Today a 35 year old Melbourne yacht named Bacardi will set Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race history - when she crosses the line of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race at 1.00pm, she will be commencing her 28th race to Hobart.
No other boat has ever done that many races (although Phillip’s Foote Witchdoctor, a Davidson 42, set a record of 27 races in 2007, which Bacardi equalled last year). It is an astonishing tribute to the boat builders who laid-up her thick, solid fibreglass hull all those years ago.
'She’s like the proverbial old axe,' jokes Martin Power, the boat’s second owner, who looks as salt encrusted and weather beaten as his beloved boat. 'She’s had four masts, three engines, three rudders and two decks, but the hull is the same.'
That hull was crafted in the early days of fibreglass yacht building in Australia. Back then there were no exotics, no foam sandwich cores, just solid glass, way overbuilt with big steel girders under the cabin sole tying it all together. Built to sail through a brick wall, or a 40 foot wave if you prefer.
In 2010 that thick skin saved everyone’s bacon.
'The chainplates tying the shrouds into the keel tore away, and the deck on the starboard side got peeled away from the hull by the mast as it broke and went over the side,' Power recalls.
'We lost all the rails and the pulpit. As the six metre waves broke over us, they’d throw the mast and sails at the boat, over the top of the boom, and then everything would slide back into the water.'
The crew had to dodge all this as they desperately tried to sort a way to separate the boat from the rig. 'We had rod rigging and you can’t cut rod rigging. We got them free eventually, but there were still all the halyards and running rigging keeping the rig and boat attached to each other,' Power remembers.
As they sawed at the ropes with a serrated bread knife, Power warned his crew to stay clear of the rope scattered around the deck. 'When the mast finally goes, it goes straight to the bottom - you don’t want to go with it.
'Never give a knife to a crew when he’s afraid of dying. He cuts everything, even the outhaul. I said ‘why did you cut the outhaul?’'
Throughout all this, the mast tried relentlessly to punch holes in the side of the boat as it slammed into the waterline. 'If the boat had been foam sandwich we would have been holed,' Power says, but somehow Bacardi survived.
Mast finally gone, they pulled the deck back down using handy-billies, and wrapped a storm sail over the gaping hole. Then they motored her back to Ulladulla: 'The wind was still 50 knots; we were surfing down the waves under motor at 15 knots. I said if we broached with that hole in the deck we’re done for.'
Once safe in Ulladulla, and after a beer or three, it was off to Bunnings for some ply and sikaflex before Power and a reduced crew motored back to Melbourne.
There was never any thought, though, that Bacardi had sailed her last Hobart 'That was just 1 in 27,' an unlucky aberration. 'We had to do another one.'
And sitting dockside at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the veteran Peterson 44 looks a picture, her classic IOR narrow, tapered hull, the pretty tumblehome and long overhangs a study in contrast to the modern wide arsed, plaining IRC fliers beside her.
And being IOR, she is a joy upwind, a handful down, and slow both ways. Yet Power would not swap her for a TP52.
'They are great fun, but if it got rough, I’d wish I was on Bacardi. I wouldn’t swap my chances of winning with anyone if the wind in the race is on the nose. We want two days of 30 knot southerlies to start the race and then blowing 40 knots from the north when the new boats are tied up in Hobart,' the Victorian says.
There is no doubt about it, both Power and Bacardi are old school, proudly bearing the Rolex Sydney Hobart torch handed down over the years by the Love & Wars, Pachas, Piccolos and those countless S&S 34’s (like Wilparina this year) from so many local sailing clubs that made this race what it is.
Power has covered a staggering 57,221 nautical miles on Bacardi in the 11 years he has owned her, and there are so many more to come. He has covered more than 6,000 in the last few months, meandering happily from race to race up and down the east coast.
He says that this might be their last Hobart though: 'it’s good fun, but it takes it out of you.'
But next year is the 70th anniversary Rolex Sydney Hobart and he can already feel the pressure.
'We’ll see,' he murmurs, as a wide grin splits his sunburnt face.
The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, the Australia Network throughout the Asia Pacific Region and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7 from 12.30pm until 200pm today.
Rolex Sydney Hobart website
by Jim Gale, RSHYR Media
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10:06 PM Wed 25 Dec 2013GMT
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