North Sails LOFT NEWS


Alby Pratt, Sales Manager of North Sails Australia, previews this offshore classic

© Andrea Francolini

The SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour is always a spectacular preview to the Rolex Sydney – Hobart Yacht Race (RSHYR) . Are you surprised that Black Jack took the win over Wild Oats?

It looks like Black Jack is a stronger boat upwind in lighter air and Wild Oats is stronger upwind in heavier air, probably due to the modifications that Wild Oats has done. The same applies downwind. Once upon a time, Wild Oats was a very strong light-air boat but she seems to have given some of that away. Mark Bradford and Vaughan Prentice from North Sails Brisbane both sail on Black Jack so they were obviously really happy to have won, but the SOLAS results shows a slight shift in focus for Wild Oats to optimize for the full range of conditions that they will see in the Sydney – Hobart.

The RSHYR is one of the pinnacle offshore races in the world and one of the biggest sports events in Australia – what do you think makes this event so special and why should it be on every offshore sailor’s bucket list?

There is a lot of history behind the race. This is the 73rd year; long enough to become a stalwart of offshore races. It is always a tough race-you know that you will get a range of conditions while you are out there. You are also pretty much guaranteed to be going upwind in heavy air at some point during the race; 30 knots plus for a period of time. And the smaller boats will likely see two weather transitions during the race so they will have to deal with two frontal systems, which makes it that much harder. When you do complete it, to have come through all that and arrive in Hobart the feeling of achievement is so much sweeter!

The Aussies are famously welcoming – what is the race atmosphere like on the ground in the build up, out at sea, and at the finish?

The race is a buzz around the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) with everyone getting ready and final preparations going on, but it is Christmas in a major city and the activity is more localized at the Sydney waterfront. That said because it is Christmas there is an awesome feeling of anticipation and fun; it is one of the things that makes it such a special event. There are quite a few boats from overseas competing this year, so there is a nice international feel to the whole event. When the race gets to Hobart it is crazy, as it takes over the whole city. There is no one who doesn’t know about it. Everyone has a boat they are rooting for, a friend competing, stories from their own experiences or they just get caught up in the arrivals and the achievements of each of the boats as they make it across the Tasman Sea. It’s a really cool arrival city and one that every sailor should have on their bucket list.

Any favorite memories of the race, as a spectator growing up or about racing yourself?

I always remember 1998 because it was such a hard race. Unfortunately six guys lost their lives and I remember how tough it was. We did get second overall, but I remember it more for the brutal nature of the weather that was thrown at us. In 2005 I sailed on Wild Oats and we won line honors. We also won on handicap and broke the record. We had only launched the boat three weeks before the start of the race and we were racing against Alfa Romeo who were race favorites. So for us to beat them and take the record was pretty exciting.

© Rolex / Daniel Forster

You will be racing onboard Infotrack, (which as Perpetual Loyal broke the race record in 2016). What are your expectations? Any insights yet on conditions and how this will impact strategy and sail choice?

Infotrack likes reaching, but it will be tough to beat LDV Comanche in those conditions as that is her sweet spot. If we get light air or any sort of transition where the boats are becalmed for a while, I think Black Jack will really come into her own. For all-round performance it is always hard to get past Wild Oats. It will be a really hard fight at the fastest end of the fleet.

We start monitoring the weather pretty much from 10 days out and look at how that is going to play into our sail inventory. We are always looking to take sails off to lighten the boat, but you get such a broad mix of conditions in this race that you end up using every sail you have. All teams monitor in the final prep day and start fine tuning their inventory.

The big boats take a lot of the headlines, but there will also be a battle for handicap winners, especially the Corinthian Class. Any boats you think we should be keeping an eye on? How does their preparation differ from the bigger boats?

The boats to keep an eye on for handicap are:

  • Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban, a brand new IRC 52
  • Khaleesi, DK46, Andrew Dally. Won the 90 mile warm up race in the SOLAS last weekend.
  • St Jude, Noel Cornish’s boat
  • The ‘little’ Wild Oats skippered by Troy Tindall cold also be a handicap champ
  • Concubine, Jason and Shevaun Ward’s Mills 45, which given the right conditions will be right up there.

Preparation isn’t dependent on size – we have the same priority to get all North Sails customers fully race ready and all their reefing, sail systems and sails working at 100% before they leave the dock.

We have very experienced North Sails representatives going across the Tasman on LDV Comanche, Ichi Ban, Wild Oats, Black Jack, InfoTrack, and Concubine. The ‘little’ Wild Oats (66 footer) is also going with a new North Sails inventory, so we have. Sailing onboard gives us first-hand feedback on anything we can be doing better for future.

@ Andrea Francolini
  • #GoBeyond