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Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Line honours contenders square off

by Rupert Guinness 23 Dec 2018 19:27 PST 26 December 2018
The five super maxi skippers at the press conference before the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Rolex / Studio Borlenghi

Christian Beck will not get ahead of himself with celebrations at the finish of this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, no matter where his line honours contender InfoTrack places.

The legal software supremo's memory is still fresh of how things turned south for him in his Sydney Hobart debut last year after his super maxi, the former Perpetual Loyal that he bought off Anthony Bell, was fourth to finish and his crew rushed to the pub to toast the feat.

As they celebrated away in traditional Sydney Hobart fashion, the 2017 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year learned that InfoTrack's official declaration of finish had not been lodged, and that the boat had been relegated from fourth to 24th place on line honours after receiving a 20 percent placings penalty.

It was a harsh lesson for Beck and his crew, one that was on his mind Monday after crews in this year's race convened at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia for official race briefing.

Asked about InfoTrack's costly administrative bungle during the line honour contenders' press conference afterwards, Beck at least smiled before replying: "Look, I'm sick of people reminding me to fill out the bloody paperwork because everyone keeps texting me saying that. But this year, no one is going to the pub until that race declaration form is done."

Beck's super maxi is one of five line honour contenders this year. The others are Comanche that won last year in a record time of 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, Wild Oats XI that was first to finish last year, but pushed back to second on line after being penalised one hour for an incident with Comanche at the start, then Sun Hung Kai Scallywag and Black Jack.

While Beck could muster a smile upon recollecting last year's misfortune, he did not when asked about the updated Bureau of Meteorology forecast of sunny 29 Celsius conditions for Wednesday's start at 1pm with 10 knot east-north/easterly winds turning north/east at 10-15 knots and building to 15-25 knots by the first evening, and fast running conditions for most of the race.

"It's a great forecast for a passenger. It's very pleasant," said Beck. "But (for) a big heavy boat like InfoTrack, we really need a lot of wind, so it's a bit disappointing for us really.

"We can sort of bash through the really heavy stuff, but there is nothing to bash through in this forecast really," he said.

"The best thing about our campaign is definitely the crew. If we do well, it will be the crew, not the boat.

"There are some amazingly good people on board and we are just a bit disappointed that the weather is not really strong. We really need a strong forecast for that boat."

For Jim Cooney, owner of Comanche, the forecast was welcomed. He was optimistic about recent modifications on his boat.

"I think we have seen everybody working on their boats this year and focusing in the areas that we all feel are Achilles heels," Cooney said.

"We know what ours is... the big wide drag in the water behind us.

"I'm happy with the forecast. I think it will suit pretty much everybody on this (press conference) table.

"We've all finessed our boats a little bit and that has given variety to our performances. It makes it very much a very even race."

Cooney has put the controversy of last year's start that led to rival Wild Oats XI being penalised behind him. He does concede though that it will serve to keep everyone on their toes in this year's start.

"I think we'll certainly have more focus and be more aware... I don't think there is any doubt about that," Cooney said.

"(The) reality is we are focused on it every race. There is a split second in these things. When boats are moving at four, five or six metres a second, everything gets very close very quickly."

Mark Richards, the skipper of Wild Oats XI, concurred with Cooney, saying: "As Jim said, it was just one of those situations.

"Every year is a new race, a fresh start, a different start, different conditions... that's just the way it is. That's sport.

"We're just looking forward to this year's race, as we have been all year. It's a great forecast and it'll be a great race to watch.

"It's a wonderful forecast for the whole fleet. It's a nor' easter the whole way - with a few little challenging transitions to get through maybe.

"We're still two days out. A lot of stuff can happen in between now and then. But it looks very pleasant and I think everyone will be able to enjoy their Christmas lunch."

However, Richards said the 20th anniversary of the tragic 1998 edition of the race, where six lives were lost, would weigh on the minds of everyone racing.

The tragedy will be recognised during the race through a special commemoration message to be read out to the fleet at the start of the 5pm sked on Thursday, December 27 from the Radio Relay Vessel.

"It's a big deal. Life goes on, but to commemorate the 20th year is a big deal," Richards said. "I personally knew a lot of the families well in that race... it's just part of life and evolution.

"The sport is way, way safer worldwide because of tragedies that do happen. It is just a part of life really.

"It's an exciting race every year and we just wait to get out there. We're ready to go."

Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford did not read too much into how the forecast would suit him more or less to his rivals – at least publicly.

"It is still pretty early on to talk it up," Bradford said. "And if you looking for me to talk it up you've probably got the wrong person, coming from Queensland...

"It's a great forecast. Everyone is going to get a go. It's particularly good for the fleet. It'll get the fleet south pretty quickly and safely. So getting everyone there in one piece is the most important part of this."

However, when pressed on whether he felt the forecast would suit bigger or smaller boats, Bradford said: "In terms of the handicap... if I was going to put a bet on - and I am not going to - I would be betting in the 60 to 70-foot range for this race."

Sun Hung Kai Scallywag skipper, David Witt, was equally tight lipped about how the forecast may impact his Hong Kong boat that missed last year's race because her new keel was not ready.

"I don't know... Five boats can win and the weather is not really going to change that," Witt said.

"We are ready. We are good... a long way from Hong Kong, but we are good. Everything is in one piece... see how we go."

Witt did expand on what work had been carried out on the Seng Huang Lee owned super maxi that is registered with the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

"The boss has spent plenty of money on the mods; that helps," Witt said. "We've got a new bowsprit, modern rig, new keel new rudders, new engine, new winches, new sails... outriggers."

The Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network via 7Mate throughout Australia.

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

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