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Barton Marine 2019 728x90

Smoke on the water at Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge

by Nic Douglass 9 Dec 2019 19:11 PST 10 December 2019
Smoke on the water during the Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge © Andrea Francolini

For the first time in the 26-year-history of the Big Boat Challenge, the race has been abandoned due to safety concerns following the settling of thick smoke from the Australian bushfires over the Sydney basin and a serious lack of visibility.

"It was really suggested to us from harbour control that perhaps we shouldn't be racing" said Race Officer, Denis Thompson.

"The smoke haze has been in most of the morning - it's coming from bushfires north-west of here" a harsh reality of the situation at present for the Australian's currently under threat from the fires.

"The visibility here is pretty bad and as you can hear in the background the ferries have their fog horns going. We are concerned not only about the safety of the yachtsmen but also the safety of the spectators" he confirmed as Nic Douglass, Sailor Girl interviewed him under the code flag N over code flag A on the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's start boat.

Now known as the Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge, the race was set to have six entrants, including The Oatley Family's Wild Oats XI, 11-time-winner of the race, miraculously back after three weeks of repairs following the CYCA's Cabbage Tree Island Bluewater Pointscore Race in November.

"It's been a phenomenal effort from the team after the catastrophic failure" said skipper of Wild Oats XI, Mark Richards.

Peter Harburg's Black Jack was also set to compete, for the first time representing the Yacht Club de Monaco, and the only boat to have beaten Wild Oats XI on the harbour in the past ten years, in 2017 under current ownership, and in 2009 with owner Neville Crichton under former name Alfa Romeo.

"I think it's no secret that we've put a huge effort in this year, we've been going since we finished last year" said Mark Bradford, skipper of Black Jack. "We've done the most sailing out of everyone by a long distance, and we are hungry to go one better [in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart]".

SHK Scallywag was going to be skippered by the owner Seng Huang Lee or "SH" today, with David Witt acting as tactician. This team are raring to go following an early retirement from last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart, and a massive overseas program including the Rolex Fastnet Race and the Transatlantic Race.

SHK Scallywag were also pumped to support SOLAS, "it's quite close to Scallywag's heart, and an opportunity to raise money and awareness" said David Witt.

Christian Beck's Juan K 100, InfoTrack was focussed on fun for today, with a number of corporate guests on board and a full focus also on raising money for the SOLAS Trust.

Naval Group the RP69, in recent history known as Moneypenny, was set to represent Australia and France once again this year with owner Sean Langman from the Noakes Group at the helm.

URM RP72, originally known as Neville Crichton's Shockwave arrived back in Australia in October for new owner Anthony Johnston and was set to race their first Grinders Coffee SOLAS Big Boat Challenge.

Despite the racing not going ahead, the total money raised today from auction bids was $10,654.11 to sail on the four maxis, which will add to over 1.76 million that has been raised for the SOLAS Trust since it was founded in 1999.

We know that all diehards were looking forward to seeing a re-match of the maxis, with all of their new modifications and in close quarters, while raising money for the CYCA's SOLAS Trust.

At least the coffee was good this morning - thank you Grinders!

Now we will just have to wait until Boxing Day to see how this will all unfold, but most importantly, our heart goes out to all of those directly affected by the bushfires in Australia. Thank you to all of the volunteers and the Rural Fire Service for all they are doing behind this smoke on the water.

Smoke on the water

We can't get this song out of our heads for some reason.......?

Thank you to Pantaenius Sail & Motor Yacht Insurance for their support of this broadcast and our adventures. We were considering not going out before the race was abandoned, simply because for Pantaenius, safety and managing risk is paramount.

We look forward to bringing you our "Every man, woman and boat" broadcast to celebrate the 75th Rolex Sydney Hobart.

For more adventures head to, or find Sailor Girl on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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