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Challenge charts a new course to Hobart

by Team Challenge28 on 24 Dec 2016
SOLAS Big Boat Challenge held in Sydney Harbour, on 23/12/2016. Lachlan Murnaghan
For the first time ever only one Sydney 38 has been entered in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Challenge, from the Sandringham Yacht Club, will be proudly flying the flag with an international crew within a fleet of 89 yachts.

When internet entrepreneur Chris Mrakas acquired Challenge, he retained the name but retired the sail number. This was to mark a new phase of the boat’s illustrious history, one of the most successful Sydney 38’s ever. Previously owned by Lou Abrahams, the late Victorian ocean racing legend, two-time winner of the Tattersall’s Cup and competitor in 44 consecutive Sydney Hobart Races.

“I promised Lou’s family that I would retain the name and when I went to the Club to advise them of the change of ownership we collectively decided to retire the number as a sign of respect to Lou and all of his sailing achievements. At first it was a little daunting as he was one of the true greats and so accomplished in ocean racing,” Mrakas said.

“Lou was a huge advocate of encouraging young sailors to expand their horizons and I wanted to keep that ethos and spirit alive when I took over the boat. It’s now my second year as skipper and for this year’s race I think we have assembled a fantastic team that balances experience, passion and energy,” he added.

The highest profile members of the crew are Luis Brito and Frederico Melo, two of Portugal’s most talented young sailors who in 2016 competed on Visit Madeira in the Extreme Sailing Series. Conveniently, their final regatta of the year was held on Sydney Harbour in perfect 13-20 knot conditions, which has given the pair an opportunity to familiarise themselves with Sydney waters and participate in crew training leading up to the race.

This will be Brito’s second year aboard Challenge but the first for Melo.

“I met Luis last year while he was coaching at a Sailabilty event at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron. He really wanted to do a Hobart race so someone referred him and he came down to Sandy to meet me. It was just an hour before the boat was due to depart for her delivery to Sydney and I had to size him up in an instant. I went with my gut because I thought anyone who flies half way around the world to support disabled sailors has to be a good guy. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. He’s just a brilliant guy.”

“This race has always been a goal of mine so to be invited back a second year is a real bonus. I prefer to be on a smaller boat like Challenge because you aren’t as limited in your role as you would be on a maxi or pocket maxi. We’re in a better position this year with an improved team and the boat is better prepared, so I think we have as good a chance as anyone,” Brito said.

Also competing in the race for a second time is Frenchwoman, Anne-Florence Planté, an accomplished yachtswoman who began sailing at six years old. Luckily for the rest of the crew Planté is in charge of the offshore cuisine. She sailed aboard Mille sabords, also a Sydney 38 in the 2013 edition of the RSHYR.

The preparation leading up to the Hobart race saw the team compete (without the Portuguese) in the 152 nautical mile Melbourne to Stanley race where they finished ninth overall in IRC. Over the last two days the entire crew have been training on Sydney Harbour and this morning finished a six hour offshore training exercise 20 nautical miles NE of Sydney Heads.

“Last night (Friday) was a great training session where we did lots of kite work and developed some better systems. Night training also helps combat seasickness because it helps everyone acclimatise to the sea state. Being a new crew we have made some massive gains over the last three days on the water. Every time we go out there we improve in leaps and bounds. Most long offshore races are won at night because that’s when some competitors lose their edge.”

Challenge will compete in Division Three, peppered with a number of Beneteau First 40s including fellow Sandringham Yacht Club boat Wicked, Bravo from Queensland and Two True, the 2009 IRC overall and Tattersall’s Cup winner from the Cruising Yacht Club of South Australia.

“It’s one of the hardest divisions in the race and it will lift everyone because it’s so tough. We’ll be keeping a close eye on our main rivals Bravo and Wicked, who both have excellent crews and are extremely competitive boats.”

Nanni Diesel 2019 FooterRolly Tasker Sails 2019 728x90 FooterX-Yachts AUS X4 - FOOTER - 3

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