In the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race thr first across the line is easy to follow, and a great deal of time, money and effort goes into winning that particular prize. But what yachties really value, what brings them back year after year after year is the elusive Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the overall winner on IRC handicap.
Sometimes the first boat to finish will also win the race – Wild Oats XI has done that twice – sometimes one of the very last across the line will break open the champagne. Because the Tattersall’s Cup isn’t about waterline length or how new your boat is.
To win you have to sail whatever boat you have at 100% for however long it takes, make all the right tactical decisions in one of the most complicated ocean races in the world, and then get the weather that really suits your size and style of yacht.
In Ichi Ban and Patrice Matt Allen and Tony Kirby have built brand new boats to win this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart.
Each design is meticulously calibrated to the particular demands and idiosyncrasies of the race. The designers, the builders and sail makers have done their bit, the preparation is complete. At the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, with the race just days away, the two agreed that now it is all up to the crews.
'We’ve got a lot of experience on board including a number of guys from the last Volvo race,' Allen says,' including Will Oxley who navigated Camper, Gordon McGuire, our sailing master who’s done a lot of ocean racing, Neil Cox, also from Camper and Phil Harmer who was on Groupama, (which won the 2011/12 Volvo round the world race).
'So we have a lot of experience and a lot of Rolex Sydney Hobart experience,' Allen added.
'I've got a good mix of old and new crew,' says 27 Hobart race veteran Kirby. 'I’ve a few young crew who are doing their third, fourth and fifth races.
'But in my old crew, I have Michael Green who some 35 years ago did his first Sydney Hobart. It was in my father's Patrice 3. Peter Messenger is doing his 25th. He has won four times on four different boats and he wants to make it five on five. I think behind my crew we have some 200 Rolex Sydney Hobart's between us.'
New Zealander Jim Delegat has loaded his VO70 Giacomo (formerly Groupama) with a who’s who of Volvo and America’s Cup sailors. 'We've got a fantastic crew, a great afterguard,' Delegat says.
'Juan Vila from Spain is coming in today as our navigator, you'll know him from the Alinghi days, he's done four Hobart's before so he'll be great at the table. Steve Cotton has done a number of Volvos, Chris Dixon of course, he'll be on the helm. All in all we think we have a great package that will bring lots of excitement.
Allen’s Ichi Ban, Kirby’s Patrice and Delegate’s Giacomo are all state of the art racers. When they commence their blast across Bass Strait, the Farr 43 Wild Rose will still be a long way back along the New South Wales coast.
Wild Rose was once a state of the art racer too, but that was back in 1985. Still, her owner Roger Hickman believes he can reprise her 1993 success, when he rode her to an IRC win when she was called Wild Oats.
'The fundamental difference is new boats go fast, old boats go slow,' Hickman jokes, 'but the handicap allows us a fair bit of time. If Wild Oats XI takes a day to get there, we can take two. If it takes her two days, we can take four. There is a lot of current this year, and that makes a big difference to the slower boats.
'Michael Clarke says you can take wickets with the old ball as well as the new,' Hickman laughed.
Alas though, at this stage the race forecast does not appear to be favoring the back of the fleet.
'I think the boats that haven’t gone around Tasman Island by Sunday will struggle,' Allen predicts. He thinks that because the faster boats will get the best of the weather, this year will belong to one of the quick, mid-sized boats between 55 and 80 feet. A promising forecast for Ichi Ban, as it is for a host of crack yachts.
'I don’t think there’s any race in the world where you’d see such an eclectic mix of boats. A lot of them such as (the Hong Kong 80 foot maxi) Beau Geste, and to some degree Patrice and Ichi Ban are almost unproven boats.
'I know Patrice has been winning a lot of races recently, but we haven’t seen Beau Geste race. There’s lots of unknown commodities out there, so it’s very hard to pick a winner,' Allen concedes.
Hickman is philosophical. 'It is what it is. We are all out there to experience the race first and foremost, and take what spoils we get.'
For German Jens Kellinghusen and his crew on the Ker 51 Varuna the experience is everything.
'We aren’t dreaming of a win. We are just thrilled to be racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart because it is the top of the pyramid. It is the top race in the world and this has always been our dream.' Still, he has included a professional navigator, trimmer and boat captain in the crew. Truth be told no-one really is ever there to make up the numbers.
And Roger Hickman has some advice for all Tattersall’s Cup wannabes.
'Enjoy the running under spinnaker, but when the southerlies come you have got to enjoy that too.'