To be an overall winner of the Sydney Hobart Race is the goal of many. Some are still out there trying to jag one, and they’re decades into it. So in the 2015 race, a truly complete sailor chalked up his third grasp of the mighty Tattersall’s Cup.
Most interestingly, the previous time he did exactly that was whilst racing on the very same boat! She was Quest in 2008 and in 2015 she was Balance. This yachtsman par excellence is Adam Brown, and to everyone but his Mum I suspect, he’s just known as Brownie.
So if you’ve had at least four class wins in the 26 times you’ve headed South for Christmas, you certainly know a thing or two. Equally, when you’re as humble and slippery to catch for a chat about oneself as Brownie is, you pay a lot of attention when the head of Customer Service for Pantaenius Australia gets talking.
On board Paul Clitheroe’s TP52, Balance, Brownie is a principal helmer/tactician/watch leader. Interestingly, those three roles are shared with another soul. One who is 37 Hobarts into this lifetime; a certain Mike Green, or Greeny, to just about anybody who knows the pointy end from the blunt.
Asked what he thought when he learned that Matt Allen decided to take his Carkeek 60 for the 71st iteration of the race and not the stunning blue TP that can absolutely get a wiggle on in the right conditions, Brownie said, “Wise decision. We never really thought there was much of a chance. This was a race for all-rounders, which is why Balance was so well suited.”
“Greeny and I were nervously excited before the race. The weather briefing provided us with the knowledge that it would be about all points of sailing; both light and heavy, on and off the breeze. So there we were with the best all-rounder in fleet, which is exactly what happened in 2008 with Bob (Steel – as Quest, the last time he won).”
As he has such experience, from not only the sailing side, but also the engineering, building, equipment and lately the insurance arm of the industry with Pantaenius Australia, Brown was able to detail the big item in a win. “What made us different, is that there is package that has to go together. You have to have the right boat, all the sailing, safety and medical gear, a competent and willing crew, and then an owner who is willing to pay for all the things that are required.”
“Having the best items on board and the work carried out by the greatest around does count. Keeping and training with a core crew for over 18 months is essential. In Paul’s case, a lot of them have been with him for up to 10 years now. He also works closely with the experienced ones to keep them involved. It shows, and he is terrific to be around.”
The Southerly front was known to be on its way before the fleet even left their pens, and the attrition rate on that first night was significant, but what of the rest of it? “So we had that wonderful Nor’easter to take us down the NSW coast and then it was all about the front leading up to launching off from Green Cape. After that there was a non-existent and then light Southerly to get us over to Tasmania. After that we had a Westerly influence going on, so it was a tight reach down the coast and that helped with the overall timing.”
“After getting onto the other board, we enjoyed a Sou’west to Westerly and the tight reach it provided for from out at sea and into Tasman Light. The Southerly built from there, so it was a blast reach into Cape Raoul and then onto the finish. At that time we knew we were the first TP home, likely for a class win and maybe, just maybe, a crack at the whole thing”, Brownie explained.
Sounds easy, right? Yet is in the discussion that you get to appreciate the quality of the experience on board, quality electronics and the good boat management the crew deployed. By way of example, Brown detailed the count down to the front. “In terms of sail changes, I do think we nailed it. Eight minutes out we put the first reef in the mainsail and went to the #4 jib from the spinnaker staysail.”
“At six minutes to go we put the second reef in and then at two minutes out we doused the kite and got it below. Clockwork and it was a good thing too, for the punch arrived bang on time. Equally, we saw and utilised opportunities to repair the headsail foil, radio antennae and of course, that mainsail!”
“There is no rest for the wicked, so you drain all the water out from below, square things away, fix things and generally tidy the boat up in the light. Then you can run hard in the heavy weather, knowing all started out ship shape.”
“Greeny and I did all the helming, 50/50. It meant around two to four hours on the wheel for us, so we were pretty tired. Thankfully we managed ourselves well, so got the best rest on offer at the time. Paul had injured his back in a fall. He was mobile, but not always comfortable, and certainly did what he could. We have a humble crew with no heroes on board and that definitely stems from him.”
“The crew absolutely put in and all the mechanicals kept on going strongly too. It all adds up to the result we now enjoy.”
With 26 Hobarts down you do want to know if this was the worst, apart from the infamous ’98. “Yes. 1993 was bad and tough. 1998 was horrific in lots of ways. This year was differentiated by the more uncomfortable sea state. A bigger blow flattens the sea, but this was short chop, and the resultant pounding was severe.”
There was that Nor’easter blowing originally, and there was the typical North to South current running down the coast. Indeed, at the corner it was met by the West to East flow and this was joined by a Sou’westerly swell and breeze to create the ‘triangle of turbulence’ as Brown puts it. To anyone who knows that corner, which has Gabo Island as its marker, you know that GABO stands for Got A Bit On. Anytime you go around there in under 20 knots you have had a good day. That sort of sea state is hard on boats, especially planing hulls and even more so for carbon fibre ones!
Naturally that makes the driving difficult, because you launch rather than being able to steer up and over. Equally, they only saw 40 knots, which is not stupendous and the boats are built for that sort of contingency.
“Credit has to go to Roger ‘Clouds’ Badham for the great routing and Nick Scott-Perry for getting the navigation spot on. All of this provided great info to Greeny and I. It is unusual that we agree on everything, so it certainly was special intelligence we received! All of the crew, in conjunction with Bruce Hollis from Ullman Sails, ensured we had the right rags for job and that was also quite special”, noted Brown.
“We won the CYCA’s blue water point score with that race. It was on a count back up until Quikpoint Azzurro slotted in to separate us from the other leader at the time. So I do think we have to also be very thankful to Shane Kearns and his crew for allowing us to grab the series win, as well.”
“Clearly the biggest thanks of all goes to Paul Clitheroe for his many efforts to get the boat ready and also paying for it all.”
Given he has such a list of accolades already, you could be left wondering he was cured of the game yet. “Funny you should ask, but yes, there is always more… The Customs House (Hotel) would miss me! So I’m still at it for now, with no sign of hanging up the sea boots”, Brown finished off with.
So it does not matter number you’re talking about, or the one you have in your head. The only number that counts is +61 2 9936 1670. That’s the phone number for the crew that knows boats – Pantaenius Australia. You can talk with them about all your insurance needs, whether it’s racing, global cruising, coastal jaunts or sportsfishing. Listen closely and some absolute pearls of wisdom are bound to drop out. Just don’t expect Brownie to wax on about himself, but do know there are many a decade of experience behind him and the entire Pantaenius crew.
For more go to pantaenius.com.au and see why everything from superyachts to global cruisers choose the marine originated, all-risk policy that only Pantaenius can provide you with.
by John Curnow