Australia's largest ocean racer Skandia is having her first major hit-out since her Hobart victory, in Australia's oldest and largest keelboat regatta Skandia Geelong Week this coming Australia Day weekend.
While Grant WHARINGTON'S 98 foot yacht Skandia proved she is the fastest yacht in the southern hemisphere with her recent Hobart win, a Williamstown local is keen to prove she can be beaten by a boat a third of her size.
41-year-old Naval architect Robert HICKS has been designing and building little ocean racers for many years. Over the years there have been some top results, including the tough 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which the Hick designed 35 footer AFR Midnight Rambler, won on overall handicap.
In the 2002 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race another of Hick's boats, the tiny 30 footer Toecutter, was the clear handicap leader until she hit the overnight calm on the Derwent, which robbed her of overall victory.
Only a few weeks ago in the 2003 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race, a newer and faster Toecutter was second on handicap behind the eventual handicap winner, First National Real Estate.
Keen to make the point that handicap racing, which allows boats of vastly different sizes to compete against each other, is the best judge of sailing performance, Hick has issued a cheeky challenge.
"Since I was eleven years old my family and I have been racing down to Geelong on the Australia Day long weekend. For us it's an institution and we really want to win.
The series starts on Thursday, racing out of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria and after two days of windward leeward courses on Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay, we have the 34-mile Williamstown to Geelong race and then we have another two days of windward leeward courses.
Skandia Geelong Week brings together more than 400 boats of all types and sizes, along with 3000 sailors and as many as 70,000 visitors to the Geelong foreshores. After a massive Australian summer racing calendar, the passage race is a highlight of this maritime celebration.
Hicks continues, "I am prepared to bet my little 30 footer Toecutter can beat the Hobart winner Skandia. Skandia has nominated the Sail 4 Cancer charity as the designated charity for this regatta, so I've challenged Grant to race and we can both make Sail4 Cancer the winner.
Our Toecutters have been the top performing (IRC) handicap boats in Melbourne for the past two seasons and we'd like to think that on any given day we have a good chance. We've agreed that the loser will donate $10 for every crewmember on his boat to Sail 4 Cancer. Toecutter has crew of six and Skandia has 18 or 20 so we reckon we are a good thing."
Wharington and his gun crew have risen to the challenge. The skipper commented today, "You would think that a race between the largest and the smallest yacht eligible for the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race would be a walkover for the Skandia team (as the largest) but obviously given our relative handicaps, this should be a close run thing!
We have been pleasantly surprised at how well our new Skandia rates under IRC and believe that Toecutter rates well too, so even though I am sure they will be spending a while looking at our stern we will be working hard to make sure we do our best to beat Toecutter - performance wise."
If the wind gods co-operate then the little Toecutter can win. Her giant competitor is sure to have clear air and smooth water at the front of the fleet and the little boat will have an amazing 170 boats chopping through the same water, but if the winds strengthen later in the day as the large fleet sails down the narrow shipping channel into Corio Bay, then it is likely be a little boat day.
On Saturday morning of this coming Australia Day long weekend the race starts at 9:30am and the two boats will be tracked for the duration of the race using Sat-Trek 24 satellite tracking units, the same kind used in last year's Round Australia sailing record.
From Friday the city of Geelong will have been in party mode and large crowds will flock to see the passage fleet arrive to join the other 200+ boats of all types from Tall Ships to Couta boats on Corio Bay. On the Skandia Geelong Week website, the corrected time battle will update every 5 minutes and though the 18 or 20 Skandia crew will be in the Royal Geelong Yacht club bar, while Toecutter is still rounding Corio Channel markers, the minnow can still beat the whale if she can outsail her corrected time.
For more information on Skandia Geelong Week visit the event website at the address below
For more information on the Skandia Sailing program visit the Skandia Website at the address below.