Q&A with Joe Mele of Triple Lindy about the 2016 Sydney Hobart Race
Spend enough time racing sailboats, and you start to realize that there’s a hierarchy amongst events. This is easily understood amongst One Design classes, where regional or national events obviously hold more importance to serious racers than a casual Wednesday evening Laser race, however ocean racing can present a conundrum, as-with the exception of the Volvo Ocean Race or the Vendee Globe-there is no “championship” per-se. Instead, Mother Nature is often the defining factor as to why some races are approached (relatively) casually, while others are given the same level of preparation and gravity as a serious bluewater cruise.
Amongst ocean racers, four events stand prouder than the rest as examples of purely “classic” ocean contests, both in terms of course, expected conditions, anticipated competition levels, and overall difficulty. This elite list includes the Newport to Bermuda Race, the Fastnet Race, the Transpac Race, and the Sydney to Hobart Race.
While the later is “only” 628 nautical miles, it crosses Bass Straight, a much-feared body of water that’s roughly 310 miles long but only 200 feet deep at most soundings. Trouble is, waves traveling on the open Indian Ocean are used to significantly more depth below their peaks and troughs, sometimes creating the situation where big waves can become boat-breaking monsters (read about the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race). Other times, Bass Straight can be (relatively) peaceful, as 2016’s race proved to be, but-as always with ocean racing-it’s a proverbial roll of the dice.
Almost ninety boats entered this year’s Sydney to Hobart Race, but only one, Triple Lindy (USA 93310), skipper Joe Mele’s Swan 44 from New York, flew the proud colors of Old Glory. I caught up with Mele after the race to get his post-Sydney-Hobart impressions, and to learn more about his globe-girdling plans for 2017.
What was the highlight of the race for you?
The bookends! The start was an amazing event with thousands of spectator boats, big breeze and the entire fleet starting at once across three start lines was an absolutely unique and memorable experience for our team.
This [was] equally matched by the finish where you are escorted down a long pier where thousands of locals standup and cheer for each and every finisher as [they] enjoy a local food and brew festival. Honestly, no sailing event we have ever done had such a huge fan and spectator appreciation.
What about the lowlight?
Very specifically, [we had] a two-hour window in which we were completely becalmed and had the use our windseeker to eek [our way] out of it. Luckily it was on my off-watch so I only [could] tell it happened [based on] the blurry-eyed sailors who gladly went down bellow when my watch came up on deck. Did I mention it happened at [0100 hours]?
Was Bass Straight as brutal as its reputation portends?
I think we got off easy in this one. While our attention was on high-alert for a southerly buster or storm cells-and we did get some fun squalls here and there-it was nothing near the potential for this area. In fact the first 24 hours coming down past the heads of Sydney harbor we had more breeze (30+ from DDW) and was more of [a] challenge for our newly converted asymmetric-only setup. The biggest challenge in the [boatspeed] and further south was the ever confusing and large sea state, combined with heavy fog that kept our drivers on quick rotation and all wanting massages when we hit the docks in Hobart.
From a preparation standpoint, were you guys in good shape, or did you see conditions in the Sydney to Hobart Race that were more extreme than you’ve seen in Bermuda Races or in other offshore adventures?
All our prep and training really paid off, making us prepared for worse situations then we actually encountered, exactly what you want to have happen in an offshore race. We ended up using more of our sail inventory then we had predicted, especially in the final 40+ miles up into the finish. We probably could have used a bit more training and prep with our lighter[-air] inventory, but the team had tons of previous experience with those from prior events. We found the sea state and conditions to be a bit of a [combination] of [conditions commonly experienced on] the north side of St. Bart’s and the fog off the coast of Nova Scotia, so we all felt oddly at home.
I know that you converted Triple Lindy from flying standard spinnakers to asymmetric kites—how did this work out in a race with so much off-the-breeze work? Are you happy with this upgrade?
The upgrades and modifications are incredibly well-done and have made Triple Lindy a much better machine for what we are doing. Unfortunately for this particular Hobart race, it turned out to be much more of a dead downwind run then normal, so our old configuration actually would have performed better, but we have no regrets and look forward to continuing to improve the newer configuration and performance over future events.
What’s next for Triple Lindy and her intrepid crew?
As the world tour continues, we have Fastnet and the Middle Sea race in our sights, and who knows what else we can join in while the boat is on its tour. Our team is keen to keep working through the bucket list of all the great sailing events of the world.
Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
[The Sydney Hobart is] an amazing event and it is really is hard to explain to sailors back home in North America how the entire Aussie world seems to revolve around and follow this race from start to finish. When Uber drivers recognize your boat logo on your hat and cheer you on, it really hits home. More North American events need to find ways to spread this kind of enthusiasm for ocean racing to the general public.
We felt privileged to have competed in the race and are incredibly grateful for the warm hospitality and support of the entire Sydney and Hobart communities, sailors and non-sailors alike. My advice to anyone who is considering sailing in this race, is go for it. It is the thrill of a lifetime.
by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor