Russian race against the clock

As cracks in keel found on Rolex Sydney Hobart entry

Thursday November 20th 2008, Author: Lisa Ratcliff, Location: United Kingdom
The skipper of the first Russian boat to enter the Rolex Sydney Hobart in almost 20 years is now racing the clock in Auckland, New Zealand, to have a new keel built after large cracks in the existing keel were discovered earlier this week.

Owned by Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov, Trading Network / Alye Parusa is one of a fleet of 111 nominated for this year’s race and the largest international entry at 85ft.

Konyukov won’t be aboard for the 628 nautical mile blue ribbon event which starts 26 December, instead entrusting his Open 85 to West Australian skipper Mark McRae who discovered the cracks on Monday when the boat was lifted out of the water for final checks before its trans-Tasman delivery.

“We are working very hard to prepare her, but we have struck a major problem,” admits McRae. “When we lifted her we noticed water seeping from the keel about 400mm down from the hull. Further investigation has revealed a 450mm long crack with other cracks further down. The past few years of sailing in extreme conditions has taken its toll.”

Because the keel was built from a particular type of steel the cracks couldn’t be repaired so on Tuesday the keel was cut from the boat’s hull.

“We are working around the clock with the guys over here to fabricate a new keel however time is not on my side.

“Of course I’m devastated however being the biggest optimist in the world I am thinking we can still do it,” added McRae, who was originally due to leave Auckland on the 1st of December for the delivery to Sydney in time for the Boxing Day start of this year’s 64th Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Assuming a new keel can be built in time, McRae now hopes to set sail from Auckland for the 1,250 nautical mile delivery, which could take up to eight days, by the 10th of December.

The majority Russian component of the crew are due to arrive in Sydney on 16 December where they will join three Australians, including McRae, to make up a total crew of twelve.

“All going to plan, the week before the start will be rather extreme with practice, practice, practice as we rally together to sail our yacht to the max,” McRae added.

Described as a “pumped up brumby mare in strong winds and heavy seas”, Trading Network / Alye Parusa has completed many circumnavigations and recently completed the Antarctica Cup Race.

The boat is untried in Australia’s premier ocean race but given its design she has the makings of a downwind flyer and in fast running and reaching conditions, such as in 1999 when Nokia broke the then race record, Trading Network could pose a threat to Wild Oats XI’s three-year line honours stranglehold.

An application for entry that had been withdrawn was yesterday reinstated taking the fleet size from 110 back up to 111.

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