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Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - Another TP52 year

by Jim Gale on 23 Dec 2016
Today’s panel Derek Sheppard, Martin Sheppard, Matt Allen, Paul Clitheroe, Shane Kearns, Robbo Robertson Rolex/ Kurt Arrigo
Rolex Sydney Hobart skipper Matt Allen announced today he will leave his more comfortable 60 foot, purpose-built for the race Carkeek 60 at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia dock, choosing to be flung around on his TP52, Ichi Ban, on Boxing Day.

Allen has been waiting for a clearer picture of the weather models and now thinks this could be a TP52 year again. The opening northerly, an overnight southerly and then more north in the winds down the Tasmanian coast: it all looks remarkably like a repeat of last year, which was won by Paul Clitheroe’s TP52 Balance.

“Conditions are aligned for the bigger 50 to 80 foot boats to win. It’s quite a lot of reaching and running, but also a very tricky three knot current going against a southerly wind – that will happen around midnight for us – and the seas are going to be pretty big.

“So pretty tricky running conditions with a lot of water running over the deck, then straight into big seas, then back to reaching and running. Hopefully we’ll arrive in the in the Derwent in the very early afternoon, which is the perfect time.

“The TP52s are a good chance, but I think a number of other boats are in it. The reaching brings the V70s, Varuna VI (a Ker 56) and (New Zealand 80 footer) Beau Geste into it.”

Allen doesn’t think the forecast has much to offer those of 45ft and under, but Shane Kearns, skipper of the S&S 34, Komatsu Azzurro, will have none of it. Kearns forced Clitheroe to wait for nervous hours before cracking the champagne, while Kearns’ boat wallowed, becalmed in the mean spirited Derwent River with the finish line and an historic upset victory in sight.

By the time the river stirred, Clitheroe was in the box seat and Azzurro was back in third place. So close. Kearns had the race at his mercy for three hours, and nothing. Not a breath.

“I will carry that baggage until the start on Boxing Day,” Kearns grins now. “There was a lot of tension on board. No-one said a word because if you did, you would strangle that person.”

In 2015 the forecast favoured the big boats, just like this year, so Kearns figures he can go all the way this time: “I’m extremely confident. We have it in the bag. Paul won’t have to wait as long this year, because we’ll be right behind him. We’ve found an old sail on board, a blooper. They go back 30 years and it will be our secret weapon.”

Queenslander Robbo Robertson has returned to the race at 77 with his Beneteau 40, Bravo, after a bit of a break. “Watching last year’s race, I thought ‘I still have another one in me’, so I bought a boat I thought I could win with.

“A few days ago I thought our chances were better, but they’re fading fast. It looks like the bigger boats are going to get the pressure right the way down the coast. But you never know - something always happens in the Hobart.

“They will go through one weather pattern, but the little boats will go through three, but the little boats have won before - and they will again.”

Martin Sheppard who races his brother Derek on their Beneteau 45, Black Sheep, hasn’t thrown in the towel yet. “There are lots of variables. You have to keep the crew together, the boat together. We’re still a long way out. I still feel like a kid before Christmas.”

Derek is more laid back. He loves the kaleidoscope of conditions and emotions that the race can provide, from sunny reaches accompanied by schools of dolphins, to screaming, white water terror. And the rare chance in a hectic world to spend three or four days with his brother. “You need a bit of sibling rivalry too,” Martin chimes in.

Nothing motivates a guy starting his watch more than sailing the boat faster than his brother on the opposite watch. “You spend the next three hours looking for that tenth of a knot to beat him.”

But back to those TP52s. Does Paul Clitheroe fancy the double? “With nine this year, we have the same problem as last year. Can we come home first? I don’t like sailing in southerlies outside Sydney Harbour. But when we popped out of the southerly last year and only three TPs were left, it makes it a lot easier,” Clitheroe jokes.

“The forecast looks good for us. Balance is tough. I know everyone is saying ‘fast downwind racing, won’t that be easy’, but it’s not easy at all, particularly on the TPs. It’s really tough out there, so we’re likely to break some gear.

“Does it suit TP52s? Yes it does. Do I think the first TP52 into Hobart has a great chance of winning the Tattersall’s Cup? Categorically, yes I do.”

“Every race is different,” Matt Allen says. “We love the start, all the excitement, and we love getting out into the ocean when we can all quieten down and relax a bit, but the bit between Sydney Heads and the Iron Pot at the mouth of the Derwent River is seriously hard work.”

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.
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