Sydney Hobart: An off year for the 100s

Published on December 1st, 2020

While every one of the 89 teams that start the 76th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race deserve the spotlight, the maxi boats that face-off on the 628 nautical mile course have historically thrown a lot of shade on the fleet. However, much like everything else this year, the 2020 race will be different.

Due to travel restrictions, most of the 100-footers remain in the stable, but COVID-19 is the reason one of them will be vie for the elapsed title on December 26.

Peter Harburg had not planned on Black Jack’s return to Australia when he put the 100-foot super maxi on a ship bound for her new home in Monaco, but the coronavirus arrived with Europe hit extremely hard.

“We had a squad of five ready to go to Europe to take care of the boat,” explained Harburg’s skipper Mark Bradford. “But then the virus risk increased, so got we got a team to unload it and put it on a ship back to Australia. It’s a bonus we got to come back and have another go.”

On readying the yacht to race, Bradford explained, “Loads and engineering are such a big part of preparing – you have to go through it all again; you have to be as safe as you can; you need to understand loads and that takes a long time because it involves a lot of different equipment that can break if you don’t get it right.

“You also have to learn the changes that have been made to the boat. The bow modification was pretty significant. You have to keep up with the others – Wild Oats XI got better and better – so you learn how to sail the boat again. The fortunate thing is that last Christmas the level we prepared to was pretty high.”

Bradford concedes they are also missing some of their key crew. “Of the Kiwi guys who usually sail with us, Scott Beavis was the only one who could join us.”

The replacements include America’s Cup-winning Olympic gold medalist and world champion sailor, Tom Slingsby. Slingsby was in the afterguard of Perpetual LOYAL (now Christian Beck’s InfoTrack) when it took line honours and broke the race record in 2016.

And if the conditions are right, Black Jack, which took line honours as Alfa Romeo in 2009, could make it a second victory in a year where there is just one other super maxi entered: InfoTrack.

The two boats haven’t much in common. Black Jack is a 2005 Reichel/Pugh design, while InfoTrack was built in 2008 and comes from the drawing board of Juan Kouyoumdjian. Regular updates keep the boats fast and interesting.

“Black Jack is still the boat to beat in lighter wind. Our big advantage is in eight knots,” assessed Bradford. “Theirs (InfoTrack) is 20 plus knots.”

The two ‘supers’ will have slightly smaller but fast yachts keeping them honest: Thunderstruck, the Botin 80 formerly known as Beau Geste (owned by AUS 80 Pty Ltd and led by Grant Wharington) and Jim Cooney’s Volvo Open 70 Maserati.

“For sure those two could take line honors, but it would probably take some break downs on the 100s, or if it’s a traditional race (hard upwind), but the stars would need to align.”

Bradford admits that if it blew 25 knots the VO70 should be able to do it. “But then the risks go up in that breeze too. You can’t discount them though. Giacomo (a VOR 70) finished second over the line to Perpetual LOYAL in 2016 when the record went, so it can happen.”

But with so much time on the ship, Bradford’s team will need to lean how to sail again.

“We’re sailing again with a full crew. We haven’t done it all year, so we’ll have to remember how,” he said. “We’ll do more training and we’ll be rusty for sure, but it’s pretty much standard procedure. In 2005 we had no idea how to sail these types of boats, but we’ve had the best part of 15 years’ experience now.

“I’ve been pretty vocal in ‘don’t call the race off until you have to’, and I think it is the right path. It’s great for us, but more so for the event’s history. And it brings money into the marine industry – so I’m happy about that because it’s been tough for so many.

“Right now, I’m just happy to see there will be a good fleet on the start line.

“It’s disappointing not having Wild Oats XI in the race, but I understand the reasons why. We’ll miss the competition. And for Scallywag to get the owner and entourage in from Hong Kong makes it very hard. It’ll be quite different with just two 100s. The two have been close for a long time though, so it’ll still be a great race. InfoTrack’s just got better and better.”

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The 628nm Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be the 76th edition when it gets underway on December 26, 2020. From Sydney Harbour, the fleet sails out into the Tasman Sea, down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait (which divides the mainland from the island State of Tasmania), 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 the historic port city of Hobart.

Source: Di Pearson, RSHYR

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