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Biscuits save the day for yacht designer's son in RSHYR

by Di Pearson/RSHYR Media 30 Dec 2022 00:26 PST 26-31 December 2022
(L-R) Alex Lyons, David Lyons and Madeline Lyons - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Salty Dingo

Twenty nine years ago, David Lyons designed and sailed in the harsh 1993 Sydney Hobart on the winner, Cuckoos Nest, owned by Nigel Holman.

This year his son and daughter competed in their first Rolex Sydney Hobart on separate yachts - State of Origin style.

Alex Lyons raced south on Ray Hudson's XP44, XS Moment BNMH, from NSW, but a start line incident nearly cost them the race, but for a bit of ingenuity in the famous race.

The 29-year-old explains: "There is a window beside the navigation station that was broken during a start line incident, so we had to put sail repair tape over the outside of it. I helped cut up a piece of cupboard in the head (toilet) to glue over the top of the window.

"We thickened the glue with crushed up gingernut biscuits. That was Mick Welsby's idea. He's a carpenter and the other bowman on the boat. We crushed the biscuits up using the bar that you put through the mast for the mast jack - mortar and pestle style."

Alex, who started sailing at 11 in Sydney, was thrilled to arrive in Hobart with the window still intact.

"The final night was the ultimate test of the repair. It was on the starboard side and we were on port tack for at least 12 hours. It held," he recalled.

"Then we were becalmed off Maria Island too long - three hours - during a transition. Then we had a perfect 10-15kt sou' easter and we raced across Storm Bay with a Code Zero and finished at sunset.

"We got a huge cheer on our lap of honour. I didn't expect that," he said, after being the 50th boat to cross the line last night.

Before taking up ocean racing, Alex sailed an MG14 skiff and built one "with Dad at his factory (EMP Composites) in 2012. We (he and crew Ben) raced it successfully at Balmoral Sailing Club."

From there it was a step up to foiling Moths. "After that, I was sailing sports boats and won the Melges 24 nationals in 2009. Dad was with me."

Alex began racing on XS Moment BNMH in 2021: "We campaigned for the Rolex Sydney Hobart that year, but we ended up pulling out a week before with rigging problems. So, we restarted and did the whole Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore this year.

"I had a lot of fun. It was exactly what I expected - plenty of wind - up to 38 knots we saw. The first 24 hours I was busy on the bow - changing spinnakers. In the next 24 hours I was busy steering the boat with an A6 and then the No. 4 jib top up."

His sister Madeline Lyons sailed the race on a Queensland boat, Andy Lamont's Welbourn 50, Hutchies Yeah Baby. They arrived yesterday afternoon, 31st over the line.

Unlike her brother, the 24-year-old only took up sailing two years ago.

"I loved it," she said. "It was a great trip down, especially the first two days. We had the A2 spinnaker up the first 24 hours. The second day was very similar conditions until the breeze picked up, so it was very comfortable on board.

"Eventually the breeze swung around to the south and it became a bit more challenging. Thankfully, I didn't get seasick, which was a main concern.

"The second afternoon and third day felt like what they call 'a real Sydney Hobart'. The temperature dropped and the top wind speed was 30 to 35 knots. I mainly trimmed and I went up front when needed.

"I was glad to arrive here," Maddie admitted. "We had a really good reception. Dad came out on the media boat with Nic Douglass.

"She is my mentor with the Magenta Project. We're working together for nine months to try and find more opportunities for women in sailing.

"I only started racing in 2020. I was never interested before. I don't know why. I think because I was interested in other sports. After the Covid lockdown, I started thinking about sailing. I started at Tweed Valley Sailing Club."

Maddie sent this message to her father: "'I was watching some YouTube videos of an Atlantic crossing and a few days later I found Tweed Valley SC which is running a Learn to Sail program'.

"That's where I met Andy Lamont. I sailed on his 44-foot X-yacht and then transitioned to the 50-foot Hutchies Yeah Baby. We trained this whole year, including the delivery to Sydney.

"I'd like to thank Monique Smith who runs the SheSails Dinghy program at Tweed Valley Sailing Club - and of course Andy - for giving me the opportunity."

At the end of the race, in the dock, Maddie says, with a smile, "we all jumped in the water."

David Lyons, their father, is a naval architect. He is on the International Technical Committee of the Offshore Racing Congress.

"We look after the ORCi rule. He is also Chair of International Standards Organisation - a keel working group."

Lyons also teaches naval architecture at the Australian Defence Force Academy at UNSW Canberra. He is working with AUKUS Alliance helping to provide qualified Australian naval architects to the Royal Australian Navy.

Representing Australia at the Admiral's Cup on Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin in 1993, Lyons did his last Hobart in 1996, on a Lyons 43 he designed for John Storey. She was named Atara and was skippered by Roger Hickman. They finished third overall.

On his childrens' achievements, he said: "It's surreal seeing both my kids doing their first Hobart race this year. You don't plan these things. It constantly brought back memories of me doing the 1993 race.

"I am totally proud of them. It's a dream come true. Privately, I'd love them to continue, but it's up to them," Lyons ended.

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