Most of those who participated in this years’s Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race would agree that this year’s race was one of the quietest for a while.
But quiet does not mean easy.
The faces of many of the skippers and crew who arrived in Hobart on Friday and Saturday looked every bit as exhausted as they have in previous heavy weather years.
The concentration and energy required to avoid those dreaded ‘holes’ in the breeze - of which most boats experienced two or three along the track - is every bit as exacting as the mental anguish when you find yourself in your own personal gap in the ‘0’ zone.
Nor does modern technology make the agony any less soul-destroying when you do finally see ‘three lemons’ appear on your boatspeed readout, as Grant Wharington described the three zeros on his instruments last year.
In former years you were spared the horror until daylight when you found out that the boats you’d taken miles out of the day before were sitting right beside you.
With Yacht Tracker the agony of watching those in pressure charge up from behind you, hour by hour, as you sit in a glassed-out parking lot is like a slow drip water torture.
As a consequence words like ‘frustrated’ and ‘disappointed’ were common in discussions with a number of skippers and crew on Constitution Dock over the last two days, particularly from those on boats in the 40 to 50 foot range.
On Friday night, charging down the Tasmanian at speeds in the high twenties many of these same crew had strong reason to believe that their boats were running hot for an overall handicap win.
But it was not to be.
In the six or so hours that it took a number of the leading handicap yachts like Quantum Racing, Ragamuffin, Yendys and Chutzpah to park up or hit the idle button somewhere between Tasman Island and the Iron Pot, the honours eluded them all.
Suddenly the battle moved to a face-off between the 65 foot Rosebud, enjoying a ‘park-up’ in Constitution Dock and the little 38 foot Zephyr at the other extreme, still somewhere well up the track.
As the hours ticked past it became clear that the ironically named Zephyr was going to need half a hurricane to get her to Hobart in time; so by mid afternoon on Saturday the all conquering American team on Rosebud had both hands firmly on the Tattersall’s Cup.
Meanwhile it was left for the might-have-beens to rue what might have been.
As with so many other great contests there’s one winner and numerous others who come so close.
Close, but no cigar.
Many of these crew and skippers have decades of Sydney Hobart experience and come back to the race time and again hoping that this will be the year they take the Tattersall’s Cup.
Bruce Taylor has now raced to Hobart twenty seven times, won his division seven times and come second and third overall on handicap, but never cracked the big win. His new Chutzpah a Reichel Pugh ILC 40 was made for a race like this year’s, if only he could avoid the holes.
During the race Chutzpah yo-yoed around in the top five positions over the first forty eight hours dropping back to fifth and then rocketing back to first for a long period as she ripped down the Tassie coast amongst boats 15 feet longer than her.
‘We sailed through Georgia and Goldfinger, two larger Victorian boats; so we enjoyed that’ said Taylor raising a mischievous smile.
But the enjoyment was to be short-lived as Chutzpah soon ran out of breeze off Tasman Island.
Arriving at Tasman Island at the wrong time of the day - and wrong in this race usually means the early hours of the morning - is a little like flying into Sydney Airport ahead of the curfew; you’re simply forced to go into a holding pattern.
For that reason there were more than a few skippers who would have been a deal happier if the race had started at 7pm and not 1pm on Boxing Day.
‘We were gutted’ said Steve McConaghy, tactician and helmsman aboard Ray Roberts’ Quantum Racing, speaking of their last ten hours of the race,
‘we were so far ahead of everyone else on handicap and were doing 28 knots down the Tasmanian coast; that was until we fell into a hole off Tasman Light.
‘it took us 6 hours to get around the corner’.
After sixteen races south Ray Roberts was still looking for a Tattersall’s win, a goal that he described before this years’ race as bordering on a personal obsession.
With perhaps some strange premonition Roberts was to explain at the pre-race conference the ‘agonising and tantalising’ nature of reaching Storm Bay and the Derwent in great time and then spending ten hours getting to the finish.
The nightmare was one he and his crew revisited in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Ed Psaltis, skipper of AFR Midnight Rambler, had the drained face of a man who looked as if this race had taken more out of him than the storm-bound 1998 Hobart in which his yacht won the Tattersall’s trophy.
‘It was very frustrating’ he said of their race ‘there were a lot of holes out there and I think we found every one of them'.
It’s a measure of how highly these skippers prize the overall handicap win that their owners could be disappointed, despite their achievements; both Quantum Racing and Chutzpah won their respective divisions and came third and fourth respectively on overall handicap this year.
But there was also time for some grace to be shown amongst the cigarless.
Graeme Wood, owner of the TP 52 Wot Yot thinks the Rosebud win is good for the race, insisting that his encouragement to hirsuit Americans be quoted verbatim;
‘I hope this will inspire a few other hairy-chested yanks to give this race a shot’ he said.
No matter what the results, the Sydney to Hobart has some strange parallels with giving birth; it tends to create short memories of the agony involved in the ‘delivery’; skippers are soon planning a return.
Asked on the dockside, less than an hour after finishing, whether he would be back for another go with Chutzpah, Bruce Taylor typified the rapid memory loss this race induces:
‘It’s just a little too early to be putting that question to me right now. Maybe ask me again this evening’.