by Jim Gale
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2012 finally saw its only non-Australasian yachts crossing the finish line on Saturday with only six minutes separating Lithuanian Volvo 60 Ambersail and Japanese KLC Bengal at the end of their 628-nautical mile voyage.
Ambersail rounding Tasman Island on Day 4
They came the furthest of any yachts to compete in the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart from the other side of the planet, in very different boats, representing very different sailing cultures and traditions, but they finished just minutes apart.
A 12 year old Lithuanian Volvo 60 that roams the world from race to race called Ambersail, and KLC Bengal 7, a two year old Humphreys 54 hailing from Japan arrived in Sydney never having taken part in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race before. And Ambersail was the first Lithuanian entry ever.
Yet in a fleet of 76, spread across 140 miles of ocean, this morning the only two non-Australasian boats in the race found they were converged at Tasman light with no other yachts in sight, rounding Cape Raoul and launching into Storm Bay within hailing distance of each other.
The two raced side by side across Storm Bay, match racing the final leg up the Derwent River.
In the end, Ambersail crossed the line six minutes ahead of the Japanese, a very satisfying result for her skipper, Simonas Steponavicius. 'We have met this boat quite a few times before,' he said.
'She used to carry the UK flag and was called Oyster Catcher. She and Jazz are our usual benchmark boats.'
Jazz had already finished five hours earlier, but Steponavicius can live with that this time. 'I am not surprised Jazz did her own thing in her own courtyard,' he said.
There seemed to be nothing that could dent the Lithuanian’s spirits dockside today.
'This is a must do race,' he declared. 'It is exactly what I had imagined - it is tough. The conditions are very changeable. We even got a squall from the Southern Ocean at the entrance to Storm Bay.'
On the other side of Constitution Dock, the Japanese were spraying champagne about the boat and cheering, though skipper Yoshihiko Murase regretted the fish that had got away at Cape Hauy.
'It was a very good race, but not as good as we expected,' he ruefully remarked. 'We had all the TP52s behind us, but after Cape Hauy they passed us.'
Local knowledge says keep well away from the wind shadow created by the Tasmanian coast in a westerly, a lesson no doubt now inscribed in Kanji on a bulkhead deep inside KLC Bengal 7.
'We all enjoyed the scenery down the Tasmanian coast though,' Murase added.
Both boats had covered huge distances to take part in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Ambersail, the first ever Lithuanian entrant, has covered some 100,000 miles over the years, roaming from race to race.
Normally in November she would have competed in the Rolex Middle Sea Race in the Mediterranean after some racing in America, but this year she turned south from the Caribbean instead.
Steponavicius rates the Middle Sea, the Rolex Fastnet and the Rolex Sydney Hobart the top three races in the world: 'They are all very different,' he says. 'The Middle Sea race is very tactically challenging; sailed in a lot of wind shadows. The Fastnet is also very challenging, with the tides and tidal barriers.
'The Hobart is an ocean race where you sail a big distance from north to south, so there is an extreme change of climate and season. A brilliantly interesting race, it is different from everything we have done,' Steponavicius continued.
'Yesterday we ran with full spinnaker in winds gusting to 25 knots, in a huge swell, at a speed of 27 knots. It was exhilarating, especially at night.
'We sailed from Japan for 33 days non-stop to be here,' said Murase, 'and it was more than worth it.'
Japan's KLC Bengald heading towards the Derwent River on Day 4
Arriving at Sydney City Marine, owner Syd Fischer was on hand to welcome them. 'They looked as fresh as anything and were smiling. Then they told me they were at sea for 33 days. I couldn’t believe it,' Fischer said.
So will they come back?
'Maybe, I will think about that in one or two days,' a tired Murase offered. 'The last part of the race was very hard.'
'I would do my best to come back every year. As often as I can,' the Lithuanian Steponavicius declared
Rolex Sydney Hobary Yacht Race 2012