Getting ready for the ‘Great Race’

Published on December 21st, 2014

When 117 teams line up on Friday (Dec. 26) for the start of the 628 nm Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a lot of attention will be given to the fleet of five 100-foot SuperMaxis vying for line honors. American Peter Isler will be navigating extensively modified Rio 100. Here is his pre-race report…

With now less than a week to the start, it is hard not to get excited. This will be my second “Great Race” – the first was a memorably grueling affair when I navigated Team News Corp in the 2001/2002 Volvo Ocean Race leg that started in Sydney – with the Hobart Race fleet – took a pit stop in Hobart (about an hour side-tied to the dock) and then restarted for the much longer leg around the top of New Zealand to the eventual leg finish in Auckland.

This year I’ll be navigating Manouch Moshayedi’s brand new “Rio100” which started its life out as the 98 footer Zana – but had a new Cookson built hull fitted on her this year for her new American owner. Manouch hails from Newport Beach, CA and plans an assault on west coast offshore races including Transpac and various races to Mexico. How cool is it that we will have a 100foot SuperMaxi on the West Coast?

We sailed Rio100 for 8 days last month in Auckland – and she was pretty impressive right out of the box, winning a 230-mile overnight race around the outer Hauraki Gulf, finishing first and correcting out on the new Botin 80 Beau Geste and a well sailed Volvo 70. But that was flat water sailing and the Hobart race could throw a lot more at this essentially brand new SuperMaxi. That was on the entire crew’s mind during the Auckland session as we went through the new quiver of sails, practiced reefing and tried to picture our downwind-oriented fixed keel sloop sailing along upwind in the Bass Strait in 60 knots of wind.

In my first Hobart Race we may not have seen 60 knots in the Bass Straits but we did have a waterspout pass directly overhead. With all the sails down – the waterspout easily beat out the force of gravity to start raising the mainsail right up the track with no one pulling on the halyard!

Enough for sea stories…this is still one of the world’s great offshore races and our goal is to win. This will be challenging indeed as there are four other SuperMaxi’s queued up for the dash to Tasmania including Jim & Kristy Clark’s new Comanche which is aiming to knock off the most decorated winner in the race history – 7 time line honors winner, Wild Oats. Also on the starting line will be the Perpetual Loyal (ex Rambler100 and Speedboat). The last time I saw that boat was from an RNLI Lifeboat that had rescued us off the 100 footer’s overturned hull in the Irish Sea. Suffice to say that will be a moment for reflection when I see that boat again.

Although we would love Rio100 to be first into the barn – the odds of that are low – as our SuperMaxi competition all sport canting keels and daggerboards. But if the conditions are a light to moderate run – Rio100 will certainly be a force to reckon with for line honors. But this race is not known to be a sleigh ride and realistically our goal is success on the handicap front – as the big guys will owe us about 15% of the elapsed time … so in a 2 day race the canters will owe us over seven hours.

So don’t be looking for us to take any big fliers straight out of Sydney Harbor – this race has plenty of twists and turns – and it can often be good to be at the low end of the rating spectrum. In my first and only Hobart Race – we were leading the Volvo fleet coming to the famed Tasman lighthouse on the southeast corner of Tasmania – where the rhumbline turns 90 degrees westward for the final 45 miles into the finish line – when the breeze shut off for a few hours and we had a full on restart with the whole Volvo fleet for the final sprint to the finish. On Rio100 our goal will be to sail well, avoid any major mistakes – keep the boat together and stay safe.

The list of navigators on some of the biggest boats is pretty impressive. Ian Moore, Stan Honey, Juan Vila, Tom Addis to name a few. And like them, I’ve done my homework – studying the race track – past history and current weather cycles. But I did do something recently that will hopefully give the Rio100 an edge. I recently sat down with Jim Kilroy who considers the Hobart Race as one of the two great races on the planet. He gave me a lot of great tips based on his successful races aboard Kialoa – I’ll keep them to myself for the time being – just suffice to say that Jim gave me an early Christmas present!

I am now in Sydney, and while it’s always tough to be away from loved ones during this holiday, it looks like the start of the race will be broadcast live on the internet. So at least they can watch one of the coolest spectacles in sailing – five 100 footers racing with a 100+ boat fleet out of beautiful Sydney Harbor.

Diagrams of the five 100-foot SuperMaxis courtesy of Southern Spars

Photos of Rio100 by Andrea Francolini

Background: One hundred seventeen teams have entered the 628 nm Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Starting on December 26, the fleet exits Sydney Harbor and heads down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait, then down the east coast of Tasmania. At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final sail up the Derwent River to finish in Hobart.

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