American Roger Sturgeon's new Farr-designed Rosebud, with a close win over top Australian contender Yendys (Geoff Ross) in the Rolex Rating Series, firmed as a strong prospect to win the Tattersall's Cup, the major trophy of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, awarded to the top yacht on IRC corrected time handicap.
Rosebud is the first launched of the new STP65 'box rule' class of high-performance fixed-keel yachts intended, like the successful TP52 class which inspired it, to provide both close class racing and competitive performance in mixed offshore fleets racing under IRC handicap.
Rosebud also won an earlier warm-up event on Sydney Harbour, the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge's IRC handicap division.
Sturgeon, who raced his previous Rosebud in the TP52 class, is a well-organised campaigner with a crew that has sailed many miles together. Principal helmsman is Jack Halterman. Bowman Justin Clougher, a Tasmanian with eight Hobart races on his CV who now lives in Newport, Rhode Island, is familiar with the fastest route by sea to his family's home in Hobart.
Rosebud beat the well-sailed local Reichel/Pugh 55 Yendys by just two points in the Rolex Trophy rating series of short windward-leeward races off the Sydney coastline, sailed in a good mix of wind conditions.
The two boats went into the last race tied on points. In a light and tricky south-east breeze, Rosebud placed second to Yendys' fifth to win overall.
Yendys, now in her second season, has proven to be an excellent all-rounder. Although she was designed and built for reliability in rough conditions as well as speed in long offshore races like the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the Rolex Fastnet Race, earlier this year she won the strong IRC division at the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, including three race wins in light air.
Her crew is strong in experience, again including Sean Kirkjian, Greg Johnston, Richie Allanson and Danny McConville, with Will Oxley navigating.
The Corby 49 Flirt, owned by Alan Brierty, won division two of the Rolex Trophy rating series, including five wins in her scoreline for the eight race series. The boat is helmed and organised by Roger Hickman, who was sailing master for Kevan Pearce aboard Ausmaid in her 1996 Sydney Hobart race win.
Tasmanian born Hickman, who is a master mariner, has sailed in 30 Hobart races and certainly knows his way south, particularly over the often difficult last 200 miles of the 628 nautical mile course down the Tasmanian coast.
TP52s Wot Yot and Ragamuffin, bought from American owners, have shown startling downwind performances in the opening coastal races of the Sydney racing season that would make them strong Tattersall's Cup contenders if the Rolex Sydney Hobart has predominantly hard running conditions.
Graeme Wood's Wot Yot, a Nelson/Marek design built in 2000, after a promising debut in the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, in which she finished fifth over the line, is leading the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's Bluewater Pointscore.
Her sailing master Michael Green, a veteran of 29 Hobart races who filled the same role in Quest's win in 2002 leads a crew with Quest veterans Hugh Brodie and Simon Reffold joined by some large, young newcomers.
Green says the total crew weight has been increased by 100 - 105kg, the new base to swing down the lightweight TP52. 'It has been a conscious effort to make the boat younger and stronger,' he says. 'You can't afford to carry the older guys on this type of boat.'
Wot Yot hit speeds of 25 knots running home before a 20 knot southerly in winning the Flinders Island race earlier this season.
Syd Fischer, aged 80, is enjoying racing aboard his TP52, his tenth ocean racer bearing his trademark Ragamuffin name. She is a Farr design, originally owned by Californian Philippe Khan and called Pegasus.
Roy Disney bought her and organised a crew of 15 youngsters with an average age of 22 to race her to third placing in division two in this year's Transpac Race.
Fischer has beefed her up for the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, replacing the Transpac keel with a heavier one designed by Farr, to increase upwind stability, reinforcing the internal structure to carry the heavier keel and adding another ring frame between the mast and the bow.
He has also fitted a bowsprit in place of the spinnaker pole and replaced the mainsail, which originally had only one reef, with a new one with three reefs to handle the almost inevitable southerly blow on the way to Hobart.
The greater downwind speed of the TP52 has had Fischer and his crew reviewing their downwind sailing angles in the VMG trade-off between running deeper close to course or higher and faster but over more distance.
'If you are not planing, you are going too slow,' says crewman Tony Ellis who has sailed 40 Hobart races, most of them with Fischer. 'It's certainly a lot of fun to sail.'
Fischer, always spare with words, says: 'It's quick, different and a bit of fun.' He says the boat is also fast to windward, achieving nine knots. 'We could not do that in the last boat (a Farr 50).'
The CYCA in its annual Ocean Racer of the Year Awards named Fischer, Ocean Racing Veteran of the Year. He is in his 45th season of ocean racing, sailing his 39th Hobart race. He won the Tattersall's Cup in 1992 and has taken line honours twice, in 1988 and 1990. Ragamuffin is lying second on CYCA's Bluewater Pointscore for this season.
The third TP52 entered Cougar II, a Farr design built in 2005, purchased recently by Alan Whitely of Melbourne, won the last race of the Rolex Trophy rating series. Whiteley sailed his first Cougar, a Beneteau First 44.7, to second place in IRC division D in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
Two Farr-designed Cookson 50s, Ray Roberts' Quantum Racing from Sydney and Michael Hiatt's Living Doll from Melbourne, must also enter handicap win calculations.
Roberts' strong team has been campaigning intensely in Asia with his DK46, winning the inaugural China Cup in October and placing second in the Kings Cup at Phuket, Thailand, in December.
Since last year's Hobart race, Roberts has had Cookson Boats in Auckland fit a forward canard on Quantum Racing to contribute side force resistance when the keel is canted, making the boat more efficient when sailing to windward.
Quantum Racing will race with substantially the same crew as last year, including tactician/helmsman Steve McConaghy, Scott Hinton and Don Buckley helming plus Carl Crafoord as navigator. Crafoord has sailed 21 Hobart races and been on three winning boats: Sagacious (1990), Raptor (1994), Quest (2004).
The 40-50 footers
In the 40-50ft size range, watch out for Mr Beak's Ribs, Shogun and Chutzpah.
David Beak's Beneteau 44.7 Mr Beak's Ribs, sitting in third place on the CYCA's Bluewater Pointscore, will do well if the Hobart has a good share of working to windward.
The boat, carefully optimised for IRC racing by Michael Spies, placed ninth overall and second in IRC division C in the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, then won the 2005 Sailing South Race Week in Hobart, Skandia Race Week in Geelong and the IRC Cruising Class at Hamilton Island. She withdrew from the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart with a broken spreader.
Sailmaker Ian Short has been running her campaign this season with a 'works team' that includes former Moth class world champion and Australian 16ft skiff champion David McKay.
Shogun, owned by Rob Hanna from Melbourne, is a new Rogers 46 lightweight. She showed great downwind speed to place second overall and win division C in the Audi Sydney-Gold Coast Race.
Then she had to withdraw from Audi Hamilton Island Race Week after suffering mast damage in the first race. A further setback came on the delivery voyage back to Melbourne with damage to the internal structure when a 40-knot southerly front hit her in Bass Strait.
The mast maker, Ki