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Woman skipper takes on ocean racing ‘heavies’ in Maria Island Race

by Peter Campbell on 17 Nov 2012
2012 Maria Island Race Rob Cruse
Hobart yachtswoman Amberley Ford tonight was taking on the ‘heavies’ of ocean racing as the fleet raced in strong winds across Storm Bay towards Tasman Island and the East Coast in the Tasports 65th Maria Island Race.

As she predicted before the start, Amberley made a conservative start at the helm of her father’s Bavaria 38 cruiser/racer Fordplay, but as the fleet beat down the Derwent to the Iron Pot she had the boat well placed in the 16 boat fleet.

Not only is Amberley the only woman skipper in the fleet, but the 180 nautical mile Maria Island Race is her first ocean race as a skipper, although she sailed in last year’s Sydney Hobart as a crew member of Natelle II.

Her crew comprises three other women, Kelly Pearson from Geelong, Catherine Kerr and Lynn Pullen from Hobart, along with her father Grant Ford and Greg Brooks, 'my offshore sailing tutor.'


Amberley is not without seamanship experience, studying for her MED 3 (marine engineering diploma) and coxswain’s certificate at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston.

'When I graduate, I plan to take Fordplay to north Queensland to be involved in the yacht charter business,' she said last evening before setting sail from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

'This race is to gain experience of being a skipper in ocean sailing as, until now, I’ve mostly been cruising with Dad; next year we plan to again take part in the Van Diemens Land Circumnavigation of Tasmania.

Early last evening Tony Lyall’s TP52 Cougar II was powering to windward down the Derwent with the crew preparing to hoist a spinnaker for a highspeed run across Storm Bay in a 25 knot south-westerly breeze.

The yacht tracker at 2200 hours showed Cougar II maintaining an average speed of 12.5 knots as she powered to the south of Cape Raoul and towards Tasman Island.


Astern of Cougar II came Gary’s Smith Bakewell-White 45 The Fork in the Road, followed closely by Dump Truck (Justin Wells) which, like Cougar II, is a Tasmanian entrant in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

Before leaving the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania last evening for the 7pm start of Castray Esplanade, the crew of Cougar II were confidently predicting the prospects of breaking the record of 19 hours for the 180 nautical mile race set in 2004 by the maxi ketch Tasmania.

'However, we need to be back in the Derwent tomorrow morning before the big outgoing tide starts running down the River…that will be the critical point if we are to finishing before two o’clock tomorrow afternoon and break the record,' a crew member said.

An early retirement from the race was David Taylor’s Pisces although no details were available tonight.

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