by Richard Crockett
Before many of you will read this on Boxing Day the race will have started, so let’s cut through all the clutter and get down to the nitty gritty of the race as we all know its reputation – and we all know it’s a tough race which ever way you look at it. And that’s simply why it keeps attracting good entries, and why many yachties have it on the bucket list.
This is a comprehensive preview, as there are so many different battles in the race, so many different challenges and just too many personalities to mention them all.
And don’t forget that home-grown sailors Clynton Wade-Lehman Joe de Kock will be aboard ‘Ragamuffin’ this year and most certainly looking for a top spot.
So settle down and enjoy this long read.
Under Starter’s Orders
You may not see them – and in some cases you may not know them – but when the cannons are fired signalling 10 minutes to the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, five minutes to the start and then the start in Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s (CYCA) famous race, the people chosen for these duties are chosen for a reason.
Denis O’Neil has been given the duty of setting the fleet off in the 628 nautical mile race on its way to Hobart, firing the replica cannon from Aussie Legend.
Fifty years ago, O’Neil won the 1968 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with his beautiful 43ft timber yacht, ‘Koomooloo’. He represented Australia twice at the at the Admiral’s Cup – 1969 with ‘Koomooloo’ – and 1983 with ‘Bondi Tram’, and at the Olympic Games in 1972 and 1976 in the Soling keelboat, among other sailing achievements. Today he owns the pretty ‘Kyeema’, sailing her regularly on Sydney Harbour.
Gail Lewis-Bearman will fire the five minute warning. She is the first female member of the Club to be honoured with this opportunity. A valued member of the CYCA since 1984, she was made a Life Member in 2013 in recognition of her volunteer work, including being a member of the Sydney Hobart Liaison team, helping develop it to today’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart Information and Liaison Centre.
Bill Psaltis will fire the 10 minute warning and is fully cognizant of what that means. He has 22 Sydney Hobarts behind him, mostly famously with ‘Meltemi’, so named to reflect the family’s Greek heritage. He was commodore of the CYCA twice – from 1963 to 1964 and again in 1971. He is one of the longest standing members of the CYCA, joining in 1953 and being made a Life Member in 1999.
There will be extra feeling when he fires the 10-minute cannon, as his son Ed, who learned to sail at his father’s knee, will start his 37th Sydney Hobart aboard the Sydney 36, ‘Midnight Rambler’, which he co-owns. On a former small ‘Midnight Rambler’ he co-owned, Ed won the tragic1998 race and Bill remains very proud of his son’s sailing achievements.
Long Range Forecast Offers Something for Everyone
In an early forecast prediction, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Simon Louis told a selection of navigators at a Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race press conference to expect a little of everything in the early stages of the 628 nautical mile race.
Louis said: “The long-range weather models show relatively light winds as the yachts leave Sydney Harbour, but with a 15-20 knot (and gusts to 35 knots) north to north-easterly winds which should continue during Boxing Day night and into the next day, with the breeze is expected to go around to the west later.” This scenario will leave some dead spots in between.
The model is also showing a weak trough over the far NSW coast throughout this period, with lighter and more variable winds off the far south coast and into Bass Strait, causing ‘Primitive Cool’s’ David Sudano to quip: “Looks like we’ll need plenty of change for the parking lots.”
Sudano said the Victorian Reichel/Pugh 51, owned and skippered by John Newbold would make the best of the weather, which is favouring those in the 50′ to 55′ range – and the super maxis – apart from the sections where the parking lots lay in wait.
Andrew Cape, a veteran of 18 Hobarts and many Volvo Ocean Races, is navigating Christian Beck’s ‘Infotrack’. He says: “It’ll be good when we get the big southerly change – it’s always a relief in a Hobart race. And if all goes to plan – although it’s still very early to say – the record could go in one day eight hours.”
A veteran of 26 Sydney Hobarts with a win on ‘Loki’ in 2011, Patrice’s long-time navigator, Michael Bellingham says, “‘Patrice’ is more prepared than she’s ever been. We’re very comfortable with the current modelling.
“I think on Boxing Day, at the moment, it will be interesting to see if we’ve got any breeze at the start – and if the north/easter has filled in,” he said. “One day eight hours (Cape’s suggested record break time) – I was just trying to digest that… I think we’ll be looking at two days 12 hours for ‘Patrice’ and I think the TP52’s about five to six hours quicker than that – but we’re not allowed to talk about them (including last year’s winner ‘Ichi Ban’) on Patrice. It’s certainly sub-two days for the bigger boats I think,” he ended.
Lindsay May, looking down the barrel of his 46th straight Sydney Hobart, this time on the oldest, heaviest boat in the fleet, ‘Kialoa II’, which took line honours with her original owner in 1971, has accepted that the going will be tough in the light weather for the S&S yawl now owned by Patrick and Keith Broughton.
“We’re about 45 tonnes, so the light air is of course going not be favourable for us – but you live with what you get.”
Asked who he favoured to win the race overall, May, who has won the race three times overall, the latest as skipper of Simon Kurt’s ‘Love & War’ in 2006 – and taken line honours on ‘Brindabella’ in 1997, said: It’s one of the best fleets I’ve ever seen – it’s almost impossible to say. I guess if I’m pushed, ‘Bush Paul Group’ (Mathew Short) is my pick. They have a very good crew – including the navigator Hedge (Glenn Cooper).”
Steve Kidson, who recently navigated CYCA Vice Commodore Noel Cornish’s
St Jude’ to overall victory in the Club’s 180 nautical mile Cabbage Tree Island Race, wasn’t impressed with what is to be dished up: “We really need a lot of upwind. ‘St Jude is not a boat for downwind conditions.
“We won the Cabbage Tree Island Race in mainly upwind conditions – so no – the current forecast does not suit us – we’d like more southerly and little north-easterly,” he said with a wry smile.
Still, as the ‘BOM’s’ Simon Louis pointed out, “We’re still six days out – it can change…”
Contenders Ready for Tattersall Cup Battle
Five very different overall contenders for the Rolex Sydney Hobart’s prized Tattersall Cup rated their chances for winning the 628 nautical mile race.
After 41 races to the Apple Isle on modern boats, including taking line honours in 1999 with ‘Nokia’, and winning overall in 2003 with ‘First National Real Estate’, Michael Spies has turned back the clock and turned his back on modernity.
Spies, courtesy of long-time friend and crew mate, Rob Case (33 Sydney Hobarts) found his childhood love, ‘Mark Twain’, in Melbourne this year and purchased her. The beautiful timber hulled S&S 39 was the first to ever sail 25 Hobarts, which it did with a previous owner in 2002.
The yacht is 27 years old and she is heavy. “We’re basically in a corner – if it’s a fast race, we’re shut out before it starts,” Spies said in relation to the current forecast for north to north-easterly winds which will push the larger modern boats down the coast very quickly, leaving the old and heavier boats in their wake.
Swapping from modernity to vintage, Spies says: “It’s a lot different. Everything is a lot slower – the ergonomics are horrible – but the boat is more comfortable and the motion is better on your body. Things happen at a slower pace and you try to limit your manoeuvres.”
On the upside, “We’re back to basics – a three-burner metho stove – stews are being pre-made for us. It’ll be nice to have a coffee,” he says, rather than the freeze-dried food served on the rail that is the predilection of the grand prix yachts.
‘Lunatix’s’ owner, Freddy Boehnert can sympathise – to a degree. “My boat is a performance cruiser, but only one year old. We also have a little bit of comfort; we too like to have our nice meals on board,” he says.
“We cannot compete with the real racers, but we’ll do as best as we can in our division – and yes, I think this will be the toughest race, but the safety standards are the highest in the world,” said Boehnert, who has done all the majors around the world, with this and a previous boat.
Matt Allen, the owner of last year’s winner, ‘Ichi Ban’, knows the target is on his back – over 70 arrows aimed at his TP52. “We went into last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart as favourite and going that way again this year,” Allen, the President of Australian Sailing says, comfortable assuming the mantle.
“We know a lot more about the boat than we did this time last year and we are more confident in the boat, our sails and rig set-up.”
There is a fair chance that ‘Ichi Ban’ could be the first boat since the Halvorsen brothers’ ‘Freya’ to win back-to-back Sydney Hobarts (in fact ‘Freya’ won three in a row from 1963, 1964, 1965 and not one yacht has been able to even string two consecutive races together).
“All the crew are looking forward to the challenge of going back to back – and the forecast is looking pretty good for 50 footers.
“But I wouldn’t write-off the smaller boats either (for the win) – the fast, downhill boats will have a chance,” said Allen, who added, “but I’m putting my bets on the mid-size range.”
The obvious smaller boat is Bruce Taylor’s Caprice 40, ‘Chutzpah’. The genial Victorian had his boat specifically built for downwind speed and won the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast race in August. But 37 Sydney Hobarts later, with a pair of second places overall, Taylor, and his son Drew, who has done all of his 26 Hobarts with Bruce, are still trying.
On the Oatley family’s ‘Wild Oats X’, skipper Stacey Jackson, who has an all-female pro team behind her, remains confident of their chances. “We have a very experienced crew – 21 laps around the planet (mainly courtesy of the Volvo Ocean Race) and 70 Hobarts (crew member Vanessa Dudley, has done 22).”
However, the bigger picture for Jackson is the sustainability of our environment, something she has seen for herself while competing in major races around the world: “We are spreading the word about the state the planet is in right now. It’s all about sustainability and reducing plastics – and our ocean’s health. If everyone could follow us and get behind that message,” says Jackson, whose team is named ‘Ocean Respect Racing’.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand seeing plastic in the most remote parts of the planet, and you think to yourself, ‘well, how did this get here’, but you realise it’s been floating in the ocean for years and years and it will still be there for another 100 years.”
Ed Psaltis, with co-owner Bob Thomas, won the devastating 1998 Sydney Hobart on one of the smallest yachts in the fleet, a Hick 35 (35 feet), named ‘AFR Midnight Rambler’. With so much going on during that race, their remarkable achievement took a bit of a back seat. And 20 years on, the latest boat, ‘Midnight Rambler’ is just one foot longer, a Sydney 36.
Small boats are at sea the longest and their crews do it toughest. Why would the Sydney yachtsman want to revisit the small end of the fleet? “I’m a silly old mongrel,” he said grinning.
“I was a lot fitter back then – but there’s still a lot of mongrel in the crew and most of the guys have sailed with me for 20 to 40 years – four of them at least. Why am I still here? It’s about mateship and taking on the best sailors in the world.”
Psaltis will have something rather special on his mind when the 10-minute warning signal is fired on Boxing Day. His father Bill, a past Commodore of the CYCA and a veteran of 22 Sydney Hobarts, will be the one to fire the cannon.
“He’s 90 now, but still very interested. I did my first three Hobarts with him (on Bill’s famous ‘Meltemi’) and I’ll be very aware he’s there firing the cannon – it’s special.”
Line Honours Contenders Square Off
Christian Beck will not get ahead of himself with celebrations at the finish of this year’s race, no matter where his line honours contender ‘InfoTrack’ places.
The legal software supremo’s memory is still fresh of how things turned south for him in his Sydney Hobart debut last year after his super maxi, the former ‘Perpetual Loyal’ that he bought off Anthony Bell, was fourth to finish and his crew rushed to the pub to toast the feat.
As they celebrated away in traditional Sydney Hobart fashion, the 2017 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year learned that ‘InfoTrack’s’ official declaration of finish had not been lodged, and that the boat had been relegated from fourth to 24th place on line honours after receiving a 20 percent placings penalty.
It was a harsh lesson for Beck and his crew.
Asked about ‘InfoTrack’s’ costly administrative bungle, Beck at least smiled before replying: “Look, I’m sick of people reminding me to fill out the bloody paperwork because everyone keeps texting me saying that. But this year, no one is going to the pub until that race declaration form is done.”
Beck’s super maxi is one of five line honour contenders this year. The others are ‘Comanche’ that won last year in a record time of 1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, ‘Wild Oats XI’ that was first to finish last year, but pushed back to second on line after being penalised one hour for an incident with ‘Comanche’ at the start, then ‘Sun Hung Kai Scallywag’ and ‘Black Jack’.
While Beck could muster a smile upon recollecting last year’s misfortune, he did not when asked about the forecast.
“It’s a great forecast for a passenger. It’s very pleasant,” said Beck. “But (for) a big heavy boat like ‘InfoTrack’, we really need a lot of wind, so it’s a bit disappointing for us really.
“We can sort of bash through the really heavy stuff, but there is nothing to bash through in this forecast really,” he said.
“The best thing about our campaign is definitely the crew. If we do well, it will be the crew, not the boat.
“There are some amazingly good people on board and we are just a bit disappointed that the weather is not really strong. We really need a strong forecast for that boat.”
For Jim Cooney, owner of ‘Comanche’, the forecast was welcomed. He was optimistic about recent modifications on his boat.
“I think we have seen everybody working on their boats this year and focussing in the areas that we all feel are Achilles heels,” Cooney said.
“We know what ours is … the big wide drag in the water behind us.
“I’m happy with the forecast. I think it will suit pretty much everybody on this (press conference) table.
“We’ve all finessed our boats a little bit and that has given variety to our performances. It makes it very much a very even race.”
Cooney has put the controversy of last year’s start that led to rival ‘Wild Oats XI’ being penalised behind him. He does concede though that it will serve to keep everyone on their toes in this year’s start.
“I think we’ll certainly have more focus and be more aware … I don’t think there is any doubt about that,” Cooney said.
“(The) reality is we are focussed on it every race. There is a split second in these things. When boats are moving at four, five or six metres a second, everything gets very close very quickly.”
Mark Richards, the skipper of ‘Wild Oats XI’, concurred with Cooney, saying: “As Jim said, it was just one of those situations.
“Every year is a new race, a fresh start, a different start, different conditions … that’s just the way it is. That’s sport.
“We’re just looking forward to this year’s race, as we have been all year. It’s a great forecast and it’ll be a great race to watch.
“It’s a wonderful forecast for the whole fleet. It’s a nor’ easter the whole way – with a few little challenging transitions to get through maybe.
However, Richards said the 20th anniversary of the tragic 1998 edition of the race, where six lives were lost, would weigh on the minds of everyone racing.
The tragedy will be recognised during the race through a special commemoration message to be read out to the fleet at the start of the 5pm sked on Thursday, December 27 from the Radio Relay Vessel.
“It’s a big deal. Life goes on, but to commemorate the 20th year is a big deal,” Richards said. “I personally knew a lot of the families well in that race … it’s just part of life and evolution.
“The sport is way, way safer worldwide because of tragedies that do happen. It is just a part of life really.
“It’s an exciting race every year and we just wait to get out there. We’re ready to go.”
‘Black Jack’ skipper Mark Bradford did not read too much into how the forecast would suit him more or less to his rivals – at least publicly.
“It is still pretty early on to talk it up,” Bradford said. “And if you looking for me to talk it up you’ve probably got the wrong person, coming from Queensland …
“It’s a great forecast. Everyone is going to get a go. It’s particularly good for the fleet. It’ll get the fleet south pretty quickly and safely. So getting everyone there in one piece is the most important part of this.”
However, when pressed on whether he felt the forecast would suit bigger or smaller boats, Bradford said: “In terms of the handicap… if I was going to put a bet on – and I am not going to – I would be betting in the 60 to 70-foot range for this race.”
‘Sun Hung Kai Scallywag’ skipper, David Witt, was equally tight lipped about how the forecast may impact his Hong Kong boat that missed last year’s race because her new keel was not ready.
“I don’t know … Five boats can win and the weather is not really going to change that,” Witt said.
“We are ready. We are good … a long way from Hong Kong, but we are good. Everything is in one piece … see how we go.”
Witt did expand on what work had been carried out. “The boss has spent plenty of money on the mods; that helps,” Witt said. “We’ve got a new bowsprit, modern rig, new keel new rudders, new engine, new winches, new sails … outriggers.”
Les Goodridge, owner and skipper of ‘Wax Lyrical’ – a Danish design X 50 cruiser/racer shares his passion of sailing and racing the race with a crew where women and men are in balance.
“Do I try really hard to have girls? A little bit, maybe… but for me, it happens quite naturally – I have always had girls in my crew,” Goodridge says.
Thirty or 40 years ago, when the Sydney sailor started ocean racing, there were not any girls on the crews he sailed on.
“This was very rare… I guess it was about tradition – this is what boys do, this is what girls do,” he states.
“But with time, more girls got interested in sailing, and men came to realise that lots of elements of sailing are not just big stuff. Navigation was more a question of timing, doing the right thing at the right moment: It doesn’t take a lot of strength. It takes precision to make a boat go faster.”
So are the women on Goodridge’s crew his angels (like Charlie’s Angels) – are they a key success for Wax Lyrical?
“Women are often more resilient. They may not be as strong, but they are very tough,” Goodridge says.
One memorable episode says it all: “During one night, we were experiencing very, very bad conditions. The later it got, the rougher it became. There was a particular tough moment… The boys were sick, they were on the floor of the boat, throwing up, calling for their mothers, while the girls were tough, on deck, racing the boat through the night,” said Goodridge.
“Sometimes it’s about the right person in the right place, and definitely not always a guy, but often a woman.”
Dinah (Eagle) and Jules (Julia Owens) have participated in the Sydney Hobart 10 and five times respectively,” Goodridge reflects.
“There were four of us; three women and Les, who were able to keep the boat racing,” Eagle remembers.
According to Goodridge, women are more thoughtful. Rather than just using muscle, they think about doing things in such a way they don’t injure themselves.
Eagle, who is the second in command on ‘Wax Lyrical’ says, “From the female perspective, we have the same passion. Sometimes we are not as strong, and that’s fine, because we’re doing things in a different way.
“For me, in terms of crew dynamic, females communicate better, which makes the crew works better.”
But of course, it’s not black and white, and it is not about competition between men and women.
Goodridge says, “It helps when you’ve got mixed crew – you benefit from the advantages and differences of the two genders.”
Eagle responds: “In light weather, women remain more focussed for a longer time, whereas guys can easily get bored because nothing’s happening. But when the wind comes in, the guys say, ‘Give it to me (the helm), give it to me’.”
Women At Sea Set to Make Waves
When Beth Cain wrote down an ambitious “bucket list of things to do before turning 30,” little did her parents and sister envisage that by listing the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race it would become a family affair.
But no sooner did Beth, 29 and a high school teacher, reveal her dream, her parents – John Cain and Jenny Wright – began looking for a boat. Within three weeks they found a Beneteau First 45 previously sailed in Adelaide and Devonport on the market, and bought it.
Just as quickly they and Beth’s sister Milly (Emily), 27, and a graduate lawyer, were all committed to sailing the yacht that is named ‘Audere’.
From ‘Audere’s’ 10-strong crew, Jenny, Beth and Milly are not alone as Sydney Hobart rookies. Eight of the crew will be making their debuts when they leave the dock. The only two seasoned members on board as crew will be John Cain as skipper with seven starts and Dan Nestel with four.
Jenny, Beth and Milly are three of more than 80 women in this year’s race.
“I said, ‘I have 30 things I want to do before I am 30. I am going to do this anyway, but I want prefer to do it with you guys’,” said Beth.
“I have felt guilty ever since, when every time something goes wrong and it costs money.
“To finish with no broken boat and no broken people” is their goal.
Milly says the race “has always been something we have grown up with and hearing a lot about.”
Milly “is no stranger to sailing in Bass Strait” either, said Jenny who laughs as she adds she “sailed 12-foot cadet dinghy championships off King Island and won it … on glassy waters.”
The Cain sisters know Bass Strait, however, has its challenges, having experienced a rougher sail on it since. “Otherwise would be going about thinking it is all easy and what is everyone talking about,” said Beth.
Sydney’s Judell Johnston, who will sail on board the Beneteau 45 F5 ‘Reve’, may only have one Sydney Hobart to her name. She sailed on the boat in the 2016 edition.
But the science high school teacher from Sydney has a rich heritage in the sport that she began five years ago at the CYCA by sailing in the twilight series.
Johnston’s great grandfather sailed with Scottish sailing legend, Sir Thomas Lipton in two of his five America’s Cup campaigns between 1899 and 1930.
“As soon as I first sailed, it just felt right. I felt so comfortable doing it,” said Johnston.
“Then I found out about my great grandfather. It is in my blood.”
Genevieve White, one of the most experienced women sailors in the race, lauds the impact of women on the sport of sailing today.
White has sailed in various boat sizes and classes. She is a veteran of six previous Sydney Hobarts, and this year will be sailing on the 1971 line honours winner ‘Kialoa II’.
She has sailed other races like the Newport-Bermuda, Fastnet and the 2001 Volvo Ocean Race on the all female Amer Sports Too crew.
Since 2004, White has also run her sailing safety business in which she equips crews and boats for safety at sea.
Looking at this year’s Sydney Hobart, White cites Stacey Jackson who is skippering an all women’s crew on ‘Wild Oats X’ and for showing “there are some really good women sailors.”
White is also looking forward to racing on ‘Kialoa II’ as she did last year.
“She is a classic boat and a beautiful boat on the water,” White said. “She certainly doesn’t pick up and plane like a race boat, so you can’t describe here as a modern race boat.
“In her day she was the best … she is the big old girl and has beautiful lines.”
A Long Way to Come for Some Anger Management
Tim Stewart has brought his Salona 44, ‘Anger Management’, all the way from Esperance in Western Australia to challenge the Tattersall Cup.
That’s 1800 nautical miles from port to port – a long way for ‘Anger Management’.
Stewart bought the former ‘Zaney Waney’ at Hamilton Island last year, from none other than Christian Beck, the owner ‘InfoTrack’, one of the super maxis contesting the 628 nautical mile race for line honours.
“We bought the boat after Cyclone Debbie, so it was a bit of a mess. Christian’s brother borrowed the boat after we bought it, and he and his mates cleaned it up a bit. And we raced it there.”
Stewart, who calls himself “a major shareholder,’ in the boat, said; “All but two of us have been sailing at the same club (Esperance Bay Yacht Club) for years. Three of us own our own boats there and race against each other. Some race with me. We’ve talked about the Sydney Hobart for years and always watched the start on TV – and here we are.”
Six out of 10 who sailed at Hamilton Island with Stewart are aboard for the Sydney Hobart. “We’ve never done the race before – and the boat hasn’t either.
The West Australian and his crew are realistic about their chances of winning. “Our primary goal is to finish the race and we’ll be relying on our two gun Perth sailors to help us do that. But we saw a divisional list, and to challenge ourselves we’ll gauge our performance against the three Beneteau 45’s (‘Black Sheep’ from Tasmania, ‘Dreki Sunnan’ from NSW and ‘Audere’ from Victoria).
White Ghosts Poised to Sink Rivals’ Hopes
Matthew Donald laughs when the scenario of his Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race entrant, ‘Gweilo’, appearing from her shroud of relative anonymity as a newcomer to the Australian racing scene to win the event overall is put to him.
‘Gweilo’ is Cantonese for “white ghost”, and with the image emblazoned on her hull and her crew’s sailing gear, the sight of the once named ‘Container’ to debut in the Rolex Sydney Hobart would certainly be a memorable one.
“We were planning to have the big ghost on the spinnaker, but ran out of time. “That will be for next year,” said Donald, who bought the 2011 Judel/Vrolijk designed race entry in April with Chris Townsend, as he tried to picture ‘Gweilo’ usurping a strong field of TP52s – including Matt Allen’s defending champion ‘Ichi Ban’ – and winning the race on corrected time.
To explain the reason behind her name, Donald turns time back to his days living in Hong Kong for “a good part of 20 years.” Townsend also lived there for several years. For most of that time, Donald says, they were referred to as ‘gweilos’ by locals. The term, Donald adds, once translated into the derogatory “white devil,” but then became “white ghost” … or the now “friendly term for a Westerner in Cantonese.”
Either way, it was an identity he and Townsend shared, and a fitting name by which to christen their TP52, the former sistership to the original ‘RAN’.
“It’s been a fast preparation because we only purchased the boat in or around April,” Donald says. “We took major work to the boat to transform it from being an inshore racing boat to an offshore racing boat. We feel now we have the boat exactly where it needs to be, finding how the boat really sails and getting in the best position she can before the big race.”
Tasmanians Ahead of the Game
Tasmanian boats in the race have a bit of an advantage over their NSW rivals – their boats have to be prepared before they leave for Sydney – and then their crews get to test the boats and crew out on the delivery to Sydney – a reverse Sydney Hobart.
Greg ‘Enzo’ Prescott is one of three Tasmanians entered. Prescott is a hardened sailor with 27 Sydney Hobarts to his credit, his last two on ‘Shogun’ in 2011 and 2012. The Tasmanian has done the race on his own and other people’s yachts, but is happy to be in charge of his own vessel again – a Farr 40 which he has modified for Category 1 IRC Racing.
“We had a really good delivery – we didn’t break anything. It was a good test, because we’ve had to do a few modifications to get her ready for the race, including a new 250 kilo bulb for the keel, designed by Farr.
“It (the bulb) will give the boat more stability upwind – the Farr 40s are usually quite tippy. It will work against us in light air though.
“The competition will be an open book. We haven’t raced against any of these guys before. We haven’t raced much at all, so we don’t know. We’re in Division 3 and it looks quite daunting. I guess the other modified Farr (Anthony Kirke’s ‘Enterprise’) and ‘Sail Exchange’ (Carl Crafoord’s recently purchased Cookson 12) are up there.
“I’m looking forward to the race though, now that I’ve been through the rebuild, rated the boat and got our safety certificate – it’s great to have that all behind me,” he admits.
A Family Tradition and Passion
Barry Cuneo, the Queensland owner/skipper of the TP52, ‘Envy Scooters’, proclaims: “I want to win the 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for my uncle John,” he says of Australia’s famous 1972 Olympic Games gold medallist in the Dragon class.
“John, who is 90, is critically ill. I would love to give him the Tattersall Cup this year…,” Cuneo says.
When Cuneo starts talking about his own sailing and competition, he refers to family history: “My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Cuneo, was the Intercolonial champion in 1898 – for a race between Australia and New Zealand – on a boat called ‘Stellar’. And my father and obviously my uncle John were also Australian champions.
For the Cuneo family, sailing is as important as breathing air. If family tradition is important, transmitting his sailing passion is as crucial. “The program for young sailors we’ve got has been going for seven years. We have another boat, smaller, a Beneteau 40.7, which is also very competitive. It’s very good for helping youths to train and mature before coming to bigger yachts like the ‘Envy,” Cuneo states.
Cuneo has good reason for his involvement. “I think I’m trying to remedy what happened to us when we were young. We just had to try to get on any boat and usually, were told to ‘go down and get the beers’.
“Outside of a sailing program, there’s no control over the quality of training. And when you’re sailing at very high levels, it’s really frustrating when you bring some people in who haven’t been through a school, as some have learned bad habits. But only because they have learnt that from the places they came from, so we’ve decided to bring these guys through.
“Watching them develop is really pleasing, because we’ve got a really good stream of new talent.
“The Sydney Hobart is an amazing opportunity for young sailors to mix with professional, experienced and amateur sailors too. If you compare it to other sports, say golf, young amateurs never get a chance to play with the Tiger Woods’ of this world,” Cuneo says.
For Cuneo, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s famous race “Is obviously one of the races you have to do. It’s the ‘Mount Everest’ of sailing – and it becomes a drug too.
“You see guys here who’ve done it more than 30 times, so you want to go again, because you want to do it better the next time. Each time you have one year to prepare your boat and crew – just trying to be a little bit better – and hopefully you get the right weather.”