Known for his numerous Whitbread Round the World Race campaigns, the Sydney-based Finn was diagnosed as being diabetic earlier this year and coupled with this the loss of his long term sponsor Nicorette, he has renamed his boat, Diabetics. He will be co-skippering her, in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart, with Adrian DUNPHY.
Among the 80-strong fleet racing south on Boxing Day from Sydney, across the legendary Bass Strait and on to Hobart on the south side of Tasmania, the tally of line honours contenders now stands at six with Diabetes, plus last year's winner and this year's race favourite Bob OATLEY's Wild Oats XI, Grant WHARINGTON's Skandia and Matt ALLEN's Volvo Open 70 Ichi Ban. While these boats represent Australia there is also the New Zealand-owned 98 footer Maximus and the 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race winner, the Volvo 70 ABN AMRO ONE in the hands of skipper Mike SANDERSON.
At present the Australian maxis are all ready to go, while Maximus only arrived in Australia by ship from the Mediterranean last week. Charles ST CLAIR BROWN, co-owner of the boat with Bill BUCKLEY, says he is looking forward to the Rolex Sydney Hobart race. After a Northern hemisphere season of races inshore or in light airs, this may finally be the occasion Maximus gets to show her real pace.
'We have done regattas in the Med around the buoys in 10 knots,' says BROWN, who will be sailing in his fifth Hobart race. 'We have done a lot of things to improve our performance in that. But she is an ocean racing yacht, not a round the buoys boat.' Compared to the other 100 footers taking part, Maximus is more stable, heavier and has a smaller rig. This will leave her at a disadvantage if conditions are moderate. Like ABN AMRO ONE, her best prospects are in reaching conditions when the larger, lighter weight boats are forced to throttle back.
'We have got higher topsides and I think we can have a sustained period of higher speed reaching or broad reaching,' BROWN continues, adding a warning. 'The big thing is how to get through the seaway and no matter how strong your boat is, if you hit waves hard enough anything will break. We still have 40m of mast, strung up there with little bits of PBO [hi-tech composite rigging]. Fly off a wave and you are putting enormous shock loading on the gear and equipment. And then there is a huge canting keel system. Nobody can be terribly confident in this race. You always have to expect the worst kind of extreme conditions you can get in that nasty stretch of water.'
Also arriving at the eleventh hour from Europe is Italian Danilo SALSI's Swan 45, DSK Comifin. The Swan 45 is best known as an inshore one design race boat, yet SALSI and his crew, including Whitbread Round the World Race and America's Cup veteran Pietro D'ALI, are one of the few in the class to include an extensive offshore part to their sailing program. To date they have done exceedingly well in round the buoys races, winning this year's Rolex Swan Cup in Porto Cervo ahead of stiff American opposition and finishing second at Key West Race Week.
Sadly, to date SALSI and his team have not managed to duplicate this success offshore, having already sailed in this year's Newport Bermuda and Rolex Middle Sea races, without a great result in either. Next year they will round off their program with the Rolex Fastnet Race, but in the meantime there is what helmsman and trimmer Andrea CASALE describes as the big one. 'We are really enthusiastic to go to the Rolex Sydney Hobart. For the Italians it is a kind of Everest, for offshore sailing is the toughest race you can do apart from the Volvo Ocean Race.'
While Italy has three America's Cup teams and are one of the top nations when it comes to inshore one-design racing, they are poorly represented in offshore racing. DSK Comifin will be the first Italian boat to enter the Rolex Sydney Hobart in almost a decade. Only one of the DSK Comifin crew, Stefano GERADI, has competed in the Hobart race before. Otherwise her crew for the Hobart race are mostly professional and in addition to D'ALI, who now mostly concentrates on racing singlehanded offshore in the French Figaro class, is Andrea CARACCI another singlehanded offshore sailor. Their input has gone into re-equipping DSK Comifin to make her better suited for racing offshore and, as an example, she now carries a spare rudder.
An Italian Swan 45 team, one might imagine would be hoping for light conditions like they typically get at home, but CASALE says this could not be further from the truth. 'To be honest we would be upset if we got to Hobart and we just had light winds. We want tough weather, we do offshore racing to have a hard time, to prove to ourselves we can do it. If it is mild we can stay at home and don't need to go all this way. The Newport Bermuda was like a Med delivery. So we want to taste the tough Tasmanian Sea and the Bass Strait.'
Unfortunately for the Italians, the long term forecast is indicating a light start to this typically gruelling offshore race. The race start is on Dec 26 at 1pm in Sydney Harbour.
Full list of nominated yachts available from: www.rolexsydneyhobart.com
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will start in Sydney Harbour on Tuesday 26 December at 13:00 from two start lines off Nielsen Park.For all the news on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race CLICK HERE.