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2 January 2007, 10:15 am
Another Classic
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Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2006
Hobart, Australia

With winds of no more than 20 knots forecast just prior to the start, the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart was lining up to be a relatively benign event. But despite a moderate forecast, the world's toughest 'classic 600 mile' offshore race did not fail to live up to its reputation, with competitors not only having to survive, but race through one of Mother Nature's most treacherous obstacle courses.
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Mid-evening on New Year's Eve saw the diminutive form of David KENT's (AUS) Gillawa finally cross the finish line, the last arrival in the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart race. Despite this being the third year in a row that KENT's 32 foot Cavalier 975 has taken the wooden spoon (for last boat in) in the annual Boxing Day run south, this year her crew achieved their ambition of reaching Hobart in time for the traditional fireworks display heralding in the New Year.

Prizes Awarded

The official prizegiving for the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart took place at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania on 1 January 2007, presided over by the The Honourable William COX, Governor of Tasmania, Doug Parkinson, Representing the Premier of Tasmania, Rob VALENTINE, Lord Mayor of Hobart, Dr Dan NORTON of the Tasmanian Ports Corporation, Richard DE LEYSER of Rolex Australia, Geoff LAVIS, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and Marion COOPER, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

The majority of the top silverware for the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart was picked up by Bob OATLEY's (AUS) Wild Oats XI and Simon KURTS' (AUS) Love & War sailed by a team led by skipper Lindsay MAY (AUS). The former was awarded the J. H. Illingworth Trophy for winning line honours, the Jack Rooklyn Memorial Trophy for being the first yacht out of Sydney Heads and the F&J Livingstone Trophy for being the first yacht due south of Tasman Island, as well as finishing second in IRC Division 0 and the Rolex Challenge. Love & War's MAY received the Tattersalls Cup for winning overall under IRC handicap, and a Rolex Yachtmaster timepiece. MAY was also awarded the Sir Arthur Warner Trophy for coming first in IRC Division 4.

At the prizegiving it was announced that the Wild Oats XI crew had clubbed together to donate AUD$ 2,000 for the cancer fund-raising being carried out during the race by British skipper Michelle COLENSO, who's Oyster 55 Capriccio of Rhu won the Cruising Division. Midway through a round the world cruise COLENSO was diagnosed with breast cancer and she competed in the Rolex Sydney Hobart despite being midway through her chemotherapy treatment. The donation from the Wild Oats crew was later matched by MAY.

Challengers Abound

Seventy-eight yachts took the start line of the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart, a smaller field than previous years, but by no means lacking in quality. While in 2005 the focus for line honours was the fight between two brand-new 98 foot sisterships Wild Oats XI and Alfa Romeo, this year there were potentially five boats gunning for line honours - OATLEY's Wild Oats XI back to defend her title, this time against two other 30 metre supermaxis Charles BROWN and Bill BUCKLEY's Maximus from New Zealand and Grant WHARINGTON's (AUS) heavily modified 2003 winner Skandia. Added to the mix were the Volvo Open 70s, Volvo Ocean Race winner ABN AMRO ONE and Matt ALLEN's (AUS) Ichi Ban (formerly WHARINGTON's Brunel), 28 foot shorter, but no less potent given hard enough conditions.

Outside of the maxis, some of the hottest competition was to be found in the 50-60 foot range where several skippers were lining up for an equally heavyweight bout with their latest hardware. This included Geoff ROSS's (AUS) brand new 55 footer Yendys, Stephen AINSWORTH's (AUS) all conquering Loki, the canting keel Cookson 50s Quantum Sails and Living Doll and Graeme WOOD's (AUS) newly acquired Nelson Marek 52, Wot Yot.

Conditions could not have been more perfect for the departure with the sun out and a southeasterly wind allowing the boats to reach out of Sydney Harbour, watched by an estimated 500,000 spectators from land or on board the vast array of vessels lining the race course. As expected, it was the Mark RICHARDS (AUS) skippered race favourite Wild Oats XI that was fastest out of the blocks, scoring the psychological advantage of leading the fleet out through Sydney Heads into the open sea.

A Hard Choice

Prior to the start, conditions the first night had been forecast to be the briskest of the race but with winds unlikely to be more than 20 knots. However this was a southerly wind that had been blowing for at least two days and as the boats sailed further offshore this wind would clash with the south flowing current, creating a dangerous wind against current situation with steep, sharp waves. Thus competitors were faced with the hard decision: they could head offshore where they would find stronger winds and a more powerful, favourable current that would speed them south faster, but in taking this option they would risk their boats in these dangerous, potentially boat-breaking waves. Alternatively, they could tack back inshore where there was less wind, less and possibly even unfavourable current, but flatter water.

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Line honours went to Wild
Oats XI
© ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi
For most, this decision came down to the type of boat they were sailing. Having survived the rigours of the Volvo Ocean Race, 2006 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Mike SANDERSON's (NZL) ABN AMRO ONE headed offshore, while Wild Oats XI and the majority of the fleet tacked back into more protected waters inshore.

Two Dismastings

Just as conditions were abating a little in the early hours of the morning, news filtered through from the race course of two dismastings. Despite making it around the world virtually unscathed, the Rolex Sydney Hobart proved too much for ABN AMRO ONE. While storming along offshore in 30-35 knots of wind, she had briefly pulled into the lead ahead of Wild Oats when her mast had snapped.

'It was all familiar territory,' commented skipper SANDERSON of the conditions - they had encountered considerably worse on the upwind leg to New York on the Volvo Ocean Race. 'There were two big bangs and it all came tumbling down. Something broke which had just died. Maybe we were lucky it didn't go in the Volvo Ocean Race. All we have left is up to the first spreader.'

At around the same time - 0300 local time on 27 December - the mast also fell on board the New Zealand line honours contender Maximus. Her dismasting was the more alarming as her forestay had parted company at the masthead, causing the towering spar to fall backwards into the cockpit. This would have crushed several of her crew had the mast's fall not been broken by landing on the winches and the boat's twin steering wheels.

Nine Boats Out

A day into the Rolex Sydney Hobart the severe conditions of the first night had claimed nine boats that had retired with a variety of technical problems, mostly to do with their steering, rudder or rig. The most serious of these was Mike FREEBAIRN's (AUS) classic 1968 overall winner, Ray White Koomooloo. While sailing in a 22 knot southwesterly on the morning of the 27th, the 41 footer fell badly off a backless wave. Soon after, she started to flood rapidly.

Twenty-four hours into the race, competitors were still sailing in lumpy seas, still upwind, albeit getting gradually lighter, with conditions not only taking their toll on boats, but on crew, with numerous incidents of seasickness and minor injuries. The second afternoon, the three remaining line honours contenders were crossing Bass Strait. Wild Oats XI had extended her lead to 40 miles, only to see it evaporate when they were becalmed for four hours off Flinders Island, northeast of Tasmania. Fortunately navigator Adrienne CAHALAN (AUS) had anticipated this and made sure they positioned the silver supermaxi directly in front of the chasing boats.

In second place on the water, Skandia had closed to within five miles of Wild Oats XI when she broke her daggerboard. This lifting board, located in front of her canting keel, prevented her from making leeway. Without it, her performance upwind would be seriously impaired. Wild Oats XI sped away once she picked up the new breeze and Skandia had to fend off advances from ALLEN's Ichi Ban until the wind piped up the following morning by which time they were approaching Tasman Island on the southeast side of Tasmania.

With no board to prevent them sliding sideways upwind, the Skandia crew was forced to keep the canting keel more vertical and with this reduced stability were unable to power the boat up as much as they normally would. 'Ichi Ban went from being 12 miles behind us to just sailing past us like we were going backwards,' said skipper WHARINGTON later.

Consecutive Line Honours For Wild Oats XI

At 21:52 on 28 December, Wild Oats XI crossed the finish line off downtown Hobart after 2 days, 8 hours, 52 minutes, and 33 seconds at sea, more than 14 hours slower than their record time in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart, but a highly respectable performance given the conditions. They had taken line honours in two consecutive Rolex Sydney Hobarts, the first time this had happened in 42 years.

Owner OATLEY, 78, did not sail on board for this race, but was on the water to greet his yacht on her arrival. 'I feel like a young man again,' he enthused. 'It was a great opportunity last year and the boys made the most of it. This year it was very different conditions. The other boats had a lot of trouble keeping up and they failed, I think, because they tried to hang on. I told them to play it safe and the boat would do the rest. You couldn't ask for more than this. We believed in the boat and the boat did the job.'

Wild Oats XI skipper RICHARDS said they had suffered no gear failure save for a broken headsail on the first night. According to navigator CAHALAN there were two key tactical moments in their race - when they had decided to take the risk and head inshore on the first night, leaving ABN AMRO ONE to survive in the rough conditions offshore and then when they had covered Skandia and Ichi Ban prior to being becalmed in Bass Strait.

Second into Hobart was Ichi Ban who had managed to fend off the larger Skandia as the two boats turned off the wind and blazed off across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River. Among the 50-60 footers ROSS's new Yendys, sailed by a strong roster of crew from the BMW ORACLE Racing America's Cup campaign, came out on top. With better boat speed and flawless tactics they had pulled ahead on the water but their chances of winning on handicap went up in smoke when the wind had dropped and shifted in direction on the approach to Tasman Island. The other highly tipped boat prior to the start, Loki had suffered from the outset when they had to repair a broken hydraulic ram in their foredeck on the first night. This process had caused tonnes of water to flood below and for them to lose places, a position from which they were unable to recover.

Opinions Form

As more and more boats arrived in Hobart, so opinions about the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart race became galvanized. No one could remember a Hobart race where the wind had failed to exceed 30 knots (only ABN AMRO ONE reported more on the first night). Nor could they remember one when from the start to Tasman Island they constantly had to sail upwind. Lou ABRAHAMS (AUS), skipper of the Sydney 38 Challenge and sailing his 44th race to Hobart on this occasion (and equalling the record number of participations in the process) said, 'I think it was not a hard race. I can remember races where it has been upwind and in rougher seas. This one was generally moderate upwind.'

Due to the heavily upwind-biased conditions several of the top handicap positions were taken by the better sailed classic yachts from the 1970s. Built to the IOR rating rule of the day, these boats are heavy and with a fine bow and stern and are superb, even comfortable upwind compared to the modern breed of lightweight speedsters. And so it was that a piece of Rolex Sydney Hobart history - Love & War, KURTS' 1974 and 1978 race winner was able to make her hat trick. KURTS died in January 2005, and his Sparkman & Stephens designed 47 footer was being sailed this year by his former navigator MAY and a team made up of crew from the Sydney-based maxi Brindabella, including owner George SNOW (AUS).

'I always said to Peter and to Simon [Peter KURTS' son] that this boat could win the Hobart race again,' said MAY. 'She just had to be on the start line on the right day when the conditions were right and she'll win the race and that's exactly what happened. Upwind under this handicap, this boat will sail above its handicap almost consistently.'

While the lightweight boats headed inshore, Love & War headed offshore with similar tactics to ABN AMRO, but unlike the VO70 survived the conditions, shooting south on an abnormally fast current that at times topped 4.5 knots.

MAY and the Love & War crew, said their result was a fitting tribute to KURTS, who during his life was a pillar of the Australian yacht racing community. 'We tried to sail the boat in the spirit that Kurtsie would have sailed it and that was to sail it hard, and to keep asking the questions all the time, and to drink plenty of tea,' said MAY.

For all the news on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race CLICK HERE.
Regatta News (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Overall winner Love & War:© ROLEX/Daniel Forster
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