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2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Closest Finish in 29 Years

December 28, 2011

The closest finish in the last 29 years of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was reported this evening when Anthony Bell’s supermaxi sailing yacht Investec Loyal managed to beat off repeated challenges from Bob Oatley’s perennial line honours victor Wild Oats XI superyacht to win by just 3 minutes and 8 seconds, after 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 8 seconds of racing on this classic 628 mile course.

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal on approach to the finish line Photo D. Foster

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal on approach to the finish line Photo: ROLEX/D. Foster

The competition for line honours in this race was one of the closest in its 67 year history with the two Australian maxis gunning for each other from the moment the canon was fired on Sydney Harbour on Monday afternoon. Wild Oats XI led until 20:00 local time (09:00 UTC) on Tuesday when they were becalmed.

“They [Investec Loyal’s crew] were keeping track of how we were doing and the moment we stopped under a cloud with no wind under it, they basically sailed right around the outside of this large hole we were stuck in and came back above us. It was good work on their part,” described Wild Oats XI’s co-navigator, Ian Burns.

Fortunately the wind filled in soon after for Wild Oats XI yacht and they were able to resume the fight and, from this point on, the event became truly a gloves-off match race between the two 100 footers.

Super yacht Investec Loyal takes the finish cannon Photo D. Foster

Super yacht Investec Loyal takes the finish cannon Photo: ROLEX/ D. Foster

Finally this morning at 07:30 local time, Wild Oats XI regained the lead. With rarely more than two miles separating the two yachts, it was not until Wild Oats XI was becalmed again just short of Tasman Island and the entrance to Storm Bay, that Investec Loyal managed once more to skirt around the wind hole. This time they took up residence directly ahead of their opponent and from that point, despite the best efforts of the luxury yacht Wild Oats XI crew led by Mark Richards, Investec Loyal was not going to be passed.

Much to the delight of spectators thickly lining Hobart’s Constitution Dock, the two ocean racing giants came into sight up the Derwent River, but it was Investec Loyal and her crew, including sports stars, such as Australian rugby union internationals Phil Kearns and Phil Waugh, which was first home. They arrived at 19:14:18 local time, their elapsed time for the course being 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 18 seconds.

“It was one of the great experiences in my life,” said Anthony Bell, Investec Loyal’s owner and skipper with a beaming smile. “The whole thing from the very start, right through to the finish line was exhilarating. It was a really tough fought out race, but the crew believed in the boat and the cause right from the start and we are so happy to have got past the finish line first.”

Anthony Bell, owner/skipper of Investec Loyal superyacht

Anthony Bell, owner/skipper of Investec Loyal superyacht

Michael Coxon, tactician on Investec Loyal shared his thoughts on their win: “It has a very competent professional crew and a great owner who does it all for the right reasons. It is like a fairy tale – a boat that supports charity. This boat raised Aus$ 1 million this year for charity. That is the way it should happen. I am very happy for Anthony Bell. We sail with people who have never gone sailing before and they did a really good job.”

In what was principally a tactical victory for the older Investec Loyal, Coxon paid tribute to their American navigator. “The difference is a gentleman called Stan Honey,” he said. “He is an absolute legend – just amazing. His knowledge of weather and weather routing and the information he provides to me…at the end of the day he is just so good.”

Investec Loyal – provision winner at this stage
However at present Investec Loyal’s line honours victory in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart is provisional. The event’s Race Committee, led by Tim Cox, is protesting Anthony Bell’s boat over a believed infringement of Racing Rule of Sailing 41 entitled ‘Outside Help’. This involved the audio recording of a conversation that took place at 06:30 local time on 27th December between the pilot of an ABC TV station helicopter and an Investec Loyal crewman seeking information on the sail plan in use on Wild Oats XI – in particular whether she was flying a trisail.

“This is assessed to breach Rule 41 by soliciting help from an outside source,” explained Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organiser of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. The case is to be heard by the race’s international jury at 10:00 local time tomorrow, 29th December.

Gracious in defeat
On board second placed super yacht Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards was categorical about the outcome. “Those guys won on the water and we came second. That’s all there is to it. They did a great job those guys and they deserve the win.”

Richards added that he thought it had been a fantastic race. “We had to work our butts off until the end and we came in second. That’s the way it is. They sailed very well. We were very unlucky in a few situations, but those guys did a great job and when it came to the crunch. Their boat was little bit quicker than us downwind in the lighter air and they just managed to keep their nose in front and got to the line first.”

Next up
The next two yachts expected to arrive in Hobart at around 01:00 tomorrow morning are Peter Millard and John Honan’s supermaxi yacht Lahana and Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 sailing yacht Loki.

The race for the Tattersall’s Cup, for handicap honours under IRC, remains wide open with Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll yacht ahead earlier this evening, but with Australian sailing legend, 84 year-old Syd Fischer and his modified TP52 Ragamuffin having taken the lead under IRC at the time of writing. Line Honours

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Maxi-boat Match Race

December 28, 2011

Sailing yacht Wild Oats XI’s position as the fastest boat in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was being severely tested last night when at the 20:00 sched (local time, 09:00 UTC), Anthony Bell’s maxi yacht Investec Loyal overhauled the five time line honours winner.

Sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL, Anthony  Bell - Photo By Rolex  Kurt Arrigo

Sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL, Anthony Bell - Photo By Rolex Kurt Arrigo

Overnight the wind the leaders have seen has clocked through 360 degrees.

Crossing the Bass Strait yesterday Investec Loyal’s track south was some 20-30 miles east of Wild Oats XI’s. But early evening, when the wind backed from the southwest into the southeast, both boats tacked southwest, Loyal getting the better of the shift, aggressively bearing away towards her opponent. Making 14 knots compared to Wild Oats XI’s 9 knots, within an hour Investec Loyal had pulled ahead by 6 miles.

WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley  Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

Overnight the lead duo in the Rolex Sydney Hobart have continued to round the northwest quadrant of an area of high pressure that, since yesterday, has been shifting east out into the Tasman Sea. With the wind continuing to back into the northeast so the duo at around 01:00 local time this morning on this occasion gybed southwest, allowing them to close on the east coast of Tasmania.

“We’ve got a yacht race on our hands out here!” came back the succinct report from the Wild Oats XI nav team in the early hours. “We are high speed running – more wind shifts ahead.”

However at around 07:30 local time this morning, sailing yacht Wild Oats XI nosed her way back into the lead.

Sailing yacht WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

Sailing yacht WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

With another light patch off the southeast coast of Tasmania, so the boats remain still quite offshore, now with the wind back in the southwest, where it was yesterday afternoon. With 72 miles to go to the finish off Hobart for Wild Oats XI at the latest sched, leading Investec Loyal by just 1.5 miles, ETAs into Hobart remain vague. The forecast is now showing the wind dying in Storm Bay and up the Derwent River leading up to Hobart – conditions which have destroyed many a winning yacht’s chances in previous years.

Sailing yacht LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

Sailing yacht LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

Yacht LAHANA, Millard Honan Photo By Rolex  Kurt Arrigo

Yacht LAHANA, Millard Honan Photo By Rolex Kurt Arrigo

ELLA BACHE, Jessica Watson Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

ELLA BACHE, Jessica Watson Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

SY CADIBARRA, Paul Roberts - Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

SY CADIBARRA, Paul Roberts - Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

Under IRC handicap, the battle for the Tattersall’s Cup continues to rage, with the best hopes now back to the maxis. In particular Peter Millard’s maxi Lahana (the former Zana/Konica Minolta), holding third place on the water 62 miles astern of Wild Oats XI, is looking very strong. For at present across the race course conditions are generally light, with the exception of where Lahana, Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki and Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, are located off the east coast of Tasmania, where in 15-20 knot northerlies, Hugo Boss is recording the highest speed in the fleet of 17 knots.

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Make or Break Night Ahead

December 27, 2011

At 1640 local time (0540 UTC) the leading supermaxi sailing yachts in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race were just over half way across Bass Strait, after the whole day in southwesterly winds that have been slowly decreasing from the 30 knots they saw last night and into this morning.

Spectators watch the fleet from South Head Photo D. Foster

Spectators watch the fleet from South Head Photo: D. Foster

Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns, co-navigator on line honours leader sailing yacht Wild Oats XI reported this afternoon there being 10-15 knots of wind from the southwest and this was allowing them to point “around 20 degrees low” of the Tasman Light (marking the entrance to Storm Bay still some 250 miles away). As a result they were further east than they might otherwise be. “It has been pretty good so far. We haven’t been becalmed or even slowed down. This is pretty much the lightest wind we have seen so far this trip.”

However Burns added that they were preparing for a most difficult night ahead. “It is going to be really really tough because we have a patch of light wind to fight our way through to get to the Tasmanian coast.” This is likely to involve a hitch west, which will happen if, as forecast, the wind backs into the southeast. Burns says they will then be aiming for a narrow band of favourable northerlies off the Tasman coast. Alas, there is one problem. “Between us and them there is a large 50-60 mile wide stretch of no wind and how we negotiate that and how that moves is really going to decide what we get.”

In addition to this since leaving Sydney Harbour yesterday Wild Oats XI superyacht has had a constant thorn in her side in the form of Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal supermaxi yacht. Over the course of today Loyal has dropped back to being 18 miles astern (in terms of distance to finish) but this is because she has been heading further east, with around 20 miles west-east split between the two yacht’s tracks this afternoon.

“It is going to be really difficult,” continued Burns. “Knowing the guys on Loyal as well as we do – Stan Honey and Michael Coxon – we know they will be throwing everything at us if it goes light, because when you are leading and the wind stops, the boat behind has a bunch of options to go around either side. I can see those guys plotting and scheming all evening to put us in a tough spot, but we will all be working our absolute hardest to keep things going. The guys are right now all concentrating on getting some rest while the boat is sailing along nicely to make sure we are in good shape tonight to throw everything at them that we need to.”

Tonight will be a lottery, or “nervous times” as Burns puts it. A couple of knots of difference in wind strength with a maxi can mean the difference of stuck at 0 knots or making 5 knots. Burns anticipates their arrival in Hobart tomorrow night before sunset, however if tonight does not go well then it could be Thursday morning, in which case Wild Oats XI’s seventh Rolex Sydney Hobart could also be her slowest ever.

Preparing for Bass Strait

Meanwhile the bulk of the fleet, from the 52 footers back, have spent the afternoon tight into the New South Wales coast. This is to enable them to set out into the powerful southwesterlies as they embark on their crossing of Bass Straight tonight, on the best possible course.

“Right now we have got about 16-18 knots and we are close reaching, with the no2 and full main, approaching Gabo Island, about another 40 miles from here,” reported Dirk Johnson, navigator on Rives Potts’ 1969-built Carina.  “We have a number of boats around us, all paralleling each other, waiting for the southwesterly breeze to come around the corner.”

According to Johnson, last night was bumpy, but in terms of wind strength he doesn’t remember seeing more than 29 knots. “It was a little uncomfortable. There were some bigger waves than we are used to seeing, but everyone did good and we held on and we had a good night.”

Johnson was looking forward to getting into the favourable current offshore tonight, but anticipated the wind generally getting lighter while a large meteorological question mark hangs over the rest of the race. As he states: “The situation changes dramatically from day to night and depending on where you cross the Strait, at different points on the Strait you can have different conditions. We are ready for everything I guess.”

While earlier the maxis were leading under IRC, as they have slowed so the smaller boats have pulled up the handicap standings. With Carina – which just four and a half months ago on the opposite side of the world, won her class in the Rolex Fastnet Race – up to third, so Roger Hickman’s 1985 Farr 43 super yacht Wild Rose is back in front again, from Stephen Ainsworth’s much tipped Reichel Pugh 62 yacht Loki in second. The Beneteau 40 footers – Lunchtime Legend, Balance, Two True and Victoire – currently just north of Eden this afternoon, remain in the top 10.

Jessica Watson

Fans of 18 year old Australian solo round the world sailor Jessica Watson will also be pleased to hear that her teenage team on Ella Bache is the top Sydney 38 under IRC (albeit fourth in class). Her crew of eight, including fellow youth solo round the world sailor, Britain’s Mike Perham, have been training for the Rolex Sydney Hobart for the last three months, a schedule that included a dry run, sailing their pink boat from Sydney to Hobart and back three weeks ago.

“We are quite excited because the forecast is similar to the forecast we had for our practice run,” says Watson, shortly before leaving yesterday. “So we’ve experienced almost those exact same conditions.”

Watson and her crew are aiming to be the youngest crew to complete the Rolex Sydney Hobart. However Watson says she has higher expectations. “We put a lot of time and energy into this, so we’ll be here to perform as well as possible particularly within our own division.”

This afternoon has seen four more retirements, leaving 81 boats still racing. The GP42 Duende pulled out after crewman Tom Wormald suffered a dislocated shoulder and was dropped ashore. Later Sam Chan’s Hong Kong-based TP52 Ffreefire 52, skippered by Anthony Day, headed back to Sydney after suffering mainsail problems. Finally Matthew Percy’s Beneteau First 44.7 Alacrity suffered rigging damage and was putting into Eden while Jonathan Stone’s Davidson 34 Illusion had hull damage and was returning to Sydney.

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Into Bass Strait

December 27, 2011

At 11:00 local time (midnight UTC ), the leading vessels in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race were the sailing yacht Wild Oats XI and Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal superyacht 11 miles astern, just crossing Bass Strait. These two have now broken away from the fleet with Peter Millard’s super yacht Lahana third, 39 miles off the lead.

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX entering  Bass Strait Photo D. Foster

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX entering Bass Strait Photo D. Foster

Further back still, Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss yacht is fourth on the water, doing well to fend off the advances of Stephen Ainsworth’s all conquering Reichel Pugh 63 yacht Loki.

Yesterday evening local time, the fleet saw the wind clock around through 180 degrees as the front passed overhead, the wind kicking in with some violence from the south, putting the boats hard on the wind.

Stephen Ainsworth's Loki exiting Sydney Harbour after the start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Photo K. Arrigo

Stephen Ainsworth's Loki exiting Sydney Harbour after the start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Photo K. Arrigo

As Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz yacht recounted: “The front passed last night with quite a punch, with pelting rain that lasted for about 40 minutes, but kept things busy for Andy Hudson and the bow team, as we quickly had to change sails.” The rapid change in wind direction, and with the wind now counter to the south-going current, has kicked up an evil sea. Broughton described this as being 3-4m high, short and confused.

In the all-important IRC handicap battle for the Tattersall’s Cup, nothing clear is transpiring yet. At the time of writing Wild Oats XI, the biggest fastest boat in the fleet, had eased ahead, but previously leading had been the 1985-built Farr 43 Wild Rose, winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1993 and skippered by race veteran Roger Hickman.  The smaller Beneteaus were also performing well – in particular Darryl Hodgkinson’s much tipped Beneteau First 45 Victoire, Paul Clitheroe’s 45 Balance and Andrew Saies on his 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart winning First 40, Two True.

At present the bulk of the fleet are still hugging the New South Wales coast where the wind is in the south and they are hard on the wind. However conditions have momentarily improved for the maxis out in Bass Strait where the wind, currently blowing 25-30 knots, has veered into the southwest allowing the boats to head south on starboard tack. But the forecast is indicating stop-start progress for the 100 footers.

The wind is due to fizzle out this afternoon (local time) as a small bubble of high pressure eases east off the coast of Tasmania. But once the high gets offshore, some northerly pressure could build close in to the Tasman coast, allowing the big boats to forge south once more.

Despite a first testing night at sea, to date there have only been three retirements from 88 starters. Just before midnight local time Sam Haynes’ Rogers 46 Celestial withdrew having suffered a broken gooseneck, while Marc and Louis Ryckmans GP42 Accenture (Yeah Baby) pulled out with unspecified gear failure.

Hot off the press is that 2003 line honours winner, Grant Warrington ‘s Wild Thing yacht is the latest retirement, having suffered sail damage. At the time of her pulling out she was holding third place on the water.

Green Comm Racing joins in with the Region of Lombardy in its Challenge for the 34th America’s Cup

December 27, 2011

Green Comm Racing, the youngest team to compete in the history of the America’s Cup, joins two of Europe’s most dynamic regions, Lombardy and Valencia, in its challenge for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco by promoting the values of sustainability.

Green Comm Racing - Photo Gilles Martin Raget - ACEA- 34th Americas Cup

Green Comm Racing - Photo Gilles Martin Raget - ACEA - 34th America's Cup

With the presence of the key Officers of the Lombardy Region, the President of the Real Club Nautico de Valencia, Manuel Pons, the President of Circolo Vela Gargnano, Lorenzo Rizzardi, Green Comm Racing and its Executive Chairman, Francesco De Leo, a major milestone was reached, by securing the institutional support of the Lombardy Region in promoting the first European Challenge for the 34th America’s Cup.

The Region of Lombardy, Italy’s industrial and technological heartland, and one of Europe’s most dynamic regions, has teamed up with Green Comm Racing to launch the first America’s Cup challenge which aims at tapping the innovation and research capabilities of two nations, Italy and Spain, by promoting a global sustainability agenda.

Green Comm Racing and the Real Club Nautico de Valencia (RCNV) have engaged with Circolo Vela Gargnano (CVG) to reinforce the ties between Italy and Spain, and promote the first European Challenge in the history of the America’s Cup.

Green Comm Racing yacht - 34th America's Cup San Diego - Photo ACEA - Gilles Martin-Raget

Green Comm Racing yacht - 34th America's Cup San Diego - Photo ACEA - Gilles Martin-Raget

With a budget of 54 million Euros for its 34th America’s Cup campaign, Green Comm Racing is now working on the development of the AC72 multihull, which will be launched on the waters of San Francisco at the beginning of 2013.

The new class of AC72 multi-hulls is a de-facto platform for innovation, a combination of state of the art technology, science and research. The Region of Lombardy is one of the leading innovation hubs in the world, with a tradition of technological excellence and entrepreneurship, which spans across a number of scientific domains which are keys to building up a successful America’s Cup campaign. Among them:

1. Advanced materials

2. Yacht design and construction

3. Electronic and sensors

4. E-health

5. Sustainability and renewable energy

Sailing Team Green Comm Racing - Photo ACEA Gilles Martin Raget - San Diego 2011 - 34 Americas Cup

Sailing Team Green Comm Racing - Photo ACEA Gilles Martin Raget - San Diego 2011 - 34 Americas Cup

Green Comm Racing is building up the youngest team ever to compete in the America’s Cup, engaging a new generation of European athletes, selected from Olympic sailing trials, tapping a new wave of young European entrepreneurs, which are bringing together breakthroughs in technology and innovation to promote sustainability across the World.

Commenting on the launch of the first ever European Challenge, which aims at tapping the best young talents in sports and technology, Francesco De Leo, Executive Chairman of Green Comm Racing, said: “We are delighted and proud to have been chosen by one of Europe’s most dynamic regions to tap and enhance the entrepreneurial spirit, the technological prowess and the athletic excellence of a new generation of Europeans.

Promoting the values of sustainability is not an issue relegated to one single country or region of the world. We are not just Italian, Spanish, or French.

We are first and foremost Europeans and we need to inspire and engage the new generation to take charge in addressing one of the most critical challenges of our times: climate change and sustainability.

The America’s Cup with its innovative format and its focus on pushing the edge of technology and innovation is the best platform and test ground for new talents and opens up the opportunity to engage a young and dynamic global audience by sharing the journey towards a more sustainable planet.

San Francisco and the Bay Area are the most iconic venues for a world class event, such as the New America’s Cup: California is The Hub for innovation in green tech and the ties to Lombardy, Valencia and Europe will be greatly enhanced by reaching out to a new generation of young entrepreneurs which are feeling at home across both sides of the Atlantic.

In the end, the New America’s Cup is not just a next generation, top class sport event: this time, more than ever, it will inspire and ignite a new wave of innovation, with an enduring impact on our progress towards a more sustainable world.

It’s time for Europe to come together to address the challenge of building on each  other’s strengths, and rebuilding trust across diverse constituencies: sport can play a role, and the America’s Cup provides a great opportunity to reach out to a new generation of young Europeans”.

The first day of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

December 27, 2011

On Monday, December 26, Sydney Harbour was full of spectators expecting the 1300 local time departure of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with 88 fleet ready at the start line.

Start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Photo D. Forster

Start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Photo: D. Forster

Earlier in the morning, four Melbourne-based crews had been affected by last night’s severe storm as they attempted to fly up to Sydney for today’s start. Some didn’t make it while others did, but without their foul weather gear.

“There were huge thunder storms, 120km/h winds, trees down, 25mm diameter hailstones,” recounted Robert Date, skipper of one of the affected boats, the Reichel Pugh 52 Scarlet Runner yacht. “We hope we don’t get that tonight, although I think we might.”

Leading the charge out of Sydney Harbour was the mighty 100 footer sailing yacht Wild Oats XI, with Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal superyacht hanging on to her coat tails. In fact the start had not gone as smoothly as planned for Bob Oatley’s serial line honours winner. During pre-start manoeuvres the drive unit for the main sheet winch had frozen up and for the start they had to transfer the main sheet to the spare primary winch as crewmen Jon Hildebrand and Ian Smith scrabbled down below to effect a repair.

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX at the RSHYR 2011 Photo D. Foster

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX at the RSHYR 2011 Photo: D. Foster

After a short upwind to the Heads, after exit Sydney Harbour, so the yachts rounded the final turning mark and hoisted their spinnakers in a 18 knot northerly wind. The seaway immediately offshore was particularly substantial, with boats disappearing up to their first spreaders in the troughs, the sea kicked up due to the remnants of tropical cyclone Fina.

While this afternoon the fleet is enjoying a fast run south down the coast, Wild Oats XI yacht making a solid 18 knots under A2 gennaker, a typical Rolex Sydney Hobart southerly is due to kick in tonight further down the New South Wales coast as a trough moves east across the Tasman Sea.

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal chasing after the Wild Oats XI superyacht

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal chasing after the Wild Oats XI superyacht Photo: K. Arrigo

This morning Rob Webb, Regional Director of the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, admitted to competitors that tonight’s southerlies would have much more punch than forecast previously. “At this stage we are saying 20-25 knots, but on the front edge it will be pretty gusty with a 30 knots average and gusts up to 40 knots.”

Or as Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Jazz warned, “there were some huge hailstones, the size of tennis balls that rained down on Melbourne last night – that is coming our way. We might not get tennis balls, but we might get peas. And it is going to be bumpy, because of the East Australia Current, which is going to be taking us south at 2 knots and we also have a wave train from the tropical cyclone off Brisbane. So quite windy and with the confused seas, it is going to be a busy first night.”

However on a scale of one to ten in terms of severity, Broughton predicts the weather in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart will only score a four. “The first night will be quite busy, but after that it gets quite benign and it is going to be a real fight in the light winds to the east of Tasmania and I think that will be when the race will be won or lost.”

Super yacht Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said that tonight’s conditions would “sort a bit of the fleet out”, but afterwards it would turn into a tactically very challenging race. “It is probably more of a traditional forecast than anything. It is still going to be very light down the south coast of Tasmania but even in 4-5 knots of breeze, big boats like ours are still doing 13-15 knots. It all depends on the wind angle, but it is looking a bit faster today which is good. With a forecast like this it would be easy to park up and Loyal and those guys could put a few miles on you, so it [line honours] is by no means a given.”

Skipper of Loki superyacht, Stephen Ainsworth, agreed that this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart was going to be a difficult race. “It is all fairly clear until you get to the south side of Bass Strait and then anything could happen. It is an easy place to get into trouble and suffer bad luck by being becalmed down the coast of Tasmania and even in the Derwent River and Storm Bay. Many a race winner has gone from being a rooster to a feather duster in a very short space of time there. So the handicap contest looks like it will be very tricky indeed.”

Loki has a new larger mainsail for this race and in addition they have a new weather specialist on board in the form of British navigator Will Best. “I think he’ll pay for himself in this race in particular,” said Ainsworth.

With Loki yacht having won the Australian IRC Championship, the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Race and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week they are certainly on a roll at present. “It has been a fabulous 12-18 months and I just hope that our luck hasn’t all run out now. This is the only race that I would dearly love to win, which I haven’t yet won,” concluded Ainsworth.

A pummelling is exactly the conditions that would suit British solo round the world sailor Alex Thomson and his six-strong crew on board the two tone IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss. Thomson is fresh from having finished second in the doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre across the North Atlantic from France to Costa Rica in Central America and this is his third Rolex Sydney Hobart.

His Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed 60 is a handful singlehanded, but fully crewed Thomson is relishing the prospect of coaxing the boat up to its maximum potential. “We are really looking forward to be able to sail it properly in this race. I think it is a good boat for this race.”

While the prospect for a park-up off the east coast of Tasmania is weighing on the minds of big boat crews, it is possible that this year’s race could favour the small boats if the weather turns favourable towards the end of the week. Certainly Andrew Saies, who won the Tattersall’s Cup for the Rolex Sydney Hobart handicap win in 2009 was liking the forecast for his Beneteau First 40, Two True, particularly tonight’s southerly. “My boat is quite competitive upwind in 15-20 knots – it really hits the straps in those conditions. Then they fade out after 24 hours and we are back into a very mixed light air pattern, potentially in different directions and that really mixes the race up and brings us back into touch with the big boats, so we really like that.”

Saies and his crew from Adelaide race Two True extensively around the east coast of Australia, however since 2009 when their yacht was the only First 40 in the race, this time there are three others to contend with, plus one Archambault 40. “I guess we have the advantage that we’ve shaken the bugs out of the boat in an ocean race.”

67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race to start today

December 26, 2011

67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts today welcoming 88 international crews competing in this unique event. Weather conditions are not set to be optimistic, but the first forecasts do not seem to result in any extreme weather.

Sailing yacht Wild Oats XI approaching the finish line at the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race Photo Credit Andrea Francolini

Sailing yacht Wild Oats XI approaching the finish line at the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race - Photo Credit: Andrea Francolini

According to Rob Webb, Regional Director of the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, Monday’s start from Sydney Harbour, at 1300 local time, will be accompanied by 15-20 knot northerlies, providing an initial blast south for the crews. But this will be shortlived. Later that afternoon, southerly/SSWerly headwinds are expected to fill in on the north side of Bass Strait and up the New South Wales coast. Two days in and the weather on the south side of Bass Strait and down the east coast of Tasman turns into a lottery, with light patchy wind dominating the course until an area of high pressure moves in from the west later in the week.

Clear favourite for line honours is of course Bob Oatley’s 100ft supermaxi sailing yacht Wild Oats XI, first to Hobart in five of the last six races and winner of the ‘triple’ (line and handicap honours, plus the course record) in 2005. Anticipating stiff competition this year from American George David’s Rambler 100 (until her keel snapped off in the Rolex Fastnet Race this August), so Wild Oats XI yacht has over the last 18 months been significantly turboed, with twin daggerboards replacing her forward ‘canard’, a new keel, the canting angle of her keel increased and her mainsail and spinnakers enlarged, etc. But given the latest forecast, even with her increased horsepower, tactician Iain Murray says Wild Oats XI is still only going to get down to Hobart in two days four to five hours, some way outside of her one day 18 hour and 40 minute record.

INVESTEC LOYAL yacht catches the sunset off Tasman Island – Photo credit Rolex Daniel Forster

INVESTEC LOYAL yacht catches the sunset off Tasman Island – Photo credit: Rolex Daniel Forster

“We will barrel out of Sydney, probably look for some leverage in the east so that we get some runway to land us back on the coast as the breeze starts to turn to the southwest,” says Murray. “Then we’ll go straight across Bass Straight and after that it is pretty sketchy how it is going to be off the east Tasmanian coast. It is always difficult there. You end up with patches of no wind and the breeze goes over the top of Tasmania.”

Sailing with the celebrity crew, including Australian rugby union internationals Phil Kearns and Phil Waugh, on Anthony Bell’s maxi sailing yacht Investec Loyal, American navigator Stan Honey does not see much opportunity for their 100 footer until the latter half of the race. “If it was really windy or really light it would be less of a difference. The last half is all up in the air and that could be good for us, but the dice will have to roll in our favour a few times.”

2010 winner of the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, sailing yacht Loki finished second overall in 2011 – Photo Credit Andrea Francolini – Audi ©

2010 winner of the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, sailing yacht Loki finished second overall in 2011 – Photo Credit Andrea Francolini – Audi ©

The general consensus is that if the varying forecast is likely to favour one size range this year, then it would be the mid-fleet, the 40-60 footers.

At the top end of this band falls Stephen Ainsworth’s three year old Reichel Pugh 63 Loki yacht, one of Australia’s most successful race boats. Most recently Loki was winner of the 2010-11 Bluewater Pointscore Championship, the result of a spectacular season in which she regularly podiumed, and won line honours and her class in the Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht Race.

Slightly down the size range are the eight 52 footers, including five former TP52s. One of the most successful of these is Ragamuffin yacht, the Farr-designed former Pegasus/Morning Light, owned by one of the Australia’s most eminent yachtsmen Syd Fischer. Aged 84, Fischer this year sets off on his 43rd Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Having won the race in 1992, Fischer says the accuracy of the weather forecasts for the race are better these days than they used to be, but does not seem overly bullish in this year’s predictions favouring boats in Ragamuffin’s size range. “I will confirm that when I see it. I don’t trust the forecast and the weather is very volatile at the moment.”

Despite having a slightly shorter boat, Chris Bull, the British owner and skipper of Jazz, says that his Cookson 50 invariably beats the TP52s offshore on handicap, but even he is not confident of their prospects with the present weather forecast.

“We’d like it to be breezy upwind and breezy downwind. But we definitely need some breezy upwind. A couple of days ago it was looking good. Unfortunately the forecast seems to be backing off a bit in terms of the wind strength. It is not looking too bad for us, but not as good as last year when there were pretty gnarly conditions which suited us.”

Having this year competed in the Atlantic Ocean Racing Series, comprising races in the Caribbean, US east coast, a transatlantic race and then the Rolex Fastnet Race, Bull still believes the Rolex Sydney Hobart is the toughest of the ‘classic 600 milers’: “Conditions are generically tougher – you are in the Southern Ocean, generally you experience stronger winds and every year you get strong winds, which is not true of the others. The water is colder than it is for any of the other 600 mile races. In fact I would say no race of less than 2,000 miles is as tough as this one. I have done Round Britain and Ireland which is 1,760 miles – that’s not as tough as this race.”

At the bottom end of the favoured mid-fleet is a new boat in the hands the handicap winners of the 1998 race. The new AFR Midnight Rambler yacht, owned by Ed Psaltis, Bob Thomas and Michael Bencsik, is a Ker 40 production race boat from British designer Jason Ker. The boat, with its massive flare aft, is unusual for being fast both upwind and downwind while also rating well under IRC.

“It is quite unique to have a boat that is strong on all points of sails,” says Psaltis. “We are very pleased with it so far. It is quite radical. It is going to be a brutal race for us and quite wet, but if you are going fast the discomfort is quite tolerable.” However he admits they are on a steep learning curve with the boat having only taken ownership in September.

As to the forecast, Psaltis says they were hoping to get more downwind sailing at the outset, but says they should also be strong when the wind backs into the south. “The first day and a half looks good for us. The Tasman coast is still a lottery. The report today was the different to the report we saw yesterday and it will change again tomorrow.”

A dark horse could be the all-French crew aboard Jacques Pelletier’s X-43 L’Ange de Milon. Among her crew of Pelletier’s family and friends are three sailors who normally compete in the singlehanded Figaro class, among them Nicolas Lunven, 2009 winner of the class’ premier event, La Solitaire du Figaro. While L’Ange de Milon competed in the Rolex Sydney Hobart last year, this is Lunven’s first time and he says he is looking forward to it. However he adds they may not see their ideal weather: “She likes lots of wind and upwind, which is good for the boat, but not very good for the crew!”

Unusually, the bottom end of the fleet is likely to get considerable attention locally as the Sydney 38 class includes Ella Bache. This is skippered by 18 year old, Jessica Watson, who famously sailed around the world singlehanded when she was just 16, becoming a media sensation in Australia in the process. Watson’s youth crew also includes Britain’s Michael Perham, 19, who sailed singlehanded around the world when he was 17.

“I have never sailed in the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, but as a navigator I’ve been studying it a lot recently, looking at the weather patterns and the current around here which are big factors for us small boats,” said Perham, who is down in Australia, after Watson competed with him in the UK this year in the Round the Island Race.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart sets sail at 13:00 local time from within Sydney Harbour.

German Superyacht port KIEL hosting trimaran yachts MOD70 during the European Tour 2012

December 23, 2011

From 29 August to 2 September Kiel will host the fleet of the trimaran yachts MOD70 for the first stopover of the European Tour 2012, the entire course of which will be officially known on 23 January 2012 during a press conference at the Düsseldorf boat show.

KIEL - a popular yacht charter destination in Northern Germany

KIEL - a popular yacht charter destination in Northern Germany

Kiel is the German sailing port par excellence and enjoys international renown, notably thanks to “Kieler Woche”, Kiel week, which sailing fans flock to from far and wide each year. It’s on this proven race zone that the MOD70 yachts will do battle before heading offshore on the 1st leg of the European Tour.

Alongside the city of Kiel will be the online Parisian company Betfair, which is a partner to Kiel Week as well as the German leg of the European Tour.

Marco Simeoni, President of Multi One Design Ltd.: “The commitment from Kiel and Betfair testifies to the appeal of the MOD70 circuit on an international level. Germany remains a growth market in Europe and a priority target for the majority of the boat owners involved in our circuit. Furthermore, the Germans have always been enthusiasts of sailing and major sporting events. As such, this stopover promises to be widely followed by the public, who will be able to witness a fantastic spectacle at the very heart of the city of Kiel!”

Uwe Wanger, managing director of Kiel Marketing GmbH: “In collaboration with Betfair, we’re proud to be playing host to the first stopover of the European Tour, an event on the MOD70 circuit, during their first taste of Germany. These spectacular boats represent technology at his highest level – it is a point they have in common with our new partner, Betfair. Through this stopover, we intend to give emphasis to a series of prestigious sail meets and we’re hoping for between 50 and 80,000 spectators at the heart of Kiel to watch the city races in action.”

The details of the course for the European Tour 2012 will be revealed on 23 January at the Düsseldorf boat show, January 21-29.

Swan 56 Sailing yacht Clem Wins ARC 2011 Transatlantic Trophy

December 22, 2011

The Swan 56 sailing yacht Clem is celebrating being the first Swan yacht to cross the ARC 2011 finish line in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia after the 26th ARC finished in fine style on Saturday 17th December with a spectacular prize giving ceremony at the Gaiety Nightclub. S/Y Clem victoriously finished the 2,700 nautical mile race from Las Palmas to St. Lucia to become the highest placed Swan yacht and also win the Swan Transatlantic Challenge.

Swan 56 sailing yacht Clem, was the first Swan yacht to cross the ARC 2011 finish line - Photo Credit Kurt Arrigo

Swan 56 sailing yacht Clem, was the first Swan yacht to cross the ARC 2011 finish line - Photo Credit Kurt Arrigo

A brisk northerly wind and blue sky provided the perfect conditions for a downwind start in Gran Canaria. Classic trade wind conditions provided excellent downwind sailing for the first part of the passage across the Atlantic. Most of the fleet experienced a ‘wind hole’ as they closed in on Saint Lucia but it still managed to be the fastest passage since 2006. S/Y Clem completed the ARC crossing in 15 days, 21 hours on corrected time to finish in second place in the RORC IRC Racing Division Class A.

The final evening of the St. Lucia programme saw a packed house at the Gaiety Nightclub in Gros Islet Town for the ARC 2011 prize giving ceremony. All boats that did not divert en route made the finish line in time for the festivities. The 2011 Swan Transatlantic Challenge has been an immense success with 17 entries successfully completing the race. Yacht Clem took home the esteemed silver Asprey trophy.

Jaime Olazabal, Owner and Skipper, of the Clem sailing yacht commented; “We had the best crossing imaginable, great sailing, great food and above all great company, we even managed some fishing! The icing on the cake has definitely been the Swan Transatlantic Trophy, it means a great deal to us to be the proud custodians of this beautiful trophy for a year. Our boat Clem has once again behaved herself impeccably…. I am a very happy Swan owner.”

Part one of the prize giving also included some special awards which included ARC’s youngest skipper award presented to Lucy Reynolds, 24, of Swan 51 sailing yacht Northern Child.

Igor Simcic, owner of Esimit Europa 2 superyacht admitted to the Yacht Club de Monaco

December 20, 2011

In recognition of his sailing results and work, owner of the sailing yacht Esimit Europa 2, Igor Simcic, was admitted to one of the most prestigious yachting clubs in the world – the Yacht Club de Monaco (YCM). The event took place during the festive banquet in Monte Carlo.

Igor Simcic of Esimit Europa 2 yacht and HSH Prince Albert II - Membership Certificate

Igor Simcic of Esimit Europa 2 yacht and HSH Prince Albert II - Membership Certificate

A certificate of his membership was presented to him by Club’s president H.S.H. Prince Albert II, while Igor Simcic gave him a glassy sculpture of the Esimit Europa 2 yacht as a present, made by Slovenian artist Dali Kervina. A gala event was attended by many reputable guests from all over the world, among them Pierre Casiraghi, younger son of Caroline, Princess of Hanover.

Super yacht Esimit Europa 2's Owner Igor Simcic and HSH Prince Albert II - Gift

Igor Simcic presents to H.S.H. Prince Albert II a glassy sculpture of the Esimit Europa 2 yacht

The Yacht Club de Monaco was founded in 1953 by Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Since 1984 H.S.H. Prince Albert II presides over the Club and its members, who come from 53 different countries. The Club, famous for its nautical and social events, respects naval tradition, promotes high ethical standards and fosters preservation of the environment. Its new Clubhouse (18.000 m² of total area) is planned to be opened by 2013 and will become one of the most attractive buildings in Monaco.

Toast to the new members (Pierre Casiraghi, Prince Albert II and Igor Simcic in the front line)

Toast to the new members (Pierre Casiraghi, Prince Albert II and Igor Simcic in the front line)