around the world about how they can get the best out of the boats and whilst the configuration of the boat is a little different to the Volvo trim it is essentially the same boat and that experience that they get in that Volvo Round the World Race is hugely valuable time on the water.

‘We also have in boat preparation Timmy Sellars who was one of the senior guys on the Abu Dhabi shore team. He is a great sailor in his own right but he is obviously been used to fixing and rebuilding Volvo 70s at every other stopover during the course of the last Volvo Race.

‘We are keen to do well but are realistic about our chances.

‘Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 Loki is obviously the form IRC boat for ocean racing and I think we are going to have a good battle with them.

'And we think we have a chance against them. I would have thought if we go on the wind in the bit of breeze, as obviously we are going to, we have found in the past we get our time on them pretty well on the wind. If it gets light and variable that will be when that might catch us a bit. How the two of those net it out will be the clue.

LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth - handicap winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2011

‘Depending on the weather Blackjack, (the canting keel 66 footer skippered by Mark Bradford, owned by Peter Harburg) will be a serious contender. Downwind they are going to be great. The uphill if it gets a little bumpy or a little windy Black Jack is probably not the ideal boat.

Black Jack got some speed up - 2012 SOLAS Big Boat Challenge

‘There are a couple of other boats that have raced pretty well.

‘Grant Wharington’s 100 footer Wild Thing could have the handicap numbers to win.

‘The gap between her handicap rating and say Wild Oats XI is a pretty big and whilst Wharro probably hasn’t had enough time on the water I think he would admit to that, (the boat has had a major rebuild) his rating is really good and his boat is quick so I think he will be a chance of winning if he didn’t have any gear problems.

Grant Wharington's (Maxi Wild Thing) campaign gets off to a solid start in the first afternoon of the race - Rolex Sydney Hobart 2011

‘The other boat that I quite fancy is Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin-Loyal. For 100 footer Loyal rates pretty well. At the end of the day it she is a big, powerful, fast boat and I think they are sailing it as well as that boat has ever been sailed. She has a good handicap advantage over Wild Oats XI and the gap in the rating band that might prove to be quite significant at the finish line.

Lahana -Credit ROLEX-Daniel Forster

‘It is hard to pick a winner albeit the fleet of potential winners is probably as small as I have seen it in my 32 years of involvement with the race.

‘Once again I really think that the winners of the race are most likely to come from Loki or bigger. The weather gods could turn that around but I really find it hard to see the TP 52 able to beat the Loki’s etc. given the weather and the way it looks at the moment.

‘All we can do is try and win our division and see what happens from there.’

Of course Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI might be able to get far enough ahead to get a private breeze and then that will be another story.

And of course, skippers like Michael Hiatt with his Farr 55 Living Doll and the 2010 Sydney Hobart winner Geoff Boettcher who will be racing Holden Secret Mens Business 3.5 again this year believe that they will be very well placed if the weather gods change their minds even the slightest.

WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2011
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