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Classic Yachts: Racing with Royalty

Published on May 20th, 2021

Over 60 years old, the 43-foot Philip Rhodes designed timber classic yacht Fair Winds is a well-known beauty that stays active in Australian sailing. Her skipper, Mark Chew, is pretty well known too, in part for his skill at assembling sentences. Chew shares a recent outing which checks so many boxes of why sailing is a sport like none other:

As with all things involving our Fair Winds crew, the weekend began with a knock-out dinner and about 37 bottles of our finest.

THE EVENT: Great Veterans Race – May 15, 2021
LOCATION: Cruising Yacht Club of Australia – Rushcutters Bay, Sydney
WEATHER: 11-18 knots, South West gusting to 30-35 knots
ELIGIBILITY: All boats must be Single Hulled, built prior to 1976 and have competed in a Sydney to Hobart (or at the invitation of the Organizing Authority, aka be friends of Fair Winds).
COMPETITORS: Enough Classic Royalty to fill a commemorative tea towel.

When it comes to travel, we tend to move en-masse. We sail en-masse. Drink and eat en-masse. And sleep, well….in apartments and/or on the boat.

So, with an Airbnb organized, literally as close as you can get to CYC without being arrested, the weekend began with G&T’s, followed by a small, yet Sydney steep stroll up a hill to an Italian bistro where, even on a cold night, you can order pasta to be ferried out to your table on the street, under a Morten Bay Fig and put all that’s wrong with the world, right.

Later, those who’d been up the hill were to discover that the CYCA bar closes happens to close unreasonably early, so additional bottles of plonk would need to be secured allowing the discussion to continue back on the mothership.

Fair Winds is good like that and it was down below were attentions soon turned to tactics, a race the following day, and a forecast for excessive and building wind.

It must be observed that standing on the deck shouting farewells across the marina at midnight found there to be not a breeze and the sky, completely clear. The strong wind warning for the morrow was playing hard to get.

During the Sydney 2000 Olympics, with a two year old in a pram and a four year old focused on an ice-cream, I begged my way into CYCA to make sure I could be on the marina to cheer Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell back in moments after winning their Gold Medal in the Women’s 470s. Nothing was going to stop me getting my hat signed and shedding tears of joy along with everyone else lining the wharf.

If you cast your mind back to that time, do you remember the magic? We walked a little lighter, the sun shone a little brighter, the world was a different place and CYCA was on emotional fire. The buzz. The glory. The fizz of the place. It was so alive, so real, so electric. And yet somehow, CYCA managed to soak up and retain the vibe. The old girl still keeps the verve.

Perhaps it’s the sight of kids racing down the pontoons after school and throwing on lifejackets and jumping in dinghies; or the fact the location is circled by the perma-fit and beautiful of the harbor town. Or perhaps it’s the fact this is the club that hosts the world’s greatest, most legendary event – The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

Just walking past the Rolex clock on the marina gives me a buzz. As does going into Sturrocks Chandlery – the ultimate lolly shop for sailors. Or watching CYCA boats get ready for a race – the detail, the professionalism, the serious passion they throw at ….their passion!

So here we were, waking up aboard Fair Winds, in the middle of Sydney, prepping, waiting to sail and race against a fleet of Australia’s greatest, ocean going, Classic Yachts. I’ve still got a smile on my face. It was fantastic. And yet as the day dawned even after eggs and avo – there was still no wind of which to speak.

The Airbnbers showed up, as did “Local Knowledge”, down for the day from Pittwater. He’s a good guy is “Local Knowledge”. He’s smart when it comes to weather, and he proved to be absolutely the right. He predicted that at 1300, 30 knots would hit us from the South West. And it did.

And so, we headed out of harbor. “Local Knowledge” advised us early on to play it safe and reef. Pussies? Maybe. Safety first? Always. And this close to Hamo who wants to snap the stick?

And then a large inflatable speeds past, a guy waves and we realize it’s – Andrea Francolini of the awesome lens and the photographer of two magazine covers featuring Fair Winds back in 2016. A shout and a circle and he’s back to work for the day. We’ll catch up for dinner and sake on Sunday – time spent in preparation is seldom wasted. Lock it in.

It’s one thing to cruise on the harbor – we’ve spent many, many years with kids and family and observing New Year’s Eve exclusion zones. It’s another to race around islands and use local landmarks as transits on the start line. This race would start under Point Piper.

And so, the wind built.

This was sailing as it’s meant to be, balancing survival against speed in a Pursuit Race, roaring over towards Manly, using Clarke and Shark Islands as rounding buoys.

We were eight on board. Two forward, four in the cockpit, helm and tactics busy calling bullets as they rolled out of the west and knocked us down. Strange how on a keel boat, knock downs are relative – we were watching others wide eyed only to reflect, that to them, we must have looked the same.

We had a blast. Boats were pulling out. Boats were passing us. The theory and practice of pursuit racing is to pass other boats. We didn’t do a lot of passing but were delighted to simply get around the course and finish.

Later we’d discover water down below in the spice rack. We’d drunk all the wine the night before so that wasn’t damaged.

But in all seriousness, the joy, the absolute pleasure of being out there amongst, so much beauty is hard to describe. Watching and learning from and admiring hundreds of collective years of boat design, construction, and sailing mastery – It doesn’t get much better.

And so how does one possibly celebrate, share, and debrief the experience? Easy. A four-course dinner for ten back on the Airbnb balcony where the ranks of the crew extend to having within us, our very own “chef and legend of food” – and that’s another story.

To David Champtaloup and the organizers, our warmest, most appreciative thanks. We loved every moment.

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