If experience wins races then Swan Song should have the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2007 in the bag. Her crew have 212 Hobarts between them, a staggering average of 17.7 each.
They also have winning experience. They sailed together on George Snow’s famous Brindabella (George himself is part of the Swan Song crew this year), and most of them were on board the veteran Love & War last year when she won the race for the third time.
Lindsay May, who skippered Love & War last year and will navigate Swan Song this time round has some very definite ideas about what it takes to win a Rolex Sydney Hobart.
'First of all, you have to arrive at Tasman Island around midday to get the south east breeze. Arrive at Tasman at midnight and there will be no wind. Most of the boats that have won on handicap over the years have reached Tasman at midday, whether it be the third or fourth day. That’s why the boats around 45 feet have historically done so well. It just happens that the speeds that 45 footers go at tend to get them off Tasman at just the right time of day.
'Then for the smaller, slower boats the current is very important, especially off the NSW coast. It can give you a 30% speed advantage or more over the ground.'
The current isn’t so critical for the big, fast boats. For the maxis, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is a sprint, he says. The main thing is to keep yourself between the other maxis and the finish line, so that you get first use of the any weather change.
It is really a sprint for the 55 to 65 footers too, May says, but as you get smaller the boats are slower and you are out at sea longer. Then it becomes a marathon, and looking after the crew becomes critical if you want to win.
'You have to have regular watches, plenty of hot food and hot drinks, and the inside of the boat has to be kept dry. It is okay if you come off watch wet if you can change into dry clothes, but if your clothes are wet and you have to wear them all the way to Hobart it is bad for morale.
'Peter Kurts (the legendary former owner of Love & War) was fastidious about keeping the inside dry. Water can find its way through the tiniest crack so Peter would ensure that every hole had to be plugged up. Finding and plugging the leaks is a crucial part of preparation.
It is that sort of attention to detail that separates the top boats from the others.
'In any Hobart there are only 10 to 15 boats motivated enough to win the race. The others think they are but they haven’t done the preparation.'
May reckons that professionalism is a state of mind, and that the era of paid crews hasn’t really changed the Rolex Sydney Hobart much. 'When we were sailing Brindabella we were amateur but very competitive. We wanted to win just as much as the paid sailors and pushed ourselves and the boat just as hard.
'The great thing about sailing together for so many years is that you are sailing with people you can trust. Trust not to do anything stupid when you are changing gear or pushing the boat hard, which is when accidents occur.
'I think the Rolex Sydney Hobart is like the end of season football club trip away. Loads of laughs, good times and it’s all over until next year. Even on the top boats, as serious as they are, things will happen that will cause mirth and camaraderie such that they want to sail together again.
'Those that don’t cut the mustard get eased out, so over the years you get a team that is comfortable working together.'
This year the former Brindabella team has abandoned the rigours of an out and out racing boat for a cruiser racer. Swan Song is a beautifully appointed Swan 48. For many years Stephen Ainsworth campaigned her as Loki. Down below, the finish and the joinery is a sight to behold.
'You look at all that timber and think if I could only take it out we would go faster, but of course that would change our rating (handicap). Peter Kurts always said you should stay away from a boat where the saloon has been designed by an Italian interior designer. This is the first time I will have hot water out of a tap. It’s almost like it’s wrong, immoral.
'Going to Hobart on a Swan doesn’t feel right. It should be wet and uncomfortable.'