Last week Sydney-based owner and skipper Paul Clitheroe and his team aboard TP52 Balance claimed the coveted Tattersall’s Cup, winning first overall in the toughest Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race (RSHYR) since 2004 (31 teams retired).
In the lead up to this event, Ullman Sails worked closely with the Balance program to develop a sail inventory that would perform in the race’s infamously challenging and variable conditions, and match how the team intended to push the boat during the race.
Carrying a total of fifteen sails in the race, Balance used all but three of the sails (the storm jib, the storm trysail and #5). Nine of the twelve sails used were designed, engineered and built by Ullman Sails, including all seven new sails.
In preparation for an offshore yacht race known for throwing everything at sailors, their boats and equipment, Balance sailing master and tactician Mike Green and Ullman Sails’ Bruce Hollis started working together in January 2015 to ensure the boat had the exact sail inventory it needed to take on and win the Sydney Hobart race. The experience, expertise and backgrounds of both laid the foundation for what proved to be a race-winning collaboration:
Mike Green: A multiple RSHYR winner now with 37 Hobart races under his belt. He has now won the overall trophy three times and took line honors in 1993 aboard the Farr 47 ’97,’ arguably one of the toughest Hobart races ever sailed and as Mike describes: “The hardest race I have ever done – way worse than 1998.” Mike, who works with Dimension-Polyant in Australia, joined the Balance program in January 2015 at the request of owner Paul Clitheroe and took on management of the program.
Bruce Hollis: An expert in sail design and development classes, he has nearly 40 years of experience in sailmaking, racing, sail design and boat building. His resume includes work on the America’s Cup, development 18 Footer campaigns and many successful IRC/ORC race programs. Bruce is a recognized leader in sailmaking in Australia and for over 20 years has owned and operated the Ullman Sails loft in Sydney. Bruce is a member of the Advanced Design Team for Ullman Sails, specializing in grand prix, multihull, one design and skiff sail design and development.
“I’ve always felt that the best approach to building a great wardrobe for a campaign is to involve the crew in establishing the likely performance criteria required,” Bruce said. “Paul’s ‘Balance’ program has always been high quality, but adding Mike and Adam Brown to the afterguard gave me solid specifics to design to on how the boat was going to be raced in the RSHYR. Mike is an old skiffy too, so when we were developing the performance window for the Sprit Top, we discussed it in terms of the old skiff style: a good forward hand “leading” the boat with an eased and drawing jib. It sounds funny, but using the same language with a similar background put us both on the same page of exactly what the sail for the TP52 needed to do.”
In the 12 months leading up to the race, Mike and Bruce worked together to systematically evaluate every sail on the boat and identify what modifications and additions were need to meet Mike’s requirements.
“Balance came with a lot of sails, some purchased secondhand from big TP programs, so we went right through all of them to see what was suitable for the RSHYR. And we did this with a clear view that if a sail met a target then we’d use it, even if it didn’t have our label,” Bruce said. “As an example, we looked at four medium jibs, and identified excellent flat water sails, or sails with reasonable shapes but unsuitable fiber construction. One was a really nice sail, quite new, suitable DPI and fiber ratios, and its chords and shape fitted exactly where we wanted the medium, so it went into the wardrobe, no questions asked.”
The two had extensive discussions about how hard Mike intended to sail the boat; each sails’ wind-range crossovers; how big the crossovers were going to be; target polars; even the rig settings ‘Balance’ would use in the Hobart race. “Bruce and I worked out what mast pressures we were going to be using – what rig settings in this Hobart. And we designed a lot of the sails around what the mast was going to do,” Mike said.
They then spent hours working with the SMAR Azure Design software, a leading sail design program used by the Ullman Sails group. The two analyzed and compared flying shapes on the screen, then took photos of the sails once they were hoisted on the boat and consulted on areas that needed to be improved.
The engineering of sails for this race was also a key consideration. Durable construction and finishing details that allow for efficient handling in all conditions were essential. “Your sailmaker has got to be able to build the sail strong enough for this race,” Mike said. “[Ullman Sails has] a great team. You’ve got guys who really know how to use the products. It’s fantastic.”
The end result was an inventory of fifteen total sails onboard ‘Balance’ for the 2015 race, of which the crew hoisted twelve of the fifteen (they never used the storm trysail, storm jib or #5). Seven of the twelve sails used during the race were new Ullman Sails – the product of Bruce and Mike’s collaboration, including the J1 light, an offshore 3.5 jib, genoa staysail, spinnaker staysail, 1A+ spinnaker, 2A, and masthead code zero.
The team also used an Ullman Sails FiberPath Phantom mainsail, which was on its second Hobart after being used in the 2014 race, and an 18-month-old Ullman Sails 4A spinnaker. A sprit top was also built for the race.
“I got every sail that I needed,” Mike added. “We were fast in all conditions. This inventory was designed for the Hobart race. That was priority and it met our priorities. The sails weren’t a compromise. I have to thank Paul for letting us do that.”
When asked what made the difference in the sail inventory to win the 2015 Tattersall’s Cup, Owner/Skipper Paul Clitheroe underlined the sails that helped them capitalize on the fleet. “Seriously, in this race the big differences were in front of the mast. The new headsails, a heavy and a light, drove us in very heavy and very light conditions. The new 2A and in particular the 4A were critical in very heavy downwind, very fast running, complemented with our stay sails,” Paul said. “I will never forget charging into Hobart to the finish line at some 20 knots of boat speed with [Bruce’s] powerful Code 0.
That last two hours using our new masthead zero was a key in securing this quite amazing win in an iconic race.”
Mike also noted a few particular sails that stood out on the racecourse. “The A1+ is beautiful. This is the probably the most beautiful spinnaker I’ve ever seen on a boat.” He also didn’t hesitate when talking about the brand new masthead code zero either, adding to Paul’s comments. “This is the best zero in the TP52 fleet in Australia. It has a big range – you can carry it from 70 true through 130-135 true. I love the flexibility of this sail.”
The ‘Balance’ team sailed an outstanding race, showing some exceptional decision-making and skill in one of the most challenging RSHYRs in the past decade. The sail inventory was just one piece of the puzzle, but the systematic and collaborative approach proved to be a key ingredient in a winning program.
“Bruce Hollis is a craftsman, a perfectionist and a sail design genius,” Paul Clitheroe said. “With his sails, as an amateur crew, we have been amazingly successful, even despite my pretty ordinary driving we have won Sydney to Lord Howe, Hamilton Island Race Week, NSW IRC Championships, the Blue Water Series, Cabbage Tree Race, and now one of the most prestigious races in the world – the Rolex Sydney Hobart.”
“It was a really, really satisfying process. It was fantastic,” Mike said. “We both learned from each other. It was a great project. If I could mark it out of 10. I’d give it an 11.”
“Being willing and able to collaborate with great sailors and interpret what they require – that is a process that is very rewarding for both a sail designer and the boat owner, and one that’s always been the backbone of the Ullman Sails approach, ” Bruce said.