by John Curnow
There is salt running in the veins of Tom Braidwood.
A nice growth going on there... - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
Perhaps this is why he’s been on a quest to create a legacy and indeed his quest has been to get Quest, the Nelson Marek 43, back up to running order, so that he can not only take his own family, but a whole bunch of other of the kids from around the Lake Macquarie area out sailing on big boats, and thereby get to experience so many of the wonderful joys we may well take for granted.
Doing just that also provides another all important pathway for people to go on and do whatever it is they want to do in the sailing world, whether it is chase down heroes like Tom Slingsby, or just be fantastic weekend sailors.
All on board had a great time for Quest's return to the water. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
The first outing for the reborn Quest will be the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club’s, Forgacs Defence Inner Spring Regatta from September 7 to 9. Apart from Quest, there is a good fleet of around 20 vessels preparing for this innovative new event, including four Farr 40s, an Archambault M34 and a TP52.
To have Quest out there is quite an achievement, for she needed a lot of love, read work, to not only be ready to sail, but safe to do so. That kind of dedication possibly starts with a good dose of sentimentality, a vision and may well bypass some cold hard facts about the volume of work required. In Tom’s case, however, this is not completely the case, for whilst he knew the boat intimately and passionately, he was under no delusion as to her state when he found her. In a lot of ways, the story of one is also the history of the other, so what better place to begin than with Quest’s arrival for Bob Steel back in 1994.
Carroll Marine built Quest. Having just returned from an America’s Cup campaign with Syd Fischer, Tom put her together for Bob. Hard to believe, but this was Bob’s first Quest.
‘We sailed her on Sydney Harbour for a couple of weeks and then trucked it to Hamilton Island, which we won. That was just fantastic. We then came back and did the Telstra Cup before the Sydney Hobart Race, when we also won. At the time, Terra Firma, the Murray 41, was new too. We were provisional winners, even after they'd crossed the finish line, but they rescored the Hobart under IMS (changed configuration). They won and we got second, but it was all fantastic, however.’
Bob would have to wait for his first win until 2002, when his Nelson Marek 46 scored the Tattersall’s Cup.
The team returned to NSW, competed in and won the Sydney to Mooloolaba race, then shipped the boat to New Zealand and scored a second in the Air NZ regatta. From there the boat went to Hawaii for the Kenwood Cup, which they won, along with the fantastic Ausmaid and Ragamuffin. Returning to Australia, Team Quest started the cycle all over again, but broke the rig in the race to Hobart.
A new rig was installed and they continued to campaign the boat hard, before she was sold to a Brisbane based owner who won the Brisbane to Gladstone race with her. They were certainly the glory days for Quest, for she sat at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club for ages and then spent another eight at Lane Cove not doing much, except deteriorating badly - very badly, as it turns out.
Not much use of late it would seem. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
‘When I found her, down below was all covered in moss, there were sails floating in the bilge and the deck was delaminated. I knew that I could sort it out, what specifically had to be done and could even see how we could go about it. I took her up to Forgacs in Newcastle and pulled her out. The fairing had all fallen off the keel, so we ground it back and refaired the foil. Years of antifouling had been applied over the top of the old stuff, so we took it back to the epoxy, recoated the skin and then re-antifouled her. Not a good job that one, I tell you. We reconditioned the saildrive and in a rush of blood, sanded and repainted the topsides to make her look like she did back then’, said Tom.
‘You wouldn’t believe how many people have heard what we’re doing and said that's awesome. We were on the cover of everything back then and she is very photogenic. It has been great to have Tim Knight and a whole bunch of friends help me out with this project. A lot of them will be having their first sail ever with me at the Forgacs Regatta in September.’
43' of boat does not exactly fill out a dry dock. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
The hull was not the only thing in need of attention, either. ‘The deck had delaminated around the chainplates. The caps go down through deck and then stainless steel straps take the load in to the H frame at the bottom, same as a Farr 40, so the deck takes a bit of lateral load. The balsa core had rotten and hence the deck was bulging up. We (mostly Tim) cut the inside skin away, dug the balsa out each side of the bulkhead, about 2.5m worth, put in high density foam, re-laminated it, put a new skin on and faired it off. Whilst there, I put new athwarthships tracks on to replace the two sets of longitudinal pairs. A single pad eye is there now for the #3 and 4, just like a Volvo Ocean 70. It’s well inside, so the so sheeting angle is fine and it has cleaned up the deck up enormously - looks a lot more like a Farr 40 now.’
Tom added, ‘Together with new engine mounts and a for’ard V-berth for the kids, it all makes Quest very usable again. At some point, somebody had a lot of sails made for her, so we have plenty of choice, but the good main was one of sails to suffer from the prolonged bath. Luckily, the luff and foot lengths are the same as a Farr 40 (even the forestay P measurement is), so we should be able to locate a mainsail reasonably easily.’
Indeed Tom’s boss, Tony Lobb from Forgacs Defence, has a Farr 40 himself, so Tom may not have to go looking too far for the new additions to the wardrobe.
‘Its about having a fun machine and not so much about being silly and avoiding rushes of blood. We'll just race on the Lake, with maybe the Coffs Harbour race thrown in, but certainly the Port Stephens regatta. Doing Quest up was a big sentimental thing for me.
'We’re not IRCing her, as we have a tin rig, runners, checkstays etc, but she will suit the Australian Measurement System, so perhaps we can look at that. I’m going to Hobart this year with Bob on the TP, so that will sate my saltwater needs. He's probably going to be at the Forgacs Regatta, too.’
If you got the impression that it is not as much about offshore now for Tom, then you’d be correct. After all, there are his wife Belinda, daughter Yardley (6) and son Eamon (4) to consider. Perhaps this is why the two time America’s Cup and three time Volvo Ocean Race competitor has his eye on creating the legacy for others to go on and achieve their own yachting goals, no matter how far and wide they do or do not want to sail.
Belinda Braidwood and the kids enjoy the reborn Quest's first day out. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
‘There are a lot of young kids involved with things like Flying Elevens, so it will be good to get them involved and show them what’s what. There just does not seem to be the pathways around now to keep them in the sport.
'Quest behaves differently to the modern stuff. We have an overlapping jib and I think we'll beat the Farr 40s uphill, until the #3's arrive. We're 43’LOA, so have a bit more LWL to play with for reaching and only 600kg heavier, but yes, the Farr 40’s will get us with their masthead kites. Look if we beat them to the top mark we’ll be happy. Trophy won and then go and have some fun’, said a wide-eyed Tom.
Perhaps he’s seeing that we don’t want to loose kids out of dinghies. Not every single one of them has to go to the Olympics, or do a Volvo or Hobart. ‘My own daughter is a for'ard hand in the Pelican with my cousin. She commented to me other day that she liked it best when I was leaning out and getting spray in my face, but didn’t want to go around the world. I don’t want her to either. To me it is a bit like bikes. Everyone loves to go for a cycle, but not everyone is training for the Tour de France.’
Eamon and Yardley Braidwood love the boat. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
Tom’s own exploits not only allow him to comment on future generations, but also prove that it if you are aiming for the top, then it is all about dreams.
In 1983, Tom knew he wanted to be a bowman. He had a poster of Australia II on his wall and it had all the positions marked out. He also had a scrapbook with all the Mini Transat boats in it. Yes. Tom achieved both of the goals. He was also the kind to walk the marina with his bag over his shoulder and ask for rides. His first ocean race on Sequester came about in this way and he even had to yell back to a mate to tell his mum he got a ride, as he did not even know the name of the boat at the time.
Certainly some things in this world have moved on and yet there are others that seem to have gone full circle in a way.
‘I do wonder in a way where are the people coming through? Back then, I wanted to be younger than my dad when I did my first Hobart. You paid to get yourself down there, bought provisions and then delivered the boat home. That’s how it worked, but you had to be more than a good sailor. You had to have a trade and that was generally a sail maker or mechanical/technical. Alby Pratt (North Sails) is a close friend from those days and I chased his tail a bit, as I went about being a fitter, diesel maintenance/machinist and ultimately rigger. The boat Nigel got paid maybe $100 a day and then for big events, you might bring in someone like David Barnes, Grant Simmer or the late Peter ‘Spike’ Dorien to fill a specific role. For a while there it seemed like a lot of that process was missed and you just went to saying you were a pro sailor. You should only get paid if you’re doing the work, got something jiggling around your neck or you've done an AC or VOR.’
Indeed the names on Tom’s CV include many luminaries, as his skill set continued to expand from being on the tools to managing projects. Dotted throughout are names like Syd Fischer, Laurie Smith, David Coe, George Snow, Bob Steele and Mark Richards, whom Tom worked for at Palm Beach Motor Yachts (where he met Tim Knight). Jono Morris of McConaghy’s deserves special note here, for he deployed Tom’s skills to firstly get Alfa Romeo II in the water and then based on that success, Green Dragon.
So look out for the fun machine on Lake Macquarie or relatively nearby, especially if you want to explore your sailing options or talk with a great guy for a moment. Ultimately, any soul who gets to sail on the Quest will be fortunate, that’s for sure.
However, you cannot help thinking that Quest herself is the luckiest of them all, for without Tom and his skills, she may have slipped too far and not been able to come back at all and that is a sad, sad time for any grand old girl of the seas.
Dry Dock's 10 tonne crane more than enough for Quest. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
High density foam went back in to replace the rotten balsa core. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
The keel was stripped down completely during the restoration. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta
Tim Knight did a lot of the work on Quest. - Forgacs Defence Spring Regatta