The Melbourne Cup is described as the race that stops the nation. Back in the old days it certainly did that, each and every first Tuesday in November.
In today’s environment with 24/7 everything, it still does a pretty good job of it, so we’ll certainly let it have that mantel. Now the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race hasn’t been running as long, and for nearly every year of it’s life since it began in ’46, it has kicked off on Boxing Day. However, over time, and as technology changes, it has certainly become the race that captivates the nation. Indeed, it was not long before a lot of the world was on the bandwagon, and so with live coverage, on board crossovers, mic’d up Skippers and so forth, that captivation could well have gone past inspiration to stirring.
Not only are people with the means buying boats and taking part, but also there are new generations coming though all the time looking for rides South at Christmas. These days you cannot really troll the quays with your gear in arm looking to take part. You have to get invited on and train up, have your SSSC and a First Aid ticket will be handy too. Anything to help you stand above the crowd…
Equally, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is still exclusively the domain of monohulls. Specifically, this is 30 to 100 feet in the old language. The technology of the boats has also changed with wood hulls going on a journey through Ferro-cement, fibreglass, Kevlar, Nomex and on to carbon fibre. Standing and running rigging left wire behind to go to 316 rod, Dyneema, PBO and now carbon as well, with sails using many a fibre too, as they went from white to black, too. Henry Ford would be so happy…
One vessel in the modern era could well encapsulate both the inspiration and continual change. She was built in time for the 2005 race as a 98-footer, the maximum allowed at the time. Later she would add the two feet to take her to 100, then only last year they lopped off 2m to hand it to the new bow section they sewed on. She is immaculately prepared, and chief amongst her many accolades is that as a supermaxi she won the triple, not once, but twice. That’s Line Honours, IRC and Race Record, which she still holds from 2012.
She can only be the silver arrow known as Wild Oats XI, and this is to be her first year without her patriarch around. The Oatley family are continuing to campaign her, and even though Bob is not around, it will be the first time an Oatley is to be on board for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Daniel is an accomplished Merchant Seaman, and well and truly earned his Guernsey, for there are no passengers on a boat like this. Despite wishing to be low profile, he has commented that he cannot wait for the starting cannon to sound. The family too are keeping to themselves, and also just looking to just get on with the job.
It is not just the sorrow of Bob’s passing, but on board there is also the disappointment of last year’s failure with the mainsail. Skipper Mark Richards commented, “It is the same mainsail, just repaired. We have 21-crew, and we are keen. We have also done a lot more sailing during this year, than was the case last time.” Indeed the crew are as accomplished as the boat itself, with names like Iain Murray, Robbie Naismith, Steve Jarvin, and Graeme Taylor on the roster.
Now if WOXI is affectionately known as the Swiss Army Knife, then the ‘new’ CQS must be the Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-A-Car. She was YuuZoo and also Nicorette, and along the way, Ludde Ingvall has collected the coveted Line Honours win twice, once with what this very boat used to be. The remodelled boat (the deck and stick are all that remain) is super-radical and has shown pace over in New Zealand since launching, and then also on her way over the ditch (Tasman Sea).
Thus far they have opted to train on their own and not engage with the opposition. So if this is a piece about technology, then this is a boat worthy of serious attention. Little is known of her real performance, but being a narrow vessel with super fine entry, you would think lighter would suit her. She does have some serious rags to fly off her old rig with new spreaders, but it still remains shorter than her opposition, and then again she is much lighter overall…
At the front of the fleet it could well be a case of fat and skinny had a race, with Perpetual Loyal and Scallywag showing some serious tail (please now cue Sir Mix A Lot). WOXI and CQS on the other hand are like pencils, which you can see from the angle of heel, and the time at which they go for the first slab.
Also racing in IRC Division Zero is Rupert Henry’s JV62, Chinese Whisper. They won this division last year after a ding-dong battle with another Owner/Driver vessel, Matt Allen’s Carkeek 60, Ichi Ban. Chinese Whisper not only looks spectacular, but Henry’s boat has had another good year with a significant result in the Cabbage Tree Island race coming to mind.
Whilst in the same division as the maxis, this craft has no canting keel or powered winches, meaning the crew do it all. Stu Bannatyne from Doyle Sails is the Tactician and Carl Crafoord of Sailexchange.com.au is the Navigator, and with other names like Ben Lamb and Simon Cunnington on board, many expect a lot from this boat and crew.
Maserati is the VO 70 that last year had an absolute mung bean flyer of race and it nearly paid off. ‘Commodore’ Jim Cooney has bought her for this year’s event. He is super-affable, very personable and a delight to talk with. For this event he has added big, fast boat experience to his existing crew with North Sails (AUS) supremo Michael Coxon, and also Volvo specialists, Noel Drennan and Tom Braidwood taking them to 16 souls on board.
The crew comprises Cooney’s 19-year-old daughter, Julia, a med student at the University of Adelaide and his son James (18). Julia is back for her second Hobart, having done last year’s on Brindabella, whereas James is up for his first, having passed the magic milestone. It is great to have these younger competitors around. Both are principal trimmers on board Brindabella, which Cooney also owns.
Now Brindabella usually sails with 24, so for those not on this run, there will be plenty more on offer, and therefore they will all get a gig eventually. Some that have made it for this race are Jeremy Tilse, who was a Waratah for 10 years, Bill Sykes Senior on what must be his 26th Hobart, and Olympic Sailing Coach, Mark Robinson.
So there is Maserati and also Bridabella, but one thinks he must have a craft for each child, for he and wife Samantha have three other children. There is Finella, who is older than Julia and James, and then Douglas and Marina, who are 14 and 10, respectively. Indeed the Cooney’s do have five craft. In addition to the aforementioned pair, there is an Adams 47 lying off the Île de Ré (near La Rochelle). “We lived there in 2006/8. We actually took it over there and now it stays there, surprising many a local when we go out racing. So much so they all had to check it out when she was slipped”, said Cooney.
“Next there is a Brenta 42 which we imported in 2009. Brindabella came along at same time. This time last year we bought Bumblebee V, which won this race in the early 2000s, as we are outgrowing the Brenta and Brindabella takes too many hands to operate when we all just want to have a sail. Then along came Maserati in about the middle of the year. We brought it to Sydney in Easter, with Giovanni (Soldini) plus two of his hands, learning a lot from them along the way.”
“We use them all in different ways, depending on who is around and I still love Brindabella. She is so elegant, and still holds the conventional record for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The family aspect is important. I would not be doing it if it did not include my family, and for that matter the greater family, too. This latest integration with Michael, Noel and Tom has been completely painless. They are really personable and it’s a real pleasure to be on board with them.”
Of their aims, thoughts and inspirations Cooney said, “The VO70 is more complicated than I anticipated, and more complex to sail than I might have thought, as the manoeuvres are more intricate and detailled than say a maxi like Brindabella. You have boards up and down etc; it accelerates incredibly quickly, and disappears out of sight. However, once done, she is easier to sail than Brindabella. In light to moderate winds we were once just happy to match wind speed, whereas now we want a few knots faster!”
“By way of demonstration, we have a 530m2 bag on Brindabella, and 500m2 on the Volvo, but only half the displacement. It would be great if the race conditions suited us rather than the TP52s. More breeze suits us and we’d like to be with Giacomo, and be delighted to be as close to Black Jack as we can. We will have a great race amongst us. Sure we’ll be happy to pounce if the opportunity comes up!”
Cooney is clearly enjoying this boat, especially flying along. “I started in my early 20s on an S&S 34 on Pittwater and I was hooked. Raced it offshore for five years, then some J24s on Harbour in the 90s, and a few on bigger boats like Ian Trelevean’s, Starlight Express. We then moved to UK for a decade or so, and got back into it with Brindabella.”
Cooney finished by saying, “Maserati is completely exhilarating – standing at the back, relatively flat and you’re effortlessly doing 25 knots and surfing past that! All in a modest breeze, too. It is extraordinary and very exciting. You do have to give her a bit of stick, and be strict, but it is enormously rewarding. Great fun, and smiles on everyone’s faces wipes out the rest of the effort to make it happen.”
So then if you are looking for smiles yourself, then do keep a weather eye here on Sail-World.com for all the latest intel on the great, inspiring, captivating and very historic, blue water classic… The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
by John Curnow