The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race may be one of Australia’s greatest Boxing Day traditions, so the news that the 2020 race is going ahead is welcomed by an entire marine industry, with the Sydney waterfront now all action stations as sailors prepare for the 76th edition of this iconic race.
Final preparations are now being made for 85 owners and crew as they complete their job lists in time for their 628 nautical mile race south to Hobart on Saturday, with Doyle Sails Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania working with a significant part of the fleet on sail preparations.
Shane Guanaria from Doyle Sails Sydney, who competed in his first Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 2004 and has been south 14 times since on boats ranging from Sydney 38s right up to the 100 foot supermaxis will be racing aboard TP52 Zen “People need the race to happen, not just in Australia but the world over” says Guanaria leading up to the Boxing Day start. “After the year that 2020 has been, finishing it off with such an iconic race that gains so much attention is the best possible way we could end the year”.
Doyle Sails CEO Mike Sanderson is not taking part in this year’s race due to travel restrictions but gives an insight into the intense concentration required of the top professional crews when he says the focus is calibrated in metres, not miles.
The Sydney Hobart is notorious for dishing up a wide range of conditions, from fast running and reaching down the New South Wales coast, to heavy upwind slogs across Bass Strait, to drifting up the Derwent River towards the finish line – demanding a sail inventory for all situations.
“The reality is that you have to be fully prepared to handle everything,” says Sanderson. “You can outsmart yourself pretty quickly if you start leaving gaps in your sail wardrobe. You need to set off with a well-rounded inventory and a team that can sail at maximum speed 24 hours a day for a couple of days. That is what we all focus on.
“If it is 30 knots upwind, or 30 knots downwind, or all stops in between, you need to be going for it. Winning or losing will be down to how the boats wriggle through the light-air transitions and going up the Derwent River.
“In the best conditions, you need to bank every metre you can, because you never know how many metres you will need in the Derwent River.
Sanderson was aboard Jim Cooney’s supermaxi Comanche as Tactitian last year when the yacht finished the bluewater classic to win line honors, but not before some nervous moments on a windless River Derwent. This year, Cooney returns with ex VOR, Ericsson 3, Maserati which will be sailed by a star cast including Doyle Sails NZ Grand Prix sailing legend Stu Bannatyne, along with Cooney’s sons, James and Douglas. With only two supermaxis on the start line this year, Maserati will be one to watch for line honours – and overall.
The other supermaxi racing for line honours is InfoTrack, owned by Christian Beck and Doyle Sails’ Chris Nicholson in the crew. Nicholson is a two-time Australian Olympic sailor and three-time world champion in the 49er class and has accumulated thousands of offshore miles competing in five Volvo Ocean Races.
This will be Nicholson’s eighth Sydney Hobart race, but he regards himself as a rookie compared with several of his crewmates on InfoTrack, some of whom are in double figures with two having more than 20 Hobarts under their belt. Chris will be joined by Doyle Sails Sydney's Alan Turner who is looking forward to a return to big boat sailing after a few years racing South onboard smaller boats.
InfoTrack finished second over the line after a protracted battle with Comanche last year. She was lauded by the other supermaxi owners, as conditions did not suit this heavier boat, but she gave the top three a run for their money.
InfoTrack sits at the wider end of the spectrum compared with the likes of Black Jack. “The result will be very weather dependent,” says Nicholson.
On sail inventories, Nicholson says InfoTrack has some very powerful set-ups with triple headsail combinations such as a J0 and two large staysails. “We built a new J1 for the race last year, which is quite a bit bigger than our previous one. It is very powerful and suits this boat nicely, so in the right conditions it should give us some big gains. I am almost hoping for lots of upwind sailing in this race,” he adds, expressing a wish not often heard with a 628-mile race in prospect.
Another one of the big boats to watch out for is Money Penny (competed as Naval Group last year), led by Sean Langman. The 69-foot mini maxi overcame very light winds throughout last year’s race to secure a spot in the top 10. This year the crew has built three new sails for the race sporting Doyle Sails’ revolutionary Structured Luff technology including a STRATIS J2 and J4 along with a furling jib top.
Battling it out in the same division is Alive, a 66-foot canting keel Reichel Pugh. In 2018, owner Phil Turner and his crew won the 74th Rolex Sydney Hobart. July 2019 saw them finish 2nd over the line in the Transpac as well as 2nd overall in division 1. Alive has arrived in Sydney from Brisbane with Doyle Sails’ NZ sailor Will Tiller aboard ready for another run at the title in 2020.
While the larger supermaxis and mini maxis battle for glory at the front of the fleet, not far behind will be the highly competitive next division comprising the TP52s along with very fast 55-62 footers.
Statistically, this is the division that has produced the most winners of the coveted Tattersall Cup for the fastest boat on handicap. “Within a tight rating band, we will have 8-10 very competitive boats,” says Guanaria.
Guanaria will be in amongst it on board the TP52 Zen, owned by 11-time Sydney-Hobart veteran Gordon Ketelbey.
“The TP52s are very competitive boats and they attract very competitive people,” says Guanaria. “Some of the best sailors in the country will be racing in this division. There is a lot of banter and good cheer between the boats along the dock, but it is all pretty serious on the water”.
“We have just added a Structured Luff furling jib top to the inventory, and we are spending as much time as possible learning how best to set it up and at what angles to carry it, it is a very potent sail and in testing so far we have been left asking ourselves why we didn’t put one on the boat earlier”.
In the always hotly contested 40-foot fleet is Toybox 2, owned by long-time Doyle Sails customer and past commodore of Middle Harbour Yacht Club, Ian Box. This will be the first Sydney to Hobart Box has contested since 2012, and he will be making it a family affair no less, with his son and son-in-law onboard along with Doyle Sails Sydney’s Tom Hogan. Box has added a new offshore main, STRATIS Structured Luff Code Zero and J3+ to his inventory for the race this year. After mixed results with furling sails previously the new code zero has blown him away with its ease of furling coupled with performance that he has never seen from his boat previously. Hogan has previously topped the 40-foot fleet in the race winning his division in 2018 onboard the Cookson 12 Grace O’Malley and is looking forward to this year’s race with Ian and his team.
The inter-Loft competition in the 40-foot field this year will be hotly contested with Doyle Sails Tasmania’s Nick Dineen onboard the current IRC Australian Champion Greg “Enzo” Prescott’s very competitive and highly modified Farr 40 2 Unlimited. After a close race and long battle last year Enzo had to settle for second in division 4th and is determined to go one better this year.
After an extended period of lockdown due to COVID-19, the Doyle Sails Melbourne team can’t wait to get out on the water with their respective boats. They will be well represented with Blake Anderson taking on his 11th trip south onboard Daniel Edwards Mills designed Mat 1245 White Noise which was launched just before the 2019 Sydney to Hobart. Lawson Shaw will be enjoying his 4th race south onboard the Jones 42 Cadibarra 8.
With 21 yachts carrying Doyle sails, extending the full range of sizes and types is represented from the supermaxis to the smallest entries. “It is a testament to the work our lofts have done, the Australian and New Zealand lofts in particular, and it is great to see such a wide spread of representation” says CEO Sanderson.
Last year's Sydney Hobart saw an impressive 157 boats power off from Sydney Harbour. Outside of the top two supermaxis (Comanche and InfoTrack), Doyle Sails was proud to have a total 37 yachts in last year's race.
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