The 72nd start of the iconic blue water classic had 300,000 spectators lining the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, another two million watching on TV, and the constant buzz and whir of media helicopters overhead. 88 boats, from Australia, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Korea, China, oh and New Zealand, had lined up on three start lines.
Drama at the 1300hrs cannon, with the eight times line honours winner, the Oatley family’s 100-footer Wild Oats XI, getting a disastrous start. The miked-up for TV broadcast Skipper, Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards, complained he could not ‘F-ing see’, as on port he was weaving between the wall of carbon sails. Usually a very calm boat, he was also calling a lot for ‘Ease Main!’, and ‘Main On’, as he ultimately had to duck the sterns of many vessels.
Ludde Ingvall’s radically revamped CQS nearly capsized after a crash tack to avoid a boat with rights left her canting keel to leeward when the diesel stalled at the exact same time. Whilst this was all this was happening, Anthony Bell’s 100-footer, Perpetual Loyal, was cleanly and clearly first out of the Heads, and turned right toward Hobart with moments of 2015 memory pouring in when they could not set the huge 1200m2 A-sail.
Thankfully it got sorted, eventually, but it would be WOXI that got the best set of them all. 87 boats followed Perpetual Loyal. The smallest of them was Sean Langman’s 84-year-old classic, wooden 30-footer, Maluka of Kermandie. Yet she was not the last vessel out in malaise of wind and water caused by all the bigger yachts in front of her and the spectator armada now rushing out to see the big’uns scream off towards Hobart.
The Northerly was building. 20’s became 30’s, with the fleet’s leaders speeding offshore to escape an expected soft Southerly change, that in the end was a case of much ado about nothing. The leaders effectively missed it, but those in tier two did hit the doldrums for a while.
Yet it was the pencil shaped WOXI that wound up a treat and it was a little after Bateman’s Bay at around 1900hrs local when she ascended to the lead and kept sneaking away. The leaders were doing 25-28knots at this stage, disposing of the miles effortlessly. Of course on board that sort of speed is anything but effortless. This is especially so for trimmers and helmers, and these conditions were clearly very favourable, with a new race record up for the beckoning.
These perfect and sustained downwind conditions don’t come all that often. Indeed they usually bring a race record when they do as echoes of 1975, when Jim Kilroy’s Kiaola III (USA) sailed the 628-nautical mile course in 2d 14h 36m 56 s flooded in. Equally, there was another epic slide in 1999, when the Volvo 60 Nokia (the former Swedish Match), cut the record time to 1 day 19 hours 48 minute and two seconds.
That last record stood until 2005, when the then new (and at that time 98-foot) WOXI cut it a little and then again in 2012 to the mark they were aiming to beat – 1 day 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds. Back to the 2016 race, and the website computers were at this stage going wild with an unbelievable 24 boats now on record pace.
Too good to be true? Well it certainly was, for as WOXI reached and ran South at serious speed. Whilst deep into the jump from Green Point to Tasmania and almost abeam Flinders Island, WOXI suddenly stopped. Thinking the leader must have a MOB, Perpetual Loyal radioed from astern.
Did they need help? No. WOXI’s canting keel hydraulic ram had failed. Disaster had struck the well-prepared and exceptionally sailed short-priced favourite. The crew manually centred their 12-tonne lead keel, and she limped northwards.
Perpetual Loyal blasted on South, with Jim Delegat’s Volvo 70 a clear second, and then Maserati third with Scallywag, Beau Geste and Black Jack in a wolf pack. The line honours race stayed a very fast procession, powered by solid Easterlies that turned further North as the leaders struck South.
Long story short, three boats broke Wild Oats XI’s 2012 record. Anthony Bell’s supermaxi Perpetual Loyal eased across the Hobart finish line at 02:31:20 on Day 3 to set a record of 37 hours 31 minutes 20 seconds, almost five hours faster than the old record. Behind her was New Zealander Jim Delegat’s Volvo 70, Giacomo, followed by Seng Huang Lee’s 100-footer, Scallywag.
After the first three boats arrived, the host of the Derwent River Inn, (aka as Heart Break Hotel) turned off the fans, and abandoned the guests, retiring to bed for the night and a fair bit of the following day. Too many celebratory libations for the hotelier it would seem… A good sleep was in order.
Peter Harburg’s modified Volvo 70 Blackjack, which was the 2011/2012 VOR entrant Telefonica, was the first of the unlucky group home. This was some four and a half hours after Scallywag, followed almost an hour later by Karl Kwok’s 80-footer, Beau Geste, and 82 seconds after that by yet another Volvo 70, the 2008/2009 Ericsson 3 which is now Jim Cooney’s, Maserati.
The windless misery also extended out into Storm Bay. Some of the radio contact between boats and Hobart Race Control about it all is hilarious, such as with Dark & Stormy. The overall leader, Matt Allen’s modified GenV TP52, Ichi Ban, (the former Azzurra and Shogun V, now with taller stick/bigger sails and deeper keel), rounded Tasman Light as clear overall leader under the IRC rule. Soon thereafter she joined a Storm Bay car park and that was her race right there. End of story. The quietening spread further to offshore, as well. It lasted almost a day, and it was game over for overall aspirants everywhere.
So it was to be the giant killing Clubhouse leader, Giacomo, that took the overall IRC win from Perpetual Loyal in second and UBOX, the Franco/Chinese entered Cookson 50, who would get third. Under ORCi, Bin Wang’s UBOX won from Paul Clitheroe’s TP52 Balance, and Matt Allen’s TP52 Ichi Ban.
On PHS (Performance Handicap System), Bruce Watson’s normally shorthanded Welbourn 12, Imalizard, won from the Jones 40, Quetzalcoatl, who reported to Sail-World that she had her kite up for 67 of the first 70 hours of the race. That was offshore, around Tasman light, she did not have quite such the same scorecard. Trevor Richardson’s Moody Bouys, which is a very cruise Moody 54DS, got third place. Last boat home was the lovely ‘local’, the Huon Pine S&S, Landfall at 1649hrs on 30/12/16.
In this downhill slide that was 2016, two boats retired with broken rudders, another with headsail damage, one with motor issues, and Wild Oats XI, the eight times race line honours winner and previous race record holder, whilst leading the race.
So why allow a classic ocean race to end with a river wind gate? Surely it would be fairer if it ended at Tasman Light. No way. It is just not going to happen. For 74 years, almost every sailor who has turned right on Boxing Day has been able to tell their grandchildren how on one or more occasions, the boat he or she was on, sailed a brilliant race, was winning their division or the race overall at Tasman Light, only to have victory cruelly torn from their grasp by Huey, the Wind God.
Accordingly, do any of us care if it keeps happening? Nah! Suck it up, Sunshine! It’s happened to everyone back in whatever year it was…. And that is why there are sailors who have raced south 25, 40 or even 51 times. If the walls of the Customs House Hotel on Constitution Dock could talk, they would say that Sydney Hobart sailors and Goldfish have a lot in common. They just keep going around and round…
In terms of the 2016 Hobart, our Managing Editor, Mark Jardine, just wanted to say, “Well done to all the Sail-World team. Our contributors were awesome. We had magnificent images from Andrea Francolini, insightful pics from Beth Morley, superlative videos from Crosbie and Dale Lorimer, a totally wicked radio team, and truly tireless sub-editors.”
“Of course there were many owners and crews who gave us so much before hand, and also out on the water. Thank you all. All of the sailors, organisers and volunteers also get a special mention. Yet it is you, the readers, who I just wanted to acknowledge and appreciate. So cheers and Happy New Year to you!”
Now don’t forget to get your club or association to send in your news via the submit function, just up in the top right of the Sail-World home page. In the meantime, do keep a weather eye on Sail-World. We are here to bring you the whole story…
by John Curnow