What a way to end what has been the almost perfect partnership for Ainsworth and his wonder boat Loki, which won the race overall last year. Recently Ainsworth announced he would sell the remarkable Reichel/Pugh 63 and that this would be his last Rolex Sydney Hobart “Until the next time. Never say never,” the Sydney owner remarked before the race.
On the eve of his for now retirement, Ainsworth also looks certain to win the CYCA’s 2012 Blue Water Pointscore, having led the six-race event from the outset and finished with the best result in the annual 628 nautical mile race to Hobart in Tasmania – the last of the series.
“We were confident going in and we were not too shabby – second overall, first in division – and the Blue Water Pointscore – we drop a second place,” Ainsworth said. “It doesn’t get much better, especially for my last race for a while.
“I learned from poker machines,” said the Aristocrat gaming systems co-owner, “how to quit while you’re ahead.”
Built in 2008, Loki has never let Ainsworth down; rather the weather has sometimes influenced the larger yacht’s results to the negative. Nor has Ainsworth’s well-melded crew, including sailing master Gordon Maguire, and navigator Michael Bellingham, ever let him down.
“We are thrilled with our second place. We always saw Black Jack as our biggest threat. We could see her and Lahana ahead of us on the Tassie coast and thought ‘We’ve got them on time’,” Ainsworth continued. “We knew from the weather pattern that it would be a big boat race, but we had such a ball going across Bass Strait in those hard running winds. It was a fast, warm and relatively easy race till we ran into the southerlies in the last 100 miles – that’s when we knew Wild Oats XI probably had it.
“All of a sudden we went from running to throwing up a No. 5 in the southerlies. It reminded us how tough the Rolex Sydney Hobart could be. We beat all the boats we wanted to, so we’re happy with how we went.”
Four years old now, Loki holds numerous race records; the Bird Island set in 2011 when she took the treble, Flinders Islet (2010) and the 2009 Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Race in which she also won the treble. She also broke the Cabbage Tree Island record in 2009, only to have Wild Oats XI take it away in 2010.
Navigator Michael Bellingham said today: “We did the best our boat could do. We were sailing uphill for 100 miles – that’s tough. Oats was probably sailing uphill for 30 miles. 27 December was one of the most awesome days of ocean racing in the nor’ easter. We had our A4 sail up for most of the day and then changed it to our A7 with one reef.
“On the morning of the 28th, I came up on deck and said I hadn’t seen much wild life, but then all of a sudden we saw sunfish, some seals and a pod of dolphins.”
Talking tactics, Bellingham said: “We were conscious of hitting the lee bubble near Tasman Island and we wanted to get through that quickly. I was constantly looking at the grib files to see what option to take and what it would actually be like – it was a bit of make believe
“On our approach to Tasman Light, we were narrower than Black Jack and Lahana – we could see them coming from further offshore. The narrow approach has worked for us for the last two years.”
Bellingham said they were always hopeful of trying to win the race again. “There was only two hours between us (them and Wild Oats XI) on corrected time,” he pointed out.
“Wild Oats trucked it down the coast and pushed hard – they didn’t leave anything behind – that’s some pretty radical and brave sailing. It would have been tough in our 60 footer, but on a 100 footer, it’s even braver!”
Loki really did prove her worth in this race, from last year’s overall winner to second overall this year. Whoever buys her would be smart to leave her as she is.
A few days before the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart start, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Michael Logan said it would be a race for the big boats. He pointed to those over 63 feet and he got it spot on.
Third placed Black Jack, with sailing champ Mark Bradford in charge, sailed to their optimum, enjoying the hard running conditions offered up on the first night and the second day when northerly and north-easterly winds helped push the big boats fast southwards.
Bradford, who owns the Queensland North Sails loft and Harburg, had the seven year-old Reichel/Pugh 66 crewed up to the max by some of the best in the business, including fellow Etchells champion, Vaughan Prentice, four-time Finn Olympian and big boat sailor Anthony Nossiter and America’s Cuppers, Peter Merrington, Ryan Godfrey and Peter Dowdney.
The top three overall all come from the design board of Reichel/Pugh, and Black Jack is a near sistership to Wild Oats X which they joust successfully with on occasions. Previously, the Queensland maxi took line honours in the 2008 and 2009 Brisbane-Keppel races, breaking their own race record in the latter edition.
Black Jack, which like Wild Oats XI also sports a canting keel, took back-to-back line honours in 2009 and 2010 Brisbane Gladstone races. In August, Bradford skippered the yacht to second on line in the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, sailing inside the record time behind Wild Oats XI and claimed second overall.
Although he obviously wanted to win, and was in the box seat at one stage of the race, Peter Harburg, who named the boat for his racing car friend Jack Brabham, was happy to except fourth on line and third overall.
“Third’s not a bad place,” Harburg said this morning. The top two are always well prepared and always well sailed,” he said of Wild Oats XI and Loki. “We did our best. We enjoy close racing with Loki at various events.”
Black Jack’s owner told of the conditions they found themselves in off Tasmania. “We fell into a hole – it got Lahana before us – Loki sailed closed to the coast and didn’t suffer. Then Wild Oats got through, but we hit the southerly going across Storm Bay.
“It was 38 knots at one stage and freezing cold all of a sudden. I asked the guys if we were in Antarctica. We broke three battens in the main and to drop it at night, fix it and put it up again. Loki had to do the same. It’s a challenge.”
Of his future plans, Harburg was uncertain. “We could build a 100 footer and go head to head with the Bob and Ricko show (Wild Oats XI), but it’s shallow water in Moreton Bay. Right now I’m just going to relax – then I’ll think about it. The race is a huge challenge,” Harburg concluded.