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Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Contenders ready for Tattersall Cup battle

by Di Pearson 20 Dec 2018 19:21 PST 26 December 2018
Skippers from various overall contenders in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race gathered at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia this morning © CYCA Media

Five very different overall contenders for the Rolex Sydney Hobart's prized Tattersall Cup rated their chances for winning the 628 nautical mile race at a press conference at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia today.

After 41 races to the Apple Isle on modern boats, including taking line honours in 1999 with Nokia, and winning overall in 2003 with First National Real Estate, Michael Spies has turned back the clock and turned his back on modernity.

Spies, courtesy of long-time friend and crew mate, Rob Case (33 Sydney Hobarts) found his childhood love, Mark Twain, in Melbourne this year and purchased her. The beautiful timber hulled S&S 39 was the first to ever sail 25 Hobarts, which it did with a previous owner in 2002.

The yacht is 27 years old and she is heavy. "We're basically in a corner - if it's a fast race, we're shut out before it starts," Spies said in relation to the current forecast for north to north-easterly winds which will push the larger modern boats down the coast very quickly, leaving the old and heavier boats in their wake.

Swapping from modernity to vintage, Spies says: "It's a lot different. Everything is a lot slower the ergonomics are horrible - but the boat is more comfortable and the motion is better on your body. Things happen at a slower pace and you try to limit your manouvres."

On the upside, "We're back to basics a three-burner metho stove - stews are being pre-made for us. It'll be nice to have a coffee," he says, rather than the freeze-dried food served on the rail that is the predilection of the grand prix yachts.

Lunatix's owner, Freddy Boehnert can sympathise to a degree. "My boat is a performance cruiser, but only one year old. We also have a little bit of comfort; we too like to have our nice meals on board," he says.

"We cannot compete with the real racers, but we'll do as best as we can in our division and yes, I think this will be the toughest race, but the safety standards are the highest in the world," said Boehnert, who has done all the majors around the world, with this and a previous boat.

Matt Allen, the owner of last year's winner, Ichi Ban, knows the target is on his back over 70 arrows aimed at his TP52. "We went into last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart as favourite and going that way again this year," Allen, the President of Australian Sailing says, comfortable assuming the mantle.

"We know a lot more about the boat than we did this time last year and we are more confident in the boat, our sails and rig set-up."

There is a fair chance Ichi Ban could be the first boat since the Halvorsen brothers' Freya to win back-to-back Sydney Hobarts (in fact Freya won three in a row from 1963, 1964, 1965 and not one yacht has been able to even string two consecutive races together).

"All the crew are looking forward to the challenge of going back to back and the forecast is looking pretty good for 50 footers...

"But I wouldn't write-off the smaller boats either (for the win) the fast, downhill boats will have a chance," said Allen, who added, "but I'm putting my bets on the mid-size range."

The obvious smaller boat is Bruce Taylor's Caprice 40, Chutzpah. The genial Victorian had his boat specifically built for downwind speed and won the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast race in August. But 37 Sydney Hobarts later, with a pair of second places overall, Taylor, and his son Drew, who has done all of his 26 Hobarts with Bruce, are still trying.

On the Oatley family's Wild Oats X, skipper Stacey Jackson, who has an all-female pro team behind her, remains confident of their chances. "We have a very experienced crew - 21 laps around the planet (mainly courtesy of the Volvo Ocean Race) and 70 Hobarts (crew member Vanessa Dudley, has done 22)."

However, the bigger picture for Jackson is the sustainability of our environment, something she has seen for herself while competing in major races around the world: "We are spreading the word about the state the planet is in right now. It's all about sustainability and reducing plastics - and our ocean's health. If everyone could follow us and get behind that message," says Jackson, whose team is named 'Ocean Respect Racing'.

"I've witnessed firsthand seeing plastic in the most remote parts of the planet, and you think to yourself, 'well, how did this get here', but you realise it's been floating in the ocean for years and years and it will still be there for another 100 years."

Ed Psaltis, with co-owner Bob Thomas, won the devastating 1998 Sydney Hobart on one of the smallest yachts in the fleet, a Hick 35 (35 feet), named AFR Midnight Rambler. With so much going on during that race, their remarkable achievement took a bit of a back seat. And 20 years on, the latest boat, Midnight Rambler is just one foot longer, a Sydney 36.

Small boats are at sea the longest and their crews do it toughest. Why would the Sydney yachtsman want to revisit the small end of the fleet? "I'm a silly old mongrel," he said grinning.

"I was a lot fitter back then but there's still a lot of mongrel in the crew and most of the guys have sailed with me for 20 to 40 years four of them at least. Why am I still here? It's about mateship and taking on the best sailors in the world."

Psaltis will have something rather special on his mind when the 10-minute warning signal is fired on Boxing Day. His father Bill, a past Commodore of the CYCA and a veteran of 22 Sydney Hobarts, will be the one to fire the cannon.

"He's 90 now, but still very interested. I did my first three Hobarts with him (on Bill's famous Meltemi) and I'll be very aware he's there firing the cannon it's special."

In other news, Kosatka Monster Project has been unable to meet race paperwork requirements, and the entry has been rejected by the Race Committee today. The fleet is now at 86 yachts.

The Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network via 7Mate throughout Australia. The race start will also be live streamed to a vast international audience via the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race website, www.rolexsydneyhobart.com. Tencent, Fox Asia and ABC International will also pick up the feed and broadcast to their markets.

For full list of entries and all information visit rolexsydneyhobart.com

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