“Line Honours is all that matters,” so declared the man who will steer one of the very last boats to cross the finish line in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race this year, as he has done six times previously.
When he said that, Sean Langman was racing his 66 foot skiff on steroids, AAPT. And he did have a grin a mile wide, but the handicap winner is the real winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
Every sport needs a larrikin, especially one who can walk the talk. Langman has definitely done that for all 26 races he’s chalked up. Over the years he has bemoaned the absence of catamarans and generally poked and prodded established ideas about yacht racing.
If it floats, he has probably sailed it. His AAPT was a celebration of speed, fun, innovation and the excitement of what ocean racing was fast becoming under the new IRC rules and then he bought a 9 metre 1932 gaff-rigged Ranger, Maluka.
“It is more than a race to me,” Langman says. “It really portrays a lot of who I am, and me searching for who I am. My roots in the sport come from a boat like Maluka. In the sixties my dad had a gaffer because they were cheap, and because we had no money, we made the best of what we had. And the original roots of this race were a bunch of blokes who sailed to Hobart and made the best of what they had.”
Langman did his first Hobart because he wanted to be a rigger, and this was a good way to learn the trade. But he turned out to be an even better businessman than rigger, and found himself with the money to steer his own boat at the front of the fleet: “When you’re practically born on a boat, and come from no wealth, it interested me,” he says.
The Sydney sailor had a ball on his overgrown skiff, but it could never prevail over the rapidly evolving canting keel super maxis. In 2005, he took over Ludde Ingvall’s 90ft Nokia, renaming it AAPT. That was his epiphany – he realised it wasn’t all about getting there first.
“We ran out of fuel on the Derwent and the engine (driving the canting keel and winch hydraulics) died. My young crew said ‘great, now we can get back to grinding a winch – and I thought,’ they’re right’.”
Sitting on the dock in Hobart, a subdued Langman sighed that he had been bored on the way down: “I’d lost my sense of self because I found that push button sailing was at loggerheads with what I think sailing is about: which is human endeavour and working with the elements. I went back to Maluka to find myself, because I didn’t like myself anymore.”
In Maluka Langman rediscovered the weekend warriors, the club sailors who once a year make the trek to Hobart. The sailors who were the essence of the Hobart for decades. “They are still there – they’re just at the back of the fleet,” Langman declares. When I got to Hobart the first time in Maluka the media asked me what I was going to do next, and I answered ‘go down the dock and meet some new friends’.
“When you compare it with professional golf or tennis, in what other sport does the humble weekend sailor get to go to a briefing and the odd cocktail party and stand next to some of the best sportspeople in the world. And to race against them, and sometimes beat them. That is what makes the Hobart unique.”
And Sean Langman does still want to win: “This is far more challenging, but the reward is much higher than any other boat I have sailed.”
The Boxing Day start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.
by Jim Gale, RSHYR Media