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Doyle Sails 2020 - By Sailors For Sailors 728x90 TOP

Two Boats. Same Direction.

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 12 Feb 13:00 PST
The James Craig, as seen from the deck of the Tasmanian Police vessel, Vigilant © John Curnow

Well. You know what that means. There's a race on! Never a truer word spoken, either... Well at least from my point of view, anyway. Now it is really unusual to start with some thanks, but that is exactly the mark on this occasion. First up is Tasmania Police, and most specifically Scott Williams and Ashley Kent for allowing me to join them on the magnificently presented, Vigilant.

Next it is the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, from which Bella Laughton-Clark, and Scarlet English have been delightfully helpful, so completely understanding, and as adaptable as they have been efficient.

How so? There's another well-used saying in sailing, and that is, 'Nothing goes to windward quite like the kerosene canary!' However, they have to account for fuel, and like us, they need reasonable weather. Now just as with a race, ETA is just that, with estimated the truly vital component of that discussion.

Here's a little video to show you what the event was like.

On Thursday I boarded my first flight for Hobart. It was 45 minutes late, but did manage to take off at the new nominated time. It is usually just an hour's run into Sydney. I was not worried, in fact I was pleased, for the delay meant some of the dead time on the ground before my connection to Hobart had been used up and afforded me more time at home to get things done.

Circling to the North of Sydney was not really an issue either, but the two storm cells that had joined, literally right over the airport at Mascot, mean that the airport was closed for the best part of three hours. No ground crew allowed outside, either, and later I learned that there were passengers on craft that had got in just before who subsequently had an hour-long wait on the tarmac before they could disembark.

Up in the air, the cans holding the kerosene were getting a tad dry, and with no alternate nominated, the Skipper took off for the Gold Coast where one could land safely, and guzzle some go go juice before once again assuming the position in a pattern that was decidedly full by now. We landed almost six hours after the original take off, and probably 20 minutes after the last plane to Hobart had gone. Doh.

The upside was that another stranded passenger came forward, and in discussion I heard the word Suhali, and she informed me her dad was building a replica to compete in the Golden Globe Race. The Genie was well and truly out of the bottle. No turning back now for a father currently in Hobart awaiting the arrival oh his daughter, and a man I would meet on the Friday. A certain, Mike Smith.

Yes. He was in the oil and frying up nicely. No going back. He had wanted to do the current race, but the boat was just not ready, so 2026 it is. Accordingly, the 2025 Australian Wooden Boat Festival should be a big moment for Pingo, as she might be known.

So all of that is the premise, but what's the story?

20 years ago, Mike and his wife Lindsay up camp in South Africa, and bring their young family to Australia, settling in Glen Oak, which is immediately abeam Port Stephens in NSW. Mike worked at the famed producer of go-fast machines, Boatspeed near Gosford, which does not really explain, why Suhali, and why the Golden Globe?

"So I'm not sure if it's coincidence or destiny, but I grew up sailing multihulls. So to be building a lead mine with about three tons in its keel is extraordinary. Equally then, working on a high-end performance boats, and to now be building a little slow boat seems a little odd", said Smith.

"This all started off with one of the boats we built at Boatspeed, which was the Volvo 70, Movistar. For some reason we built a mock-up of the midsection of her, so about 10 or 12 meters long, from Western Red Cedar. Being part of the project co-ordination I knew there was a budget of sorts to chainsaw it up and get rid of it, but I also knew there was $7,000 worth of cedar there, and it looked like enough cedar to build a boat."

A plan was hatched to rip it up over lunchtimes, which involved the circular saw cutting through all the brads that held it together before the glue. These would actually fly off, taking a nick of ear with them along the way, and pinging the roof as well. Ultimately, it was all bound up with packing tape, strapped to the ever-dependable Land Rover's roof, and taken home, with a comment to Lindsay, "Well I don't know what it's for, but it looks like a boat!"

"Originally I thought it might be for 9-10m trimarans, as I had been doing shorthanded coastal racing on a catamaran, and learned a lot, including getting the Ace down on my own in a blow."

"As for Suhali, I saw this item that Don McIntyre had put together regarding the Golden Globe Race, and realised that this was everything I'd always wanted to do. It gave it parameters. It gave it boundaries: A date, type of boats, minimum and maximum size. I suppose I've got a fascination with boats because of my father. We couldn't go past a boat yard or a marina without looking at every single boat, looking at every single detail, and trying to understand why it was like that."

"The first boat I learned to sail was a fold-up, collapsing kind of canvas canoe with a gunter rig, and a pivoting leeboard/daggerboard thing, with steering via lines to a tiller. So a little bit eccentric and a little bit unusual."

As for Suhali, well the deep knowledge of boats meant Smith knew about Colin Archer, and how Suhali is really a working boat, designed and built for heavy weather, which you are bound to see in GGR at some point. Growing up around Port Elizabeth also meant he had seen plenty of weather and always thought to himself, "Oh. I'd love to be out that weather. So yeah, I'm crazy. I have always been in awe of nature, the power of nature, the waves and things like that."

"Kayaking and sailing taught me that you actually have to follow the river and the eddies and the waves, and that different types of boats respond to different conditions. I suppose all of this really means that I've chosen a Suhali replica, because you can build one under the Notice of Race, but not any of the other types, which have to be pre-existing, built professionally by a yard, with 25 examples as a minimum."

"So I was able to take the original plans, and adapt them from the original carvel plank with 42 millimetre thick planking, and as a result Suhali was immensely heavy at nine and a half tons. The main keel timber is 12 inches by 14 inches, which runs the whole length of the boat. I was able to reduce mine to 50-millimetre Douglas Fir, which was rejected for a Tiger Moth, as it turns out. As a result, Pengo is light for it's construction method."

All the bulkheads were CNC cut, the furniture is structural, even though the shell is strong enough on its own, and is a tank in a lot of ways. Longitudinals, bunk fronts, bulkheads at 600mm spacing attest to this. A trip across the Tasman Sea where the waves can literally fall on top of you, discarding several tonnes of water directly down was the inspiration for Smith to go the extra mile with this.

"I've tried to make it really strong, but also quite light. It's going to be on the minimum weight that is allowed, which is 6,200 kilograms, and I'm pretty much on track, as I weigh everything that goes in the boat. It'll have 50% or higher ballast ratio, a good righting moment, and it will be stiff. We need three litres of water a day, so at 240 days it is 700 litres in total, and as I am on a budget, it will be canned food, which is also not light, but it will all be low inside."

"It's a big little boat. It's really tubby. My mascot is an African Penguin. It comes from the animation series. Pingo was the crazy penguin that convinced his friend to do wild and silly things. So this is a wild and silly thing, as I started off with no cash, still have no cash, but we've got a boat."

Smith started around six years ago, and it is a time/money sort of thing, around earning a living as well, and he's quick to acknowledge that the budget has already gone sideways, with the cost of materials being the main issue. The boat is rolled, painted, most of the interior is done, deck's on, just needs to be finished, as too the toe rails, bow sprit, hatches, glass the cabin top, cockpit coaming, and the bumpkin.

"I think I'll be in, in the water this year. There's nothing that does not need to be there in the boat. Even the electrics are minimal. Although it's duplicated, so the redundancy is very high, but they are totally separated. I've seen damage from lightning and it's one of my worries. So I'm thinking I don't want to be out of this race by lightning strike, 200 miles into the race."

"This is a race, although I see it as more of a seamanship challenge. So boat's got to be prepared correctly, and the same with the crew. I'm trying to do everything I can to reduce drag, and everything I can to increase drive. When you push it into its own wave, the loads go up enormously. So gaining the last 10% of speed is really an achievement, and avoiding breakages is critical to it all."

"So I need to get the boat in the water this year so that I can get the rig up and start to really kind of break it and, and see what I can do. Given some of the innovations, I also need to ensure I remain inside rule compliance. Starting off with a strong and light boat is a good thing, but you have to know where you can go to."

The vessel is actually a sandwich, with 2.5mm of glass either side of the cedar stips, which in essence makes it monocoque shell, reducing the need for internal framing to make it strong. The rig will be as developed as the hull, and the idea is to reach and run, but not go square too often. Smith has a plan, and a lot of it is to be very aware of the expanded parameters the vessel can work in to achieve its best; a mental chart that is not just polars, but also waves, sea state, and direction.

It will be trucked, most likely to Brisbane where the rigger and sail maker reside. The reason is simple. Smith wants to sail a lot before the event. There's a lot of pressure around, and Smith tries to keep it away, because you can make bad decisions. There is duplication in the forestay, and also innovation with the bowsprit, so he does not have to go out there at any point.

"In terms of this year, I won't have all the gear for the race. So, you know, the radios might not be in the, the bumpkin might not be on. Obviously a lot of people have helped Smith get this far, including team benefactor, Colin. Boatspeed for access to the cedar, Jotun for paint, ATL Composites, and a number of private people who have discounted things I have bought, my Dutch students who have got very hands on, and my family who have fended for themselves whilst at University. Also Marine Leisure Assist, who I provide assessment and survey work for, and Rob and Dale have been very supportive. Thank you all."

You always need a bit of madness, and a boating project is nothing if not mad. A bunch of used cedar should not have inspired a project. Smith started with precious little cash, used a lot of it to buy the steel for the jig, the shed is not a shed per se, for this is no floor and it floods when it rains, but here we are, and as you can see, there it is.

Sometimes he might have his doubts, but it is short lived, and he is happiest when making progress. His next hurdle will be when it is sailing, for he has enough experience to know what he does not know. So you will see him heading South to see the rollers, perhaps even go around New Zealand after getting there, and then back. That will be 2025. For now, some more craziness, some work, and some problem solving.

Welcome to the madness, eh!

OK. There it is. There is so much 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 Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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