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A Q&A with Joe Mele of Triple Lindy about the 2016 Sydney Hobart Race

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 23 Dec 2016
Triple Lindy competing at the Rolex Swan Cup Caribbean. She is the sole U.S. entry in the 2016 Sydney Hobart Race Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
Spend enough time racing sailboats, and you start to realize that there’s a kind of hierarchy amongst events. This is easily understood amongst One Design classes, where regional or national events obviously hold more importance to serious racers than a local Wednesday evening Laser race, however ocean racing can present a conundrum, as-with the exception of the Volvo Ocean Race or the Vendee Globe-there is no “championship” per-se. Instead, Mother Nature is often the defining factor as to why some races are approached (relatively) casually, while others are given the same level of preparation and gravity as a serious bluewater cruise.

Amongst ocean racers, four events stand prouder than the rest as examples of purely “classic” ocean contests, both in terms of course, expected conditions, anticipated competition levels, and overall difficulty. This elite list includes the Newport to Bermuda Race, the Fastnet Race, the Transpac Race, and the Sydney to Hobart Race.

While the later is “only” 630 miles, it crosses Bass Strait, a much-feared body of water that’s roughly 310 miles long, but only 200 feet deep at most soundings. Trouble is, waves traveling on the open Indian Ocean are used to significantly more depth below their peaks and troughs, sometimes creating the situation where big waves becomes boat-breaking monsters (read about the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race). Other times, Bass Straight can be (relatively) peaceful, but-as always with ocean racing-it’s a proverbial roll of the dice.

Ninety boats have entered this year’s Sydney to Hobart Race, but only one, Triple Lindy (USA 93310), skipper Joe Mele’s Swan 44 from New York, will be flying the proud colors of Old Glory. I caught up with Mele ahead of the race to get his impressions of the event as a first-time contestant, and to learn more about his road to Hobart.

How long have you owned the boat and what did you and your crew do to prepare for this year's Sydney to Hobart
I purchased the boat in 2004 specifically to ocean race. I wanted a boat I could both day sail with my friends and use to cross an ocean competitively. We have done a series of eastern-seaboard ocean races from as south as the RORC [Caribbean] 600 in Antigua to as north as the Marblehead to Halifax race. (I can't begin to tell you what the liquor bill was for the post-race festivities because half of my crew is from Halifax.) Some of the events during that span include
Les Voiles de Saint Barth's, Key West [Race Week], and Charleston [Race Week] to name a few.

The goal for all [these events] was tuning the boat, improving its layout as well as working the same core crew and performance. A major result of this work, specifically to the boat, for Sydney Hobart and other IRC ocean races was the conversion to a full [asymmetric spinnaker] boat by adding a five-foot prod and the corresponding increase in downwind sail area has helped Triple Lindy be competitive in a wider range of downwind conditions than the traditional [symmetric-spinnaker] rig the boat previously had.

What parts of the race are you and your crew the most excited about?
The challenge of testing all our hard work on both crew and boat in one of our sports most legendary events in one of the most amazing sailing locations one could choose. For a bunch of North Americans to get our trusted Triple Lindy to the opposite end of the world and to take on this event is a full team's dream.

We are also happy to be sailing an event where an entire nation is not only behind and enthralled by the event, but they are literally all present and on water following us out from the start.

What parts—if any—hold any trepidation as first-time Sydney to Hobart racers?
Two words, Baaaaaaaasss Straight. Seems like it has the potential to be a combination of the Gulfstream and nor'easter with a nice injection of steroids.

From a skipper’s perspective, what have been the hardest pieces of logistics in bringing your boat and crew to Australia for the Sydney to Hobart?
After doing so many events over the past few years, the importance of land logistics, on top of what you do on the water makes for a successful event and team. This, especially over Christmas, including families and making sure both on the water and off the water are all tuned to make the full team a family is key. Having such people as Carla dale, Donna Leblanc and David Kelley, Leigh Reichart, Rives Potts (commodore of the NYYC) make sure boat, crew and family are all taken care of ensures a successful event.

How does it feel too be the only American-flagged boat at one of the single most important offshore races on the planet?
With the current press associated with the USA, we feel showing the world how great our country truly is (while a full multi national Crew) on such an international event is absolutely crucial. That and its too bad Comanche saw we registered and ran away, we looked forward to lining up against them again.

Best wishes to Triple Lindy and all Sydney to Hobart crews for safe and speedy passages, and stay tuned in the coming weeks for a post-Hobart debriefing with Mele.

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