|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(18-12-2004) This year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is so many races within the race. Sure, every skipper and crew is out there to beat every other combination, but there is that special satisfaction from being number one in a fleet of identical boats. These will be contests for the aficionados.
There is another one design contest in the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart, but you don’t have to be an aficionado to follow it. This one design class is all about speed, adrenalin and hanging on.
As in past years the V60 perpetual trophy donated by Seriously Ten co-owner John Woodruff will be up for grabs for the first Volvo 60 into Hobart, but this time it won’t be a battle between just a couple of boats, but a real contest between five of these monsters. This is the most V60s to compete since the Hobart was a leg of the Volvo Round-the World Race in 2001.
The five Volvo 60s competing this year are Andrew Short Marine (Andrew Short), Seriously Ten (John Woodruff, Eric Robinson), Indec Merit (David Gotze), Nokia (Steve McConaghy) and DHL Getaway Sailing (Andrew Lygo).
Designed for the worst the southern ocean can throw up, the V60 design has proven exceptionally successful in the rugged waters off the Australian East Coast. These boats are fast. A Volvo 60, Nokia, smashed the race record in 1999, and despite the best efforts of some seriously rich men in seriously state of the art supermaxis, that record still stands.
“As the wind builds these things just lift out of the water and go faster,” says Andrew Short, owner/skipper of Andrew Short Marine. “You pump in the water ballast and the steering lightens up. The faster you go the easier they are to steer.”
“They’re not made to bounce along the top of the ocean like the maxis,” quips John Woodruff of Seriously Ten. “They carry an enormous area for there size. It is all about changing gear. Put as much sail up as you can and keep it there.
“He who wilts first comes last.”
It is a skiff mentality, and when you talk to V60 owner that is the overriding impression you get. They are willing to pay the big bills that go with a 60 foot yacht because they are just so exhilarating. Like a big skiff.
Yet despite the macho rhetoric and the phenomenal speed these boats can reach (they have been clocked at better than 30 knots) the V60 sailors insist they are the ideal safe boat to go the Hobart in. “They are built so strong. In wild conditions you couldn’t be in a safer boat and yet still win line honours,” says Short.
But you can’t have it all
By modern ocean racing standards these V60s are heavy boats. They need a good breeze to get going. The V60 skippers all figure they are in with a chance of line honours, but it will have to be a tough, windy race.
“The windier it gets the faster we go, while the more fragile bigger boats have to get their sails off and start slowing down. If we get a serious blow those bigger boats that hang on will have to battle with the V60s to be first across the line. But if the wind is light the maxis will hold together and it will be a procession,” Woodruff concedes.
Big sails and high speed in strong winds also puts another pressure on the class.
The forces on the hull and rig are enormous. It takes just 15 seconds to load one of them up with two and a half tonnes of water ballast. Think of that. Forty-five seconds to pump the water from one side of the boat to the other when you tack. There aren’t enough crewmembers to conventionally manhandle down the enormous spinnakers they fly. You have to set up a special rig to get them down, and dismantle it when you gybe and put it all back together again.
Forty Seven tonnes of pressure on the bottom of the mast translates into 22 tonnes of stress on the backstays. Breakages and mistakes can be potentially lethal. So the crew has to know what they are doing. “The hardest part (of campaigning a V60) is finding a crew that won’t hurt themselves. Who are aware of the stresses and strains,” says Woodruff. “You can’t just take sailors off other types of boats and go to Hobart. We have three key guys who have raced V60s around the world a couple of times, and all the other crew have sailed on the boat at least a year.”
The crew on Andrew Short Marine is equally experienced, boosted by renowned international navigator Adrienne Cahalan and Jacques Vincent, who was second helmsman on Djuice in the last Volvo round the world race.
The pool of sailors with enough of that sort of experience is small. They tend to be snapped up by America’s Cup syndicates and round the world campaigners.
Which is probably why this 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet is something special. “If this were an America’s Cup year or a round the world race year I don’t think we could find enough people for five V60s. So this is a one off,” says Woodruff.
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