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Is the Rolex Sydney Hobart in the pocket of the 50s? (Part I)

by John Curnow on 9 Dec 2011
Michael Hiatt’s Living Doll © Andrea Francolini Photography http://www.afrancolini.com/
Once upon a time, the term Pocket was applied to things like Battleships and Maxi racing yachts. You could even say it suited to the venerable Jumbo of the skies, the 747, with its SP derivation early on in its model cycle.

The underlying principle for all of these variations on a theme is the same. Be there, ready to capitalise if certain other things did not go to plan or to harangue your much bigger rivals. Speed was a fundamental part, as too was range, especially in the case of the B747-SP. However, technology marches on and the SP cannot do anywhere near as much as a 747-400 can, for instance.

Likewise, the Pocket Maxi has given way to something else, the Mini Maxi, but paying homage to those earlier times are the furious 50s. Their masts are about the same height, their waterline length would be getting very close to that of a lot of their forbears, but they weigh maybe a little over half as much, can carry a lot more sail and are far more efficient at putting all that power to use, which is speed.

There’s a nice little gathering of the 50s building for the 67th rendition of the iconic Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and they have come from many parts of the globe. It is said that luck plays a major role in the race, not the least of which is the prevailing weather patterns. Should they be suitable and allow the Grand Prix 50s to do some hard reaching or running, then they can certainly stretch their legs and place a very ominous threat to the Tattersall’s Cup and that glorious, overall winner status.

Indeed, looking at the satellite trackers in a few of the recent years, it really has been no surprise to see so many of the furious 50s up so close to the leaders. So, it would very much seem that the race is on inside the race, then. Who makes up this very important sector? There are former TP52s, semi-production vessels and more one-off designs from offices like Farr, Judel-Vrolijk and Reichel-Pugh. In alphabetical order, they are Calm, Cougar II, Duende, Freefire 52, Jazz, Living Doll, Pretty Fly III, Ragamuffin, Scarlet Runner, Shogun and Strewth.



Calm have had a good run at it over the last 12 months. They have new composite standing rigging and apart from being a very, very sensual item, it has had a dramatic effect on the boat’s performance by reducing the amount of weight upstairs, compared with the stainless rod it replaced. They have certainly earned a bit of a dark horse moniker, having beaten all-comers of late. Twice winner of the Melbourne to Stanley qualifying race, the last at the end of October, they have also twice won the Melbourne to Geelong race and very recently taken out the Lipton Cup and the Victorian IRC Championship.

'We’ve had the best preparation this time around and the crew have really bedded down. Two of the crew will be undertaking their 25th Hobart with us', said co-owner, Jason Van Der Slot. He talks of Ian ‘Barney’ Walker and Richard Grimes. The latter will be the Navigator for the race.

'There’s been a bit done of late. The electronics have all been re-wired for smooth running for the all-important downloading of GRIB files for the navigation work and routing and we extended the gunwale to be flush with the transom and get all the weight aft that we could. Recently arrived was the new North Sails 3Di square top ocean main with three reefs and we got some new spinnakers, as well as light and medium headsails.'

'Along with our two 25ers, there’s Aaron Cole, Matt Johns, Rowan Leaper and Russell Tyson, all of whom take us to something like 130-140 Hobarts, collectively', said Jason. Also on board is Jade McKay, who is one of the burgeoning group of women to found on board the top boats. The well-travelled and highly accomplished Graeme Ainley and John Williams will once again be taking the crew van South with all the gear.

Of the recent demise of the TP52 circuit in the Mediterranean, Jason said, 'It really needs more than four or five boats, buy the Class won’t fall away. True, they won’t go for all the bells and whistles, as that required something like 110 staff to run it. Rather, I expect they’ll dovetail it in to other regattas, with an IRC52 or TP IRC52 section incorporated in to it. Running something like this is not a cheap exercise, but there's plenty of leverage amongst the owners, so I’m sure it will be clear by early next year.'

With the boat already in Sydney and getting back to matters at hand, Jason said, 'Some of our crew have spent a lot of time on other 52s. We’re Farr designed, so we are more of an all-round vessel and think we will do well as the breeze builds. We’re not there to muck around. We are going to give it all. It really is a race within a race', Jason finished with.

Fresh from a round of small modifications by her original designers, Reichel-Pugh, is Scarlet Runner. The former Boxing Day Dash and Melbourne to King Island winner was always built with tough seas in mind, but she has shed a fair old amount and '…now comes in eight metric tonnes. We have found that we’re running deeper with the lighter keel and the biggest kite on board remains 270m2. The deck layout received some attention during the spit and polish, too. There’s a new offshore mainsail, as well as some other new sails, which have been kept on the smaller side to ensure the rating was optimised for the event', said owner, Rob Date.


There’s a good spread of age amongst the souls taking to the seas aboard her. They range from 60 to 20 years. Scott Hinton is there, so too Sam Hunt who sails on Hooligan and Jess Sweeney, who does the onshore Navigation and Weather for Camper with Team NZ in the Volvo Ocean Race. Sam Chandler makes it two women on board for Scarlet Runner and there’s Dillon Clarke from Port Lincoln, as well. That is important, if for no other reason, than The Runner did so well in the Adelaide to Port Lincoln race earlier this year.

'We should be off to Sydney on Friday morning and aim to be ready to roll for the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Tuesday and we’ll use the new main for the first time in anger, there. In the words of the late Ted Whitten (AFL Legend), we plan to stick it right up ‘em. The race could well be won or lost in the 50s and the best 50 really does stand a great chance to take it out', said Rob.

All right. With the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge looming and then the Rolex Sydney Hobart a little further on, it might be time to put Part One in your pocket and get ready for Part Two.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race website

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