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Warrior Won during the 2017 Vineyard Race © Christopher Sheehan
Warrior Won during the 2017 Vineyard Race © Christopher Sheehan

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The docks of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia are awash with Americans – we always get some for the Rolex Sydney Hobart – but this year there are five American yachts: Christopher Dragon, Dorade, Wizard, Triple Lindy and Warrior Won, not to mention the North American stowaways on Sir Robin Knox Johnston’s 11- strong Clipper Fleet.

Of course the Stars and Stripes have graced many of the greatest yachts to ever contest the 628 nautical mile race to Hobart, but Rushcutters Bay is an awfully long way from Connecticut, the home of Christopher Sheehan’s handsome Xp 44, Warrior Won. Shouldn’t he be skiing somewhere in New York state this time of year? “For us this is a dream come true. To take part in the grand-daddy of all distance races. In the United States we watch this race live, we watch endless videos. In January I made a list of races I wanted to do in 2017, ending with the Rolex Sydney Hobart. I asked my crew if they were in, and I got 20 saying yes. I chose 11 of them,” Sheehan says.

It says something about modern international sailing that Warrior Won could do a full season of racing on the east coast and still get to Australia with time to spare before the 73rd running of the race. In the past, Warrior Won would have taken months to cross the Pacific on her own bottom, or Sheehan would have spent almost as long at the very least supervising finding a cargo ship that could accommodate a 44 foot yacht on deck, getting the boat down to a port where it could be loaded, all the while wiping out a small forest in paperwork. These days, he says, all it took was two emails.

“There’s a British firm, Peters and May. They handle boats like Comanche. You give them six months’ notice and they disassemble the boat, box it up, shrink wrap the rig and land it in Woolwich, the other side of the Harbour Bridge. Two emails. When do you want it and where, and here’s the invoice.” Sheehan bought Warrior Won in Denmark in 2014. “These boats are made for the rough conditions of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, so they are very strong,” he says.

A fast cruiser/racer, Warrior Won is very much an all-round boat, and ideally Sheehan would like to see a good bit of windward work on the way to Hobart. “We don’t plane, but downwind we can get up to 20 knots of boat speed in ideal conditions, so we can stay in touch and if half the race is upwind we can really reel the planing boats back in.”

Warrior Won has proven very successful in the northern hemisphere, winning the St David’s Lighthouse trophy in last year’s Newport Bermuda Race and her division in the 2015 Marblehead to Halifax ocean race. Sheehan is in races to win them, not just make up the numbers. And it has to be said that over the years American boats have been very successful in a coastal race that, what with NSW currents, critical Tasman Island rounding angles and winning and losing sides of the Derwent River should favour local knowledge.

“Knowing that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for us, we spend a lot of time studying the history of the race. We have been thinking about this day and night for 12 months. HL DeVore, my navigator for the past four years, has been studying the history of the weather in this race: the first six hours, the next six hours, every six hour increments, looking for patterns, the currents, and the winds around Tasman Island.

“We’re going to make sure all of our ducks are in a row. We have done our homework, and we think maybe we have an advantage over the locals who are maybe a little more casual, are celebrating Christmas, have family to attend to, and have to go to work up until the day before the race.

“We want to win our division. There is an American boat in five different divisions and we would be delighted to see all five win five classes.”

Of course, not everything is plain sailing. Every race has its idiosyncrasies. In the case of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, apparently, it is Single Sideband (SSB) radios. “Oh Lordy,” Chris laughs, “the Hobart requires SSBs.

“The US Coast guard doesn’t use them, so there are no SSB stations. If you used one to call for help, no-one would hear you. We are all satellite phones and VHF. We finally found one in Canada, but then we had to get a licence to operate it. Only Tasmania University administers the test, so we had to find someone in Connecticut to test us, but first he had to be tested by the Tasmanians to see if he could do that.”

The good news is Warrior Won now has an SSB, and on Thursday they used it to talk to someone down the south coast while a race official looked on. They’re good to go.

The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.

For full list of entries and all information visit event website.

by Jim Gale, RSHYR Media

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