Five days to go
State versus state. Mate versus mate. The battle is shaping up to see who can get their hands on the prized Rolex Sydney Hobart silverware for overall winner, the Tattersall’s Cup.
A fleet of 89 yachts will go head to head this Sunday 26 December in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, when the great ocean classic starts in all its glory from Sydney Harbour at 1300.
Of the 89, most are eligible for the Tattersall’s Cup, the handicap trophy for the true winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart as opposed to the first boat to reach Hobart, which will always be the dominion of the bankrolled super-sized supermaxis.
Today, six handicap contenders - three in Sydney and three in Melbourne – talked about their race strategy and ambitions based on weather forecasts and past performance. By now, most crews have a good handle on what’s on the horizon weather-wise and tomorrow the Bureau of Meteorology will detail its official long range weather forecast at the host club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney.
NSW is fielding the strongest contingent for this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart with 48 entrants and Victoria the second largest with 18 entrants, representing twenty percent of the fleet.
In Sydney today Niklas Zennstrom, the Swedish owner/skipper of the classy 72 foot foreign invader Rán, Stephen Ainsworth, owner/skipper of the touted RP63 Loki and Mike Broughton, navigator of Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz formed a panel to talk about their handicap chances.
Zennstrom also talked about the fact six of his senior crew are still stuck in London due to the big freeze and are not due to arrive in Sydney until Thursday and Friday, just two days out from the start of the big race.
Broughton, who has sailed against Rán all over the world referred to the boat as, “An absolute weapon to beat, it’s very difficult.”
On Jazz’s chances given the weather outlook Broughton said, "I think they’re [our chances] pretty good, we just want that little bit more reaching stuff for us. The Rolex Sydney Hobart is a fantastic race in terms of it being tactical. I love that as a navigator when there are lots of tactical options."
Zennstrom’s top class crew is thriving on the pressure of being touted as a race favourite, admitted the Swede. “We don’t really mind, we have confidence in ourselves. I’m sure there’s going to be more people watching us so we just have to make sure we make as few mistakes as possible. I think one thing we learned [from last year] is that no matter how well you do, if you don’t have the right conditions you’re not going to win.”
Loki’s Stephen Ainsworth said the upcoming Ashes-like face off is going to be a great challenge. “It’s terrific to have Ràn down here. It’s always good to race one of the best yachts in the world. I hope we can do as well as the Australian cricket team did in the last test.”
In Melbourne, Sandringham Yacht Club also hosted a press conference today for three of Victoria’s handicap favourites; Rod Date, owner skipper of the RP52 Scarlet Runner, which won the two day Passage Series in Sydney on the weekend; Rob Hanna, owner/skipper of TP52 Shogun, a class that has featured highly in the top placings since its launch, including an overall win in 2008 (Bob Steel’s Quest) and Michael Hiatt, owner skipper of the Farr 55 Living Doll.
“You can have the right boat, right crew and go the right way but when it comes to the overall win you can’t do anything about the guy who turns up in Hobart a day later, that’s what makes the Rolex Sydney Hobart such a great race, the luck element,” said Hanna. “It’s possible for virtually any boat to win it, who would have thought this time last year that Two True could win the Rolex Sydney Hobart, that’s the beauty of this race.”
Just five Victorian boats have taken overall honours in 65 years of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, the last time was Georgio Gjergia’s Ausmaid in 1996. Victoria has been steadily building its IRC forces and this year will be well represented by the likes of Hiatt, Hanna and Date. The recent form of Nichols Bartels’ Cookson 50 Terra Firma is not to be sniffed at and the six Victorian Sydney 38s can’t be overlooked either.
Last week’s Rolex Trophy in Sydney, considered the shakedown regatta for Australia’s greatest ocean race, saw the top placings go to pre-regatta favourites Loki, Shogun, Rodd & Gunn Wedgetail, Limit and Living Doll joined by Terra Firma and Darryl Hodgkinson’s Victoire. These yachts are now definitely on the ‘boats to watch’ list for the upcoming Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
While any one of these yachts could claim the Tattersall’s Cup, there could easily be a repeat of 2009 when a first-timer, Andrew Saies’ South Australian Beneteau Two True, snaffled the trophy right out from under nose of those who have dedicated their life to winning the coveted silverware.