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Jim Delegat on how Giacomo won the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

by Di Pearson on 29 Dec 2016
Nikolas Delegat, Jim Delegat, James Delegat and Steve Cotton with the Tattersall's Cup Rolex/ Kurt Arrigo
“It kind of feels like it’s a reward for a long journey – very satisfying – although the enormity of it we haven’t been able to comprehend,” New Zealander Jim Delegat said today on being told Giacomo was the overall winner of the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart.

The enormity of winning the race, following the shock of finishing second over the line and one of three boats inside Wild Oats XI’s 2012 record, beating two supermaxis, not to mention the rest, was a little overwhelming. Both his sons Nikolas (20) and James (18) sailing his first Hobart, added to the immensity of the occasion.

“So often you really wonder whether it is realistic to dream of winning - is this something that can really be achieved,” he said.

“Today we’re not the same boat and crew we were in 2013. Since then, and the 2014 race (when his Volvo 70 was dismasted on the Tasmanian coast so close to the finish), we looked at what we had to do. The mindset and crew is new and different this year.

“Part of that was respect for the weather and the understanding of it. Every decision has to be right. Timing and execution of it has to be right. Conditions in this race are so diverse. This time we had reaching, running, were becalmed, everything from 0 knots to 30 knots,” he said of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race.

“It really comes down to high quality execution, timeliness, keeping the boat moving. We used every sail on the boat - we were regularly in sail change mode, ready with next sail. This is the most physically demanding race. We weren’t really able to put a proper watch system into place, constantly bringing people back on deck for sail changes.

“But it is essentially understanding the importance of the weather – a sailing plan. A couple of days out from the race I started to take notice of the weather. I thought ‘the Volvo 70 is a tough boat’ and I thought ‘this weather is for us’ – we got lots of reaching and running. It was motivating. We went wide of rhumbline and only needed a couple gybes to make Tasmania.

“You will always get a weak spot though.

“The first 18 hours was the making of our race. From that point it was a question of being close enough to make a couple of gybes and make a gybe for Tasman Light. We got in the river and then we shut the gate on the rest,” he says with a mischievous smile.

“Did I mention the idiosyncrasies of this race?

“The other thing that stands out on paper is there are technically five or six other boats that are faster than us – boats like Black Jack, Maserati, Beau Geste, etc. We thought we could finish top six, so we exceeded our expectations. It was so exciting when we realised.

“Once we were coming up river we were doing the calculations on the rest in regard to the overall win. The reality started to sink in about our chances, but it’s not over till it’s over.

“To finish second on line – stuff of dreams – beating the bigger boats and creating such a lead on the others of our size. We just had to grab those early strong winds.

“Winning – it’s what dreams are made of. It’s a journey of learning experience. It’s very humbling. The legendary nature of the race and the remoteness of us achieving the win... At the same time it’s rewarding and exciting.

“Full credit to the crew – their timeliness in keeping the boat moving. If you don’t keep the boat moving, you are never going to win. My sailing master, Steve Cotton, he is an integral part of the crew. He’s a very experienced sailor – he’s done all the major races.”

Delegat, New Zealand’s most respected winemaker says with a cheeky grin: “We’d love to take the Tattersall’s Cup back NZ and put it next to the Bledisloe Cup!”

On the family connection, Jim Delegat says: “Well, it is a family affair with Kate doing all the administration and our boys sailing. For James – I’ve never seen a young man so humble to be in the company of the great sailors on Giacomo and to win something so significant – he’s chuffed. Sailing is James’ thing – he’s always sailed – he can’t see past sailing.”

James, who turned 18 on December 11, is the youngest in the race. He is aware of that fact. He is aware too, of being part of Giacomo breaking Wild Oats XI’s record, finishing second on line and then being announced overall winner.

“It is a huge deal. I still haven’t taken it in,” he says.

“Nikolas feels redemption after the mast tumbled (his first Hobart at 18 in 2014) – justice has been done. He takes this thing so seriously. By nature he’s a very focussed person and to not achieve that initial race, this is a great sense of accomplishment.”

Of the race as a whole, Delegat says: “This race – contagious, addictive. We’ve never not thought we would do another Hobart. Right now, in the sense of excitement and elation – we will be back.

“The thing with yachting is that if you keep doing the same thing, year in year out, and not have any success, you never will. Nothing is a given. You need to go away and re-think and learn.

“Now, I’m feeling a sense of achievement that we have come this far in such a short time. I’ll say again, it is so humbling. We have to have a regard for the challenge it is and the people who have gone before us – have respect for both.”
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