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Metaphors run thick and deep

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 1 Jan 2023 13:00 PST
Celestial - 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Carlo Borlenghi

Now you might think you show up with a well-prepared boat, great crew, some provisions, point South, and it all happens. The 2022 Sydney Hobart did many things, but the greatest, and most distinct element that shone through is that it is the plan that remains omnipotent. Execution is not irrelevant, it's just that you go about it almost matter of factly, in accordance with said plan, and outcome follows soon enough. Both the Line Honours and Overall Winners are proof of concept here.

For over 15 years it has been my distinct pleasure to know Jack Macartney. At the beginning of that time, he was with the Sydney Beneteau distributor, a business that is now called Flagstaff Marine, headed by Graham Raspass, and co-owned by Micah Lane. The latter was also there back then, and is a fellow 18-foot skiff driver and long-standing friend of Jack's, too.

So this is a story about being knocked down, laid flat, but getting up again. I am fortunate to have shared our collective trials and tribulations with Jack, and so grateful for such. Naturally, I was elated for Celestial when it looked like they had once again done more than enough to secure the overall win.

Waiting for it to become official was challenging, but nothing prepared me for the sorrow, frustration, and anger that were soon to come my way. 'Get out of town!' is probably the only version of my thoughts that can be published.

Reflecting on the love/hate relationship we've discussed before with sailing, I started my conversation with Jack by saying simply, "This must go a long way to giving a bit of love?"

This was when Macartney opened up, "I don't know where to start. The last 24 hours I've had elation, and also had to deal with the sailing industry at its worst again. I'm thrilled for Sam. He deserves to win. He deserved to win last year frankly, and without guys like Sam in the sport, we don't have a sport."

"I've come second a lot. Four times in the JJ's officially (JJ Giltinan - World Champs for the 18s). I was also second in the Flying 11 National Titles twice because of small things. So last year was a kick in the guts. This year hasn't sunk in yet. It really hasn't."

"In campaigning you push every avenue, right? You have to work on your program, you have to work your team, you have to train, and you have to work on your rating. I joined Celestial in 2019, and the boat had never been weighed since new. I said to Sam that I want to remeasure the boat and try and get the rating better than where we were.

"I felt we were rated very high for a 2011 boat, and although 12 years old since build, we had one of the highest ratings. So we weighed the boat, and discovered that it was heavier than thought. We went to J/V and they said, well, you should take a couple of hundred kilos out of the bulb. The boat's got so much form stability in the hull shape. Ordinarily I would not go for a big change, especially close to a race, but they were insistent. So we did it."

"As part of the process we also remeasured our sails, cut down our spinnakers, and our rating came out fantastic - nine points lower than where we were. Combining that with a fantastic team laid the foundations for the result."

Reflecting on the year gone by, I was very keen to establish exactly when they knew they'd be back for another tilt at it all?

"This time last year I was done. Sam was done. He said, 'I'm going to sell the boat.' Then through January, I said, let's sit on it for a bit. We also had the J/70 up our sleeve, so we could always go for a yacht, but were unclear as to what we would do offshore."

"I think I convinced Sam to do the Gladstone race. We had an amazing team, with Luke Parkinson, Phil Harmer, Charlie Wyatt all my close mates in offshore sailing. We should have won it, but for our mistakes. I think it reinvigorated Sam's motivation, and being a downwind race, you put the spinnaker up and you're doing 20 to 25 knots the whole way there. It's the best part about what we do."

And so subsequent to that, he said, all right, well let's look at the rest of the year.

"Eventually, it got to 'What do we have to do to back up our Hobart result?' Seeing as the TP fleet is already highly developed, the only way to get better is to refine your platform, sails and people. Honestly, if you really want to win, you've got to spend the money, and he gave me permission."

"I'm a believer in getting in better people than yourself. Hence why we got Rob Greenhalgh. He is arguably one of the best offshore sailors in the world, he's right up there. I said to Sam, 'I'll drive, let Rob do the tactics and be the Sailing Master,' (which is what Macartney had been previously). Sam said, 'Are you okay to do that?' A hundred percent I am, because we're a better chance of winning it. And furthermore I learnt a hell of a lot from him about campaigning, not accepting things on first advice and continuing to push in all avenues to get better"

Naturally, it was not hard the get the kinds of people you wanted when you have a core like this. David Chapman, who goes back with Macartney to the Micah Lane days, and also Lewis Brake (sailed on the Tech2 with Jack), James Dagge, Harry West, Callum Cecil, Troy Grafton, Malcolm Parker and Wulf Wilkens all staying with the team from last year.

Also part of the crew were Luke Payne (AC sailor), Lindsay Stead, Frank O'Leary, and ETNZ member, Josh Junior. To give you an idea of what it was like out there, Macartney recalls how he said to JJ in the middle of the night, "Josh you're up mate," and he goes, "Are you sure?! I think you should keep driving, it's bloody gnarly!"

What also comes through is how important Sam is, with Macartney stating, "Sam sets the culture, and he is a guy that you just want to sail for. I genuinely care about him as a friend. Last year we were in tears together at the yacht club being beaten by way of a protest, and this year we've won it!"

Talking about driving, I was keen to find out if helming Scallywag helps with the TP in any way. "The hundreds are different. They're like big buses. You need to let the form stability of the hull wind up, it's a different type of sailing.

"But having said that, we did the Transpac a couple of times on the Scallywag/Ragamuffin and in 25kt trades with decent waves the boat used to get up and go like a dinghy. In those moments yes you can take a lot away from keeping the boat at the right angle of heel, in the right power zone and keep it going fast surfing waves. TPs are basically big dinghies," which obviously goes right back to his roots.

Now on the last night, it was 'pretty wild', with 30-35 knots blowing out of the North, which is well square. Celestial had the A4 up (masthead) and one slab, which quickly lead to another being slotted in, because Celestial is quite 'nosy', as they put it. Yes. You got it. They went down the mine.

"I did. I went off the back of a wave with the A4 up, two reefs, and honestly, I couldn't see the next wave. We just basically cart wheeled like an 18. Stuck the nose in, and busted the A4. It popped, it was a big bang, and then we capsized. The kite sheet got stuck somewhere and so it pulled us over on our side, and we had the remnants of the spinnaker at the top of the mast, like a big balloon, and it pulled us over on our side. Actually I thought we might break the rig."

They are lucky the bag did blow, for otherwise it might have kept the rig going whilst the boat stopped, and the result would now being very different.

I looked up and I couldn't get the boat away, because the A4 was just holding us on our side. Then the kite blew up again, which released load and we were able to stand up and pull away again. Luke Payne said, 'I think I can get it. Just run a bit deeper.' So I ran deeper. He grabbed it with his big man hands and we got it."

The A6 (fractional) went up after that, which is something they had been considering before the calamity, but were chasing pace at the time. They lost a few miles out of it all, which is not bad, considering where it could have gone! Getting it down was clearly a handy thing to do, and it sounds like Payno got a Gold Star for that.

The bang was so loud, Macartney actually though they had broken the prodder as well. They had been doing mostly 22 to 25 knots, cranking 27 at times, and had done just one 30 during the race. Macartney states that, "doing 30 in a TP feels like 40 in a 100-footer. It's fast. The difficulty is always the wave state."

"Rob had said, 'When you are on your limit, Jack, you just tell me, and we're going to put the A6 on.' I said, 'I'm comfortable, but I'm worried about busting it.' And that's what happened."

"So the last few miles we had the A6, J5, two slabs, and just held on!"

The main suffered in all this, with the gaff batten giving up the ghost when the kite halyard had to go around the back of the main (always going to win), but at least in that pressure you could just call it exhausting the puff out of it. Looks bad, goes fast - never seen that before, huh?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the island...

...another team was highlighting the real nature of safety first, and competitive spirit. A disrupted 2022 Sydney Hobart campaign was not going to stop Maritimo Racing. Once their TP52 was out, they grabbed their Schumacher 54 and hightailed it to Melbourne, just in time to get there for the start of the Westcoaster on December 27.

The company's founder, Bill Barry-Cotter OM, travelled down to Hobart to be with the victorious team, who not only took Line Honours, but rating silverware, as well. This was a victory celebrated on both sides of the Pacific, for the late Sy Kleinman's Swiftsure team in California have a deep and genuine connection with the new custodians of their charge.

Barry-Cotter said of it all, "The team operate in the Maritimo ethos of never giving up. When faced with diversity, we always come through better for it."

Skipper Michael Spies mentioned how BBC is going to significantly rejuvenate the old Patches now that there is more time, and that the Schumacher will now do Geelong's Festival of Sails, and possibly head to South Australia for the National Titles, as well. Yes. This is a team on the march, as it were.

"We'll look at what else we can do to improve it, now we've got the latest experience of what happened with this Rolex Sydney Hobart race, where the TPs were, we could look at what worked for those guys and what didn't and who was fast and who not, and try to develop and refine from that, and I think that's a bigger picture," said Spies.

BBC may not be on the water so much any more, but he sure is engaged off it. "I enjoy working with him so much. It's just great to work with a lateral thinker and a guy who is just so analytical. I know I'm a much more rounded person for that having that privilege and that involvement with him."

Now the team also have Pirates at their disposal, which apart from the foredeck is not so bad. Does it mean we will see a two-boat campaign?

"Not necessarily. I think with Bill being a lateral thinker you'll see at least one of those boats being quite extreme. Something that probably hasn't been tried before. A reasonably radical departure from the standard TP52."

Obviously the company has a whole R&D department, and the moulds for the soon-to-be-launched M75 and sister S75 are virtually done, so there is capacity to do things, that may include new hulls under existing decks.

"Bill likes pioneering; he likes the experimentation, and anything we do will certainly be well thought out, but he's certainly got some ideas and who are us mere mortals to deny that opportunity. Certainly, he has a lot more experience than us."

That would mean it is definitely a watch-this-space kind of program.

Looking deeper, the win by Maritimo Racing is quite a deal, especially as there are only two paid hands on board. The Schumacher is unreservedly an IMS boat. Strong, yes, but blistering, not really.

She was up against a canting keel Cookson 50, amongst others, so definitely still has tricks in her sleeve, and of course a top crew extracting all the performance, all of the time. No mean feat when you also have to give away four hours or so a day under IRC. Being in phase more often than not when the breeze transitioned was certainly a huge part of the result.

Spies is clear. "Full credit to the team. We certainly got on a roll that first night and the breeze was going through literally 180 degrees. It was so easy to get out of whack, and you weren't going to get it a hundred per cent right. We certainly scored higher marks that night than anyone else. That put us 12 or 14 miles ahead on the first morning. Then we capitalised from there.

"It's a tribute to the crew and the preparation of the boat back when we rebuilt it. Maritimo built something that wasn't going to break, and a lot of other people had downtime. We essentially had none."

Reflecting on the boat itself, Spies said, "We've still got a sentimental spot for it. It's just not going anywhere short term. We'll keep developing it. There's not a lot left in it, but we're certainly not going to give up until we get the last little bit out of it. There is an ongoing sail development program with that we did put on hold, but we'll revert back to that and away we go."

Now despite the process of getting there, winning has certainly put a smile back on the dial. It's almost like it was scripted, to be brutally honest. The Schumacher wouldn't have been overly competitive with the downwind boats in the Sydney Hobart race, even in our division. It's a great boat, but doesn't do 25 knots like the TPs. It'll do 16s and 17s. The Westcoaster was a bit more of a mixed bag, which certainly suited us."

Spies is off to do the 53rd Australian Championships for the NS14 Association at the Port Dalrymple Yacht Club, Tasmania from 4th to 9th January 2023, with young Addison Newlan, who is part of the team's next gen policy, and is looking at Brisbane 2032, fervently. "You know, she's a star in the making. We're going to try to provide every reasonable opportunity we can, overlay some of our experience to help her on her way."

This is after the King of the Derwent (Jan 2, 2023), naturally, where Maritimo is the defending champion.

Spies closed by saying, "We are looking forward to competing in the domestic TP series, which gives credit to having youth on board. We'll certainly be fostering that now that we've got a few more slots, and as soon we've certainly got our first graduate well under way, supporting her quest, hopefully we can bring a few more young people in and do that.

"We've already put young Addison through an SSSC as part of fast-tracking as many good quality kids who may not be able to arrange it all for themselves. It's about trying to get them the skills to progress in their sailing career."

Many, many thanks to our extended team, including Crosbie and Dale Lorimer, with Jake and Wendy, as well, along with our friendly locals, Tony and Clayton. Your efforts are more than recognised and appreciated. Cheers from here.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites 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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