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Rolex Sydney Hobart lives up to reputation for Fastnet winners

by Rupert Guinness/RSHYR Media 29 Dec 2022 22:00 PST 26-31 December 2022
Tom Kneen and the Sunrise crew were challenged by a `real Hobart` - 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Andrea Francolini

For a brief moment in the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Thomas Kneen, the British owner of the JPK 11.80 Sunrise, thought: "This is ridiculous. Why are we doing this?"

It was on Wednesday night, as Sunrise powered through strong winds and seas, carrying breakages to the masthead halyard lock, then the boom and tiller, as well as torn sails.

It was quite a predicament for the British entry undertaking its first Rolex Sydney Hobart, even though it was the 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race winner and Rolex Middle Sea Race runner-up.

Sunrise finished the Rolex Sydney Hobart on Thursday at 1:56.17pm as the 30th finisher and in a time of 3 days 56 minutes 17 seconds, with its boom bandaged by gaffer tap and sail straps.

After Sunrise docked in Hobart, Kneen reflected on his moment of doubt in light of the boat's state during the race.

After the initial lighter winds for Monday's start strengthened on Tuesday, Kneen said: "We set off like a scalded cat, sailed through the fleet, feeling pretty happy with the world."

However, by Wednesday things were breaking. First, the masthead halyard lock "which we've broken on every 600 plus mile race we've done. That was standard operating procedure."

Then the boom "broke in two". Then the tiller broke, then sails started to tear open.

"With all this damage, I was thinking, 'this is ridiculous we are even doing this'," Kneen said.

"We had holes in the mainsail. The tiller came off. We had Chinese crash gybes in the middle of the night.

"It was brutal, but it all held together last night going upwind in 35 knots."

When it came to fixing the boom, Kneen's crew of eight delivered with some ingenuity.

"Within two hours, the crew sawed up some bunk pipes, and with duct tape and sail ties, we braced the boom with them," he said.

And so, Sunrise pushed on towards Hobart as the conditions continued to change.

"Every time I finish racing this boat, I get prouder of the crew. They are amazing," Kneen said.

"They take on a project and they take on a problem and nothing seems to stop them."

Kneen said the Rolex Sydney Hobart is unique for the challenge it is in the ocean sailing world.

"This is like nothing we've done before," he said.

"In every 600 plus mile race you get thrown a bit of everything. But this is all extremes.

"It's perfect champagne sailing, then brutal downward sailing with breaking rollers behind you. Then no wind at all. Then 30 knots upwind. Then coming up here, 10 knots downwind.

"The other thing that's amazing about it is the environment here is so different.

"It was cold. When you go across the Irish Sea it is cold, but [Wednesday night] was freezing cold, and the sea state was brutal. It's like the middle of the Irish Sea, but on steroids.

"So, I would say it's a much more difficult challenge to what we have done before."

One of Kneen's crew, Australian Adrienne Cahalan, for whom today's finish was her 30th in the Sydney Hobart - a record for women - vouched for his high estimation of the race.

"It was a real Hobart - this Hobart - and when you sail on a boat this size, you're out there to experience everything that crosses a deck," she said of the 39-foot yacht.

Cahalan was understandably proud of her record number of finishes in the race.

"It was really a special moment, crossing the finishing line," she said.

"Finishing is a really big thing in this race. To cross the line for my 30th was a really proud moment. It's always very special, no matter where you come - first over the line - or 30th.

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