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sydney hobart fleet

World-girdling ex-military adventure-lover Ronnie Simpson made his way down to Sydney to experience one of the world’s great races, and he checks in with his first comprehensive look at the Sydney-Hobart fleet with this missive.  Expect tons more content this week from Ronnie and a fleet full of Anarchists.  It’s already started; want to check out the sports book line and place a bet?  How about a virtual walk-through of the boats on the CYCA docks in glorious high-res photos?  Get your ass into the Sydney Hobart thread and get involved.  And finally, if you’re looking for interviews, boat tours of the biggest and baddest, and words from some of the biggest characters in the race, get yourself plugged into the McConaghy Boats Facebook Page – ground zero for all our race coverage from the start to all the finishes and the only place you need to go if you want to win some sweet SA swag.  And for our North American spectators, remember that the start will be broadcast live by Yahoo!7 starting around 8 PM EST on Christmas day (with our coverage starting long before that) with the first finishes on the evening of the 26th.  For the next week, Sailing Anarchy (thanks to McConaghy Boats) A will be Hobart Central – don’t miss out on any of our coverage!  Photos by Ronnie and SA’er ‘point’.

Sydney.  Hobart. Two of the most notorious words in all of sailing.

The words themselves bring up so many visuals and so many stories that simply muttered under one’s breath, they cause rapid synaptic firing in the brain of any offshore sailor.

Spurring vivid recollections of massive spectator crowds ringing the famous harbour and foreshore, 100-foot super maxi’s battling for line honors as they trade tacks in the Derwent, 60-foot breaking waves skirting the skids of rescue helicopters among the streaky spindrift from hurricane-force winds, if there’s a race that has spawned countless legends, it’s this one. Now in its 69th edition, it’s got the well-earned reputation as one of the most challenging, dangerous, and brutal competitions in all of sport – despite still being accessible to your average mom-and-pop club racer – and this 69th edition should easily live up to the reputation we’ve all come to expect.

With a highly complex and constantly changing weather scenario, the fleet is preparing for everything from light-air upwind to heavy-downwind and back.  While not a likely record-breaking year, you never really know, especially with the ultra-high quality of yacht at the top end of the fleet and a constantly evolving weather scenario.

As it stands, a localized low moves over the New South Wales coast at the start with the accompanying Southerly breeze.  In a ‘classic’ pattern, the wind should back to the Northeast and light to moderate run to the South.  The speed of the low’s movement – or outright dissipation – will determine how early the NE fills in and how fast it builds, with the potential for a real slingshot South for the boats that can position themselves for it.

As the big boats approach the Derwent, the rest of the fleet will be bracing for impact as a classic Southerly Buster rolls in from West to Easy over Tassie.  With a forecast up to 45 knots (with gusts that may be MUCH higher) this one could be a true test not only of racing prowess, but of straight-up seamanship for any boat stuck behind the frontal change.

With yours truly covering the race from on-board, dozens of Anarchists spread throughout the fleet, and Clean and Mer just on the ground ready for some bang-up interview, video, and photographic coverage from both Sydney and Tasmania, our hack team will be covering the Christmas Classic as it’s never been done before.  As a Sydney- Hobart virgin who admittedly doesn’t know the local Aussie sailing scene, I had but two options when compiling data for this article; regurgitate what’s already been written about the race or get drunk with the players in the scene and get the real scoop.

The latter option got the nod. This is Sailing Anarchy, after all…so on to the Ronnie Simpson form guide:

With IRC, ORCi, PHS and one-design fleets, it’s impossible and redundant to write a preview for every fleet, so i’ve focused on the IRC divisions, as that covers the vast majority of the fleet.

IRC 0

Many of the biggest, baddest, fastest monohulls in the world are represented in IRC Division 0. From perennial line honors contender Wild Oats XI to 2011 line honors winner Ragamuffin 100 (previously Loyal), the new Loyal (ex- Speedboat/ Rambler), the sparking new Beau Geste 80, a trio of Volvo 70‘s and a host of others, this is the division that everyone is watching. Who’s going to win? Hell if we know, but after talking Bundaberg-fueled shit with some of the top guys in the game, Beau Geste sounds like she may be the real deal, and the sleeper pick. Aside from the usual suspects, keep an eye on Volvo 70 Black Jack and Cookson 50 Victoire to be contenders for a handicap win.

Here’s the run down of the three big line honors contenders:

107_1424Wild Oats XI- Unlike many years in the past where Wild Oats XI was the clear favorite to take line honors, this year’s Hobart race is wide open. While still the line honors favorite with the bookies, Oats is getting a bit long in the tooth after 8 years in the game now, and it’s starting to show. She’s been heavily bastardized, er, modified to include new DSS foils and a lighter, stiffer new rig and the results are far from conclusive, but they’re also far from confidence inspiring. The rig’s already suffered two failures, the DSS foils are unproven and they’ve got a new navigator to boot (though Tom Addis is no one to sneeze at). With a weather forecast that has the best in the business confused (including ultra-navigator Stan Honey navigating Loyal…), WOXI’s Addis will have his hands full, that’s for sure. Don’t count the old girl out, but personally, my money’s on the competition.

11503647904_4c57335f35_hPerpetual Loyal- Owner Anthony Bell took line honors two years ago on the earlier Loyal, and clearly he wants to do it again.  To that end, he picked up the most powerful monohull every built – Alex Jackson’s Speedboat – putting her back together after her capsize and near-destruction back in the Fastnet.  Bell loaded the boat with a who’s who of top sailing, including  Stan Honey, Tom Slingsby, and Michal Coxon (though now marked as questionable due to illness), and he spent plenty of time on refitting some important bits thanks to McConaghys.  In Loyal, he’s got a wider, newer, more powerful boat than Wild Oats, and it showed in the Big Boat Challenge two weeks ago as Loyal led Oats around the course before blowing up one of her specialty reaching sails and giving away the victory.  Loyal has only shown two weaknesses in her career:  Light air, and breakages.  Barring either of these two occurences, it’s hard to bet against her.

Beau Geste – The brand new, and most eagerly anticipated boat in the Sydney- Hobart is as revolutionary and cutting-edge as it is downright sexy and intimidating. The new Botin Partners – designed 80-footer weighs half as much as Wild Oats at about 16 tons, yet creates 60 tons of righting moment vs. 68 for Oats.  The keel cants 3 degrees more than a Volvo 70, while the canards are angled at an incredible 18 degrees, generating around 3 tons of lift at 27 knots of boatspeed.  The closest we’ll see to monohull foiling in this race, Beau Geste’s polars indicate multihull-like downhill speeds approaching 40 knots of boat speed. Not just fast, she’s designed from the ground up to be a durable and burly boat with a rig designed to withstand 50 tons of pressure at it’s base and an innovative hull structure. Remember, this boat was built as a replacement for Farr-designed BG that broke in half last year, and project manager Gavin Brady isn’t scsrewing around when he says this boat is ready for anything the Bass Strait has to throw at her. Bigger, more powerful, and lighter than a Volvo 70?  Hard to bet against this one either.

IRC 1

sydney hobart docksTied for being the largest IRC division in the race with 21 boats, Division 1 should entertain from start to finish. The new Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban is as highly anticipated as Beau Geste, and despite her relatively short length, expect her to school all of the bigger Clipper 70’s and even a few of the boats in Div 0. Like the Carkeek 40s wake-up call to the 50-foot racers, the new Carkeek 60 should give plenty of trouble to the very well-sailed Ker 51 Varuna and the brand new sexpot Tony Kirby’s Ker 56 Patrice.

Patrice is a development of Piet Vroon’s all-conquering IRC beast Tonnerre De Breskens which has now claimed three RORC season championships in a row. Kirby and his crew have been putting in the work, doing a lot of sailing and earning some great results. Their thorough preparation and level of boat development makes them a definite contender, though the same can be said about her larger cousin Varuna. With a well-run program that’s been campaigned around the world, to include this summer’s Transpac, and rockstars such as Barcelona World Race vet Guillermo Atadill onboard, Varuna’s hard work and dedication should pay off in spades.

Don’t count out previous winner Primitive Cool (ex-Secret Men’s Business 3.5), the R/P 55 Wedgetail, the 100-foot racer cruiser Zefiro or my personal favorite, Frantic; the first-gen TP 52 owned by former pro rugby player Michael “Mick” Martin and navigated by Singlehanded Transpac champ Adrian Johnson. Frantic comes in with momentum after winning this year’s Gosford- Lord Howe Island race.

IRC 2

A fifteen boat division with depth throughout, merely getting onto the podium will be a monumental feat. Standouts include the always compettive Rogers 46 Celestial, sexy new Ker 40 Midnight Rambler and IRC optimized DK 43 Minerva amongst several other solid programs

Celestial is a contender not just for Division 2, but for the overall if they get their conditions. Consistently running near the front of the fleet on handicap, the Rogers is a good all-around platform sailed by a wicked up crew that includes former Olympic sailor and multi-time champion at everything Steve McConaghy (yes, that McConaghy…) Midnight Rambler on the other hand is an experienced group that has a weapon in their sexy new Ker 40. Winners of the notorious 1998 race in their old Hick 35 AFR Midnight Rambler, the crew has 120 Hobart’s between them and earned a second in Division 2 last year. A wild card in the fleet is the Humphreys 42 Zanzibar. A stalwart on the Asian scene, the Singaporean yacht has tasted success to the tune of winning last year’s Rolex China Sea Race overall on IRC and should go well in a range of conditions.

IRC 3

11504567124_088c081d9c_oWith 5 Sydney 38’s, 4 Archambault 40’s, a slew of Beneteau First 40’s and 45’s and several other IRC optimized racer-cruisers, Division 3 is a complete toss-up. Tied with Div 1 as the biggest of the IRC fleets at 21 boats, it will require equal parts luck, skill, conditions and seamanship to end up on the podium. I’ll be on the Archambault 40 One for the Road as we battle the fleet to Hobart, hopefully updating to SA along the way! The Sydney 38’s should entertain as they always do, and with a huge fleet of boats occupying a very narrow rating band, IRC 3 should offer some of the closest racing of any division. As an added bonus, it’ll even last a couple of days longer than the big boys! Just long enough for us to get creamed in the Bass Straight and down the Tassie coast…

IRC 4

The slowest of the IRC divisions, IRC 4 is loaded with class. The Petersen 44 Bacardi is competing in her 28th Hobart race- a record. Also in the fleet is the Hick 35 Luna Sea, (ex-AFR Midnight Rambler) that won the notorious and tragic 1998 race. When conditions turn heavy and out of the south, look for some of these older, slower upwind machines to revel in the heavy upwind stuff and move up the leaderboard.

-Ronnie Simpson

 

December 24th, 2013

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