Clash of the (new) titans

A look at the form of this year's Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race

Wednesday November 12th 2003, Author: Peter Campbell, Location: Australasia
The two largest boats ever to race in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, both 30 metres (98ft) long, have begun intensive sailing preparations for this Trans-Tasman duel for line honours in the 59th annual bluewater classic.

Skandia, built for Melbourne’s Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing Yachting, and Zana , built for New Zealand yachtsman Stewart Thwaites, will head an international fleet in the 627 nautical mile ocean race starting on Boxing Day, 26 December.

These brand new 'super maxis’; are state of the art carbon fibre construction and incorporate the latest concepts in design, hull engineering, rigging, sails and trimming techniques. Skandia has one of the larget canting keels in the world, Zana has a fixed keel but has opted to use a rival system of water ballast to optimise her performance.

This clash of the Trans-Tasman Titans is racing rivalry at its best. Both boats have been designed, built and equipped in their own countries and will be crewed by the cream of ocean racing talent from Australia and New Zealand.

Both skippers, Wharington and Thwaites are seeking the glory of being the first into Hobart and have started their race preparation. Thwaites is a highly competitive skipper and last year won the IRC division in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in the veteran 55-footer Starlight Express. Wharington has notched up a second and a third across the line in past Sydney Hobarts, but never got the gun.

Skandia was launched by America’s Cup winning skipper John Bertrand at Mornington Yacht Club on Friday 31 October, and has been sailing for several weeks on Port Phillip. Chief designer and structural engineer for the project is innovative Melbourne yachtsman Don Jones, while Mal Hart built the boat at Mornington.

Zana, designed by New Zealander Brett Bakewell-White, was launched in Wellington Harbour two weeks ago and is undergoing initial sailing trials before sailing to Auckland and then onto Sydney, arriving in mid-December. The Kiwi super maxi was built by Hakes Marine.

Both yachts are the biggest racing yachts ever owned by either a New Zealander or Australian, and just come inside the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s maximum overall length of 30m and the IRC upper speed limit of 1.61 (the maximum handicap rating).

Other big boats in the fleet for Hobart include the two best known older maxi yachts in Australia, George Snow’s famous war horse the Jutson 80, Brindabella, and Ludde Ingvall’s 80-footer Nicorette.

Snow, who originally had Brindabella up for sale, has decided to sail the maxi yacht in her 11th Sydney Hobart (and his own 21st race) with three of his adult children in the crew.

To keep her competitive edge, Nicorette has undergone a secret redevelopment programme at the new Mackay Marina in North Queensland, including new a canting keel to improve stability in stronger winds, a new bow sprit to enable her to carry bigger, more powerful spinnakers, and a new livery.

“The race for Hobart has already begun,” Ingvall said. “The bar is raised every year and I love the challenge. This year is no different, and Australians will see some of the world’s newest and most exciting yachts on the starting line come Boxing Day as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is now one of the star attractions for international skippers.”

While these four boats, Skandia, Zana, Brindabella and Nicorette, will be the largest yachts in this year’s fleet, there will be an exceptionally strong line-up of boats in the pocket maxi class in the 60-66ft range. These smaller yachts will be snapping at the heels of the Titans all the way south.

Heading the line-up in this class will be the refurbished super fast Grundig, Sean Langman’s Open 66, as well the internationally successful US 65-footer, Zaraffa, owned by New York Yacht Club member Dr Huntington “Skip” Sheldon.

Grundig finished a fast second to Alfa Romeo in last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and Zaraffa won this year’s ChryslerDaimler North Atlantic Challenge race from America to Germany on corrected time.

Then there are four Volvo Ocean 60s, fresh from their race around the world and now based in Sydney: AndrewShort Marine (Andrew Short), Magnavox 2UE (Peter Sorensen, Mark Gray and Julie Hodder), Seriously Ten (John Woodruff) and, chartered by a British crew with a female skipper, Denise Caffari. All the 60s are capable of finishing at the front of the fleet in the right weather conditions and inside the race record of 1 day 19 hours 48 hours 03 seconds held by the Volvo 60, Nokia, set in 2001.

Another competitor in this range is the Open 60, Broomstick, skippered by CYCA director Michael Cranitch.

With some late nominations expected to swell the ranks of these racing greyhounds of the sea, the scene is set for the most competitive race ever for Line Honours and Overall Winner on handicap.

To make the racing more interesting still, sailors and non-sailors can place bets through the TAB on both first to finish and handicap winners

And on handicap...

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 has attracted a classy international fleet of more than 60 ocean racers, crewed by some 800 sailors, representing all Australian states, Britain, Sweden, New Zealand and the United States of America.

The fleet covers the entire spectrum of Category 1 ocean racing, from 30-footers upwards to the super maxi yachts, from veterans built more than 30 years ago to brand new boats contesting their first major long ocean race.

Last year’s Overall Winner, Bob Steel’s Nelson/Marek 46 Quest is defending her title, but unfortunately the Line Honours winner, Neville Crichton’s Reichel/Pugh 90 Alfa Romeo is not returning from Europe, despite her remarkable subsequent international racing record which has included winning other major Rolex-sponsored events, the Giragalia Cup, the Fastnet Race and the Middle Sea Race.

The deadline for Applications for Entry into the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was Friday, 7 November, but at the request of several Australian and overseas yacht owners still finalising yacht charters and mandatory crew and safety paperwork, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has agreed to extend this date until Tuesday week, 18 November.

“We want to make sure that everyone who wants to race to Hobart can do so this year,” CYCA Commodore John Messenger said at today’s launch of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race,” he added.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 fleet size is most encouraging for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and is indicative of a significant renewal of interest in the club’s premium international ocean race.

Of the 62 yachts whose Applications for Entry had been received by the CYCA today, more than 50% are contesting the 627 nautical mile race for the first time or are returning after a short or extended break.

Announcing the fleet today, John Messenger described the line-up as one of the highest quality fleets ever to assemble in the 59 year history of the “Great Race South.”

“What is important is that the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 retains its original concept as an ocean race for everyone with a boat and crew that qualifies, whether it be small or large, old or new,” Commodore Messenger said. “Our race has set world standards in meeting modern techniques in design and construction, boat and crew safety and in race communications and information through our Yacht Tracker system and web site.

“While there are a number of veteran boats in the fleet…the famous Love and War was built in 1973, more than three-quarters of the fleet was designed and built within the past decade, while almost half of these returning or competing for the first time were built within the last three years.

“At the same time, the CYCA has maintained a level playing field through its limits on speed and length.

“We saw that policy at best in last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race when the modern ocean racer Quest beat the 1979 vintage Zeus II by a matter of minutes on corrected time,” Commodore Messenger added.

Aside from the boats already mentioned notable entries in this year's race include:
- Veteran Syd Fischer, back again with a newly optimised - and already winning - Ragamuffin.
- The Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in England, Chris Little, skippering the chartered yacht Bounder (ex Sting), the 1999 Overall Winner.
- Prominent New York Yacht Club member Dr Huntington “Skip” Sheldon with his 65-footer Zaraffa, winner of this year’s Chrysler/Daimler North Atlantic Challenge race from America to Germany.
- Two women skippers, Englishwoman Denise Caffari heading the British entry, and Australian Alison Thompson with an all-women crew of the Sydney 38, Next.
- Past Overall Winner Geoff Ross, competing for the first time since his 1999 victory, with a new Yendys, a grand prix IMS 52-footer from Europe.
- Tasmanian John Bennetto is lining up for his 43rd Sydney Hobart Race, sailing Mirrabooka, Victorian Lou Abrahams is back for his 41st, skippering Another Challenge, while Tony Cable will be sailing in his 40th as a crew member of Witchdoctor.
- Former Admiral’s Cup team skipper Peter Kurts, now aged 79, is sailing again with his famous Love & War in which he won two Sydney Hobart Races.
- Four Volvo Ocean 60s – Magnavox, Andrew Short Marine, Seriously TEN and the British chartered
- Three British sailors who have sailed the Levranos-designed Ain’tMisbehavin’ some 15,000 nautical miles from Cape Town to take part in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
- Victorian Anthony Cuschieri is aiming to win “the biggest race with the smallest yacht and the youngest crew” sailing his 9.0 metre LOA, skippered by 21-year-old Jason Theuma.
- The small boats will be racing for a new perpetual trophy, silver replica of the America’s Cup called the Battery Point Trophy (that’s where the race finishes) and donated by Rod Skellet, owner of Krakatoa which last year set the fastest elapsed time for a boat under 32 feet LOA.

Whilst Grant Wharington’s Skandia and Richard Thwaites’ Zana will go into this race favourites for Line Honours, Brindabella, Nicorette and Sean Langman’s Open 60, Grundig, yet again revamped, will be among the leaders, as will the four VO60s, particularly if they get hard reaching conditions.

Picking Overall Winner is tougher than backing the winner of the Melbourne Cup, but experts predict that the newly optimised Ragamuffin must be one of the favourites, along with Quest, Ichi Ban, Yendys, Bounder, the Sydney 38s from Melbourne, Another Challenge and Chutzpah.

Among the small boats with Overall IMS prospects will be Robert Hick’s 31-footer Toecutter, which was in a winning position last year when she was becalmed off Tasmania’s East Coast, and Rod Skellet’s Krakatoa, while Anthony Cuschieri’s is an unknown performer.

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