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Beginning a Winning

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 31 Jul 15:00 PDT
Big boats require big gear. Really big! Kite block on Andoo Comanche © John Curnow

Could also have been winning from the beginning. Either way I was able to seriously consider all that it takes to get into yachting, and the very essence of the difference between being a participant, and taking home the silverware. For that, I am exceptionally grateful to the Winning Group for affording me the opportunity to get right up close and personal with Andoo Comanche the boat, and just as importantly, the team. We already know just how awesome the boat is, and it is a distinct pleasure to report that the team, it's esprit d'corps, and general demeanour are just as much on par.

So the occasion was the start of the 2022 Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Race. The location was Woolwich Dock, and the coffee was brilliant, as too the croissant and fruit salad. Champagne and cocktails were on offer, not for the crew of course, and a dazzling array of scrumptious finger food appeared and got dispatched about as swiftly as the boat takes care of nautical miles on a beam reach in a blow.

0900hrs was kick off, and it was certainly game on. A briefing from key members of the team, including Skipper John 'Herman' Winning, and Sailing Master Iain Murray AM, preceded a preview screening of a new documentary. Then it was time to crawl all over the beast, pretend to be a bowman again (very pretend), or simply marvel at the shear size of everything.

It was no secret that it was going to be a light race. Dead light, actually, and the start was certainly going to be snakes and ladders. Both Andoo Comanche and Hamilton Island Wild Oats XI took off down the Harbour for an arm wrestle, but soon the sticks were vertical, their marvellous zeros were furled, and they were steaming back down the Harbour in readiness for a start into the unknown. Swiss Cheese may have vacant spaces, but Winter transitions on the Harbour have potholes large enough to swallow boats. And it did!

Being a driftathon had its benefits for me, as I took in all that was available on board JBW that I was kindly ferried to by Mike 'Star Wars' Jarvin after I missed the boat, literally. The conviviality continued in the same vein, and our Skipper piloted superbly, which is not so easy when the foredeck is crowded. Tip of the hat there, for sure.

On the way back to the 18-Footers clubhouse, I spoke with John 'Woody' Winning, who is so much more than just a stalwart of the skiff class. After watching the boat go out, what does it all represent for you? "I think I will be more comfortable than they will be. Warmer too. Nice dinner. Shower in the morning, and a cup of coffee. Someone has to do it; just glad it is not me this time. I am looking forward to Hamilton Island, however. Been 15 years or so since we have done that. Used to clash with the 18s in San Francisco. Only been up for a couple of conferences in the meantime."

As for the Hobart, Woody commented, "You generally get slightly better conditions than this. Should only be a day and half, to two days of pain, even if it is slow. Be great to do it. What an opportunity on something like this. The more I see of it, I really get to see how much of a weapon it is."

Reflecting then on the heritage of it all, including his Dad (John 'Chocko' Winning) and all the work that goes into something like this, "Herman has always been a big thinker. My Dad came though the Depression, and was just happy to survive that. I did my bit, and now it is his (Herman's) turn. I think somewhere deep down he might have Amazon in his sights!"

"There was the blimp for a few years, then the race car, and now the marketing will be in this. He does not take a back step, and I'll just hang on for the ride."

Iain Murray had sailed on Wild Oats XI for such a long time, and that of course means he's been afforded the opportunity to see Comanche behind the stern of the R/P pencil, as well as watch them fly by when taking just four and half minutes to clear the Harbour. Talk about exit stage right...

Now he's the Sailing Master on Andoo Comanche, he gets to bring those memories, and all his knowledge to the table. Due to his SailGP commitments as Racing Director he was not able to be on board for this race, but a handy sailor by the name of Colin Beashel was supplanted in instead.

Murray commented, having kept a weather eye on them all the time that, "...the improvement to the boat in this sort of weather is dramatic. To make Port Stephens only a few miles astern, when there was just 6 knots on offer is brilliant, whereas it was more like 20nm only a couple of years ago."

Asked as to what that might all be attributed to Murray talked about, "...weight placement, trimming, and the way you sail it - dinghy stuff really. It is wonderful to see the Winning family take this adventure on. Having a red hot go on the most amazing yacht is the greatest training exercise possible with near vertical trajectory to the learning curve for the blend of youth and experience that are fortunate enough to be taking part."

Later on that night, as I was flying over the fleet heading back home, I had pondered the comment from some of the crew that it might have been 6 o'clock before they got out of the Heads. Well it was more like three as it turns out. A long night was on the cards for them, with another to come after the next day grinding out the miles (some crews that might not have finished may be a little light on provisions by now me thinks) I pondered how a boat that can easily dispose of 400nm in a day (rough distance of this race) when in delivery mode, and holds the monohull record for the 24 hour run at 618.01nm can, just like the rest of us, be a little hamstrung when Huey does not want to play. To see what it is like to be on board at full noise, please watch this video from Harry Price.

Was not long after that that I reflected on the bed I would be in, the hot shower I would take, and the coffee I would so graciously savour. Ocean racing teaches you heaps, for which I am so incredibly grateful to those that made it happen for me. They say winning is not everything, but it sure can change the taste of the rum, and make you truly believe that it is brochure weather for every race you'll go out and do. Just ask any yachty worth their salt.

To those that make it happen for the rest of us, I offer a collective thanks, a cheers, and a pat on the back. Do hope it is enough, for the sport would be lost without you.

OK. There it is. There is loads more on the group's sites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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