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J/133 Patriot wins division in wild, rough Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race!

by J-Boats 7 Jan 23:55 PST
2023 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

Living up to its legendary status as one of the world's toughest ocean races, the 2023 edition of the 628.0nm Rolex Sydney Hobart Race had its fair share of throwing "everything including the kitchen sink" at the competitors from start to finish.

Starting in uncharacteristic light airs from the southeast, the fleet beat upwind out past the Sydney Heads heading offshore in around 4 to 8 knots of wind. Everyone knew a fairly significant Low depression was brewing as they continued to head south down the Australian coast. Soon the fleet was sporting spinnakers and code zeros as the winds started shifting as the fleet approached the notorious Bass Straits. Once in the Straits, the forecasted Low hit the fleet with even stronger south easterlies. Other than the Super-Maxi's, most of the fleet experienced full-on gale wind conditions, wind against the tide in the Bass Straits, while approaching the spectacular "Organ Pipes" rock formation on the northeast end of Tasman Island. Most boats were reduced to #4 or #5 storm jibs and even storm trysails- sporting the familiar bright orange sails in the 35 to 50 kts winds, beating upwind to get to the finish line down the eastern coastline of Tasmania.

Not surprisingly, some J/Teams excelled in the harrowing conditions. Others did not fare so well. For the smaller boats, the weather off the coast of Tasmania and around Tasman Island was expressed as tortuous, with crews seeing 50+ knots gusts and huge seas.

Chatting with skipper Jason Close from J/133 PATRIOT, he commented, "On the first night of the race we were becalmed, so we lost a lot of ground. The crew re-grouped knowing we still had 500.0 nm to go and pushed to grind our way back to the lead. Approaching Tasman Island, the boats before us sailed around the island in 12 knots of breeze and full sail. Unfortunately, when we arrived we had 55 knots, it was never a race for smaller boats to win this year."

Close continued, "It was certainly a challenging race and we got the result in the end. I'm very proud of the team and the boat. Not bad for a 20-year-old cruising sailboat!! This year we achieved the same result as in 2019, being 1st IRC Division 3 and 9th overall IRC, you could never bet on that happening again."

Also, a shout out to J/130 RAGTIME launched in 1994 in Bristol, RI for its original owner- designer Rod Johnstone. She is now owned by Australian Steve Watson. RAGTIME also had a great performance in the rough going, achieving 1st Corinthian PHS and 6th Corinthian IRC. Here is Steve's account of how it all went down for them in the race:

"A huge effort from the awesome Ragtime crew for what was for most of us our first Sydney to Hobart. Thank you, Christian Holle, Lance Maizey, Paddy Manning, Andrew Harrington, Nicole Sawick, Luke Ingeman, and Dermot Ryan, I could not have asked for better crew mates.

We had all sorts of conditions, including 3 frustrating hours becalmed off Gabo Island, biting nails and knuckles as boats sailed past to both the east and west of us.

The race saved the worst for the last leg; dishing up full gale force conditions as we rounded Tasman Island in SE Tassie, well over the forecast. The brunt of it landed just as we realized we'd lost our second reef line, a critical equipment issue in those conditions. After some improvisation, we got the bigger sails away and set up the smallest jib and the 3rd reef which allowed us to get racing again. By this time half our instruments were dead, but the boat in the background of the aerial shot later told us they'd registered up to 55kts (~100kmh) on theirs. We had waves breaking right over the boat, with the deck and cockpit at times completely awash, requiring careful helming across Storm Bay to minimize the risk of injury or damage to the boat. Unfortunately, this was not always successful, with crew members weathering two corked thighs and a dislocated arm, and one of the stanchions ripped out of the deck due to a large breaking wave.

We sailed into the Derwent River saturated and exhausted. But, with race placings in the balance, we dug deep to find fresh motivation to hoist the big A4 spinnaker for a thrilling high-speed run to the finish line. The sense of euphoria and accomplishment was palpable as the gun went off, and the standing ovation from the spectator crowd on the Princess Wharf dock had us with "moist eyes" as we motored past.

A truly memorable experience, all the more so for coming away with some silverware at the post-race presentation. Very hard to imagine not wanting to be back on the start line again next year.

Postscript: It might also be worth mentioning that RAGTIME was originally meant to sail in the 50th anniversary 1994 Sydney to Hobart Race. The owners had ordered a J/130 from J/Boats and its TPI Builder in Warren, RI, USA. But, when it looked like it wasn't going to be delivered in time, Rod Johnstone sent his own over instead. But, when entering the race, apparently the organizing yacht club was not satisfied that a carbon fiber mast was safe and allegedly refused the entry. So, presumably at that time, RAGTIME's mast was the first carbon mast in Australia. Of course, the following year all the new boats had carbon masts and the rest is history....

Then, the J/99 DISKO TROOPER- CONTENDER SAILCLOTH (previous two-handed Sydney Hobart Race winner), sailed fully crewed with Wendy Tuck and Jules Hall and four youngsters from the Youth Sailing Academy in Sydney. While the conditions were more than challenging, they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. DISKO finished 4th IRC Division 5, which was an incredible achievement, missing the 3rd podium step by a mere 19 minutes!! Early in the race, they made a tragic decision to go inshore where there was no wind, while those who went offshore were flying down the track. After having dug themselves a huge hole, they re-doubled their efforts and ground their way back into contention for the podium. In fact, where they made their biggest gains was in the toughest conditions off the northeast corner rounding Tasman Island... the J/99 proving yet again, as it had done in the rough & tumble 2023 Fastnet Race, that is flies upwind in big seas and big breeze! If you recall, a French women's doublehanded team was winning the IRC 2H Division at Fastnet Rock, having beat upwind from the start off Cowes, England in 25 to 40 kts winds (incredibly, they were 3rd boat-for-boat at the time of their rounding).

On Paul Beath's two-handed J/99 VERITE, with co-skipper Richard Hooper (he has done four Sydney Hobarts), the going was equally hard, as the boat and Beath experienced a rough and tumble debut in the Sydney Hobart.

Beath commented, "We were launching off waves and both of us did a couple of tumbles into the cockpit," Beath said. "There was some pretty frightening and difficult stuff for us last night.

"It was a variable sea state and squally gusts, then nothing for a little while, then squally gusts again. We had a third reef in and a #5 storm jib just to handle the gusts."

Beath and Hooper also had to change their watch system to adapt to the freezing conditions.

"When we got to Tasman Island, we could take a bit of a rest because elsewhere it was almost impossible, being a two-hander, to sleep and eat in those conditions," Beath recalled.

"Then we would take a half hour off-watch, trying to rest and warm up, and then come back up!"

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