Loki the class act

Stephen Ainsworth's RP63 wins Audi Hamilton Island Race Week

Saturday August 28th 2010, Author: Susan Boyd, Location: Australia

Audi Hamilton Island Race Week saved the best for last with the sun lighting up the turquoise waters and the breezy trade winds bringing the fleet home from the Lindeman Island Race in super quick time to close the curtain on the 27th edition that attracted a strong fleet of 200 boats.

Sailing superstar Jessica Watson was yesterday racing a 6.1m SB3 sports boat, today she was in another realm, joining the crew of four-time Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winner Wild Oats XI for the superyacht race, and taking a couple of turns at the helm of the 30.48m supermaxi in the consistent 14 knot SE breeze.

“It’s the biggest boat I’ve ever helmed,” said Watson. “We were doing 17 knots down the passage, steering it was effortless. They are a great bunch of guys and it was good to meet the navigator Adrienne Cahalan whose career I have followed.”

Balmy temperatures and lightish breezes at the beginning the week-long regatta which began last Saturday allowed the 2,000 or so competitors an easy-going series start before Thursday’s fresher SE change injected plenty of adrenalin into the business end of proceedings.

With the IRC Grand Prix division already in the bag, the troops were at ease aboard Stephen’s Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 Loki for today’s 23.5 nautical mile Lindeman Island Race – and they still managed to finish second. The form crew have spent the week scrambling from side to side and hiking out with heads down, backs flat and fingers almost touching toes. In contrast, today they stayed out of trouble at the start, had their eyes up enjoying the scenery and were carrying the extra weight of fenders and crew bags.

Anthony ‘Youngster’ Merrington, tactician aboard Loki and younger brother of America’s Cup sailor Peter Merrington, has been sailing on the 63 footer for the past 12 months. He says crew harmony and a number of minor modifications to make the boat more powerful upwind have worked wonders.

“The crew is more confident because the boat is performing well. There’s a good vibe, everyone’s happy and the boat’s a pleasure to sail.”

While the two RP66s, Black Jack and Wild Oats X, match raced each other around the racetrack and the 50 footers did the same, Loki wasn’t bothered by anything in its size range.

“We could sail our own race in free air and put ourselves in between the 50 footers and the 66s. When we are getting dirt off the 66s, we know we are doing well,” Merrington added.

Loki finished the series on 13 points, including an extraordinary five wins from nine races, with the nearest boat, Jim Farmer’s modified New Zealand TP52 Georgia second with 28 points and Wild Oats X third with 31 points.

It’s likely that Loki is the only boat to have ever won the feeder Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week in the same year.

The next big trophy on Ainsworth’s radar is an overall win this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. “This result is a big confidence booster, we are certainly on the right track,” admitted the owner/skipper as he looks forward to the blue water classic at the end of the year.

After a poor start Georgia opted for the wild card, the western side of Pentecost, and stayed out wide for the run home. They rallied to place fourth in today’s Lindeman Island Race and seal second on the overall IRC Grand Prix series pointscore, a satisfying result for Farmer’s first outing with this boat at Race Week.

The Iain Murray skippered and Bob Oatley owned Wild Oats X finished third on the pointscore after nine races.

In the biennial South Pacific Cup, the two-boat New Zealand team of Georgia and Rob Bassett and Brett Russell’s Bakewell White 52 took the trophy off the Australia team of Rob Hanna’s Victorian TP52 Shogun and Bruce Absolon’s V60 Nikon Spirit of the Maid, making the score apiece for the Aussies and the Kiwis. The final score was New Zealand 20 points, Australia 28 points.

Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson is a happy man this afternoon, delighted with the variety of conditions and the on-water behaviour. “There was a great energy this year, a real buzz amongst the fleet, particularly when the wind came in.

“My team of 28 race management officials did a fantastic job, they worked hard to make sure the competitors had a great time on the water,” said Thompson.

Tonight crews will gather at the Island’s convention centre for the sold-out end of series trophy presentation and announcement of the 2010 Audi IRC Australian Champion and the winner of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week before a mass exodus of boats and long wait until they can do it all again next year.

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