For Aussie Noel Cornish, Life Revolves Around The Race To Hobart—All Year
Noel Cornish will be sailing his twelfth Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race this year, the eleventh on his own boat, St Jude. We caught up with Noel to ask about his boat, his crew, and why this race is such a tradition.
Tell us a little bit about your boat and crew.
I had St Jude built in 2007 – it’s a Sydney 47. We’ve been campaigning it in the Rolex Sydney – Hobart Race and other races in the CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) since then. The crew is a group of experienced sailors. When we get on the water, we also have very good camaraderie, which makes such a difference, and they work really hard to try and win all the time.
What’s your history with the race and why is it so important?
I did my first Hobart in 1985. Then I got busy with work and family, so my bluewater sailing went on hold until I got closer to retirement and the children were grown up. I’ve sailed every race since 2008 on St Jude.
I do love this race. For me, it is a great adventure and something that from a very young age, I always looked at as a pinnacle of yacht racing. It is probably the one time in the year that I get seriously physically and mentally fatigued, which adds to the overall attraction. I do really enjoy that sense of being stretched. The fact that I have been able to take part in multiple races is a great thrill.
How do you prepare?
“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that my life revolves around this race. Basically, when I step off the boat at Hobart my mind starts turning towards next year’s race. You can’t really talk to the crew about it because everyone’s ready to get off the boat at that point, but for me it starts right then. I am thinking about it and doing things all year, and everything starts to ramp up in July when we do the Sydney to Gold Coast Race. We are always looking carefully at what else we need to do to be 100% prepared and at optimum performance.”
What do you think is the biggest challenge of this race and how do you look at tactics?
For me the greatest challenge is to get the boat perfectly prepared, sail it as well as we can, and just hope that we get some winds and weather conditions that suit the boat. When we get to Hobart, I want to feel that we’ve done our absolute best.
I know it’s not the same for everyone, but we go out to try and win. The fact that we don’t win isn’t because we’re not trying. Most people hope that they can win their division and get on the podium and we definitely try to do that. Your division is least affected by the weather because all the boats are in similar conditions. Then after that, you have to hope that one year it all comes together, and you can actually do better in an overall result.
How long have you worked with North Sails and what’s the biggest benefit?
I’ve had North Sails on the boat since it was built. Three years ago I developed a strong working relationship with Ron Jacobs, who has done a fantastic job getting peak performance out of the boat. He’s a very knowledgeable and experienced sailor and has great attention to detail. The sails are critically important to how a boat goes; the sails and rig need to be set up optimally, otherwise you have no chance. So, with Ron, we have been constantly making adjustments and testing them on the water. And I have no doubt that this work is the prime reason why the boat’s performance continues to improve.
You have 3Di Endurance in the NPV downwind sails. Have you noticed a difference?
“Honestly each time North Sails brings out a new product you can actually feel the difference. These sails are great, our performance continues to lift, and I’m sure North is already working on the next upgrade – I expect that next release will be even better.”
Do you have different sails for different races?
We have different mainsails for regatta and bluewater races. The bluewater races are generally in heavier conditions and we often need to reef more frequently. For headsails, we have choices to make before we load, depending on what we believe the prevailing weather conditions will be during the race. If you can leave some headsails behind that’s a bonus but really, it comes down to which spinnakers we’ll need in order to deal best with the conditions.
What is your final preparation like?
I like to have the boat completely ready to go to Hobart about a month out – I don’t like last minute rushed activities. In the last few weeks we make sure people are really familiar with all the safety gear, get the clothing and food on board, and run through check lists and make sure everything is as it should be. Then about four days before we go, we start seriously looking at what the weather patterns might be, and we watch the weather intently in those final days before the race.
You are the only boat this year to take a win off Ichi Ban – do you think you might be able to repeat that?
Matt Allen is an extraordinary sailor and runs an excellent program. I think the reason why that happened was because we had weather conditions that really suited St Jude. We always try to sail the boat as best we can, but you need a lot of good fortune too to come out on top of a competitor like Ichi Ban. On this occasion we had a long race predominantly on the wind, right in our sweet spot. It’ll be the same for this race; if we get every other element right, we are still going to need that element of luck right up until we get to the Hobart finish line.
Any final words?
I would like to thank everyone who is involved with St Jude. We have an amazing crew but there are also many other people who help us make the boat go fast. Sails and rig and all the various components that go into being prepared for a race like this are demanding at times, but that is part of the challenge. I really enjoy working with the people that help us make it all happen.