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J Composites 2022 - J99 LEADERBOARD

Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race: TP52 sailors prepare new boat in record time

by Greta Quealy 29 Jul 23:53 BST 30 July 2022
Zen is one of the 10 TP52s competing in the race © Bow Caddy Media

Two months ago, getting to the start line for the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race on Saturday July 30, seemed near impossible for Mark Spring and his team on 'Highly Sprung'.

Spring bought the TP52 (formerly 'Stay Calm Hungary') in late May. After five years of offshore racing, he and his team decided it was time to graduate from the Beneteau First 45, also named Highly Sprung, after they won their division in the 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on IRC and ORCi.

The TP52 needed some serious work. Spring and his team also had to get up to speed and learn to sail the TP52, a different beast to the Beneteau in terms of speed and technology.

"I remember saying, 'Gold Coast... really? Do you think we'll get there?' And of course, we have," Spring said.

This Saturday Highly Sprung, representing the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), will join 60-plus yachts and nine other TP52s for the 384nm journey north to the finish line off Main Beach on the Gold Coast.

Gordon Ketelbey, on the helm of TP52 Zen, is looking forward to a strong turnout of TP52s.

"The great thing about this race is that we've got such a large division of TP52s. It's going to be pretty fast and furious [racing], although maybe not wind wise," Ketelbey said.

The event is back on the racing calendar after a two-year hiatus since 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the first of the CYCA's six-month Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore - a series of offshore races that finish with the iconic Sydney Hobart on December 26.

Spring credits his boat captain and Sydney Hobart veteran Andrew Pearson (who has a couple of Hobart wins to his name on TP52 Quest), Patrick St John (Highly Sprung's navigator for the 2021 Sydney Hobart), and bow person Scott Poole, among others, for getting the yacht into peak condition in such a short space of time.

"I mean, the amount of work they have done is just phenomenal," Spring said.

Spring's core crew from the Beneteau have moved across to the TP52. To assist with the seven extra feet and added technical challenges of sailing a TP52, Pearson has recruited several "seriously, seriously experienced" crew members to help ensure a safe passage north.

It's been a steep learning curve for Spring and his crew, transitioning to "the Ferrari of the racing game". Despite having the least experience in the highly competitive and established TP52 fleet, which includes Sydney Hobart 2021 Tattersall Cup winners 'Ichi Ban', the Highly Sprung crew are going to give it their all.

"We're so pumped, so excited because we're in this infamous TP52 class," Spring said. "We've got no expectations around how we'll go. For us, really, this is about getting to the Gold Coast safely. There is a competitive spirit amongst us all, but this is about competing in this class and just seeing how we do."

The team are hoping to use the weather forecast of "having a lighter breeze coming in different directions" to their advantage.

"It'll be a complicated race now rather than a blast [of wind predicted in an early forecast]. We've got some tactical people on the boat. With the boat being new to us and us being relatively new to each other - we're happy about tricky conditions."

The crew aboard Zen, are also prepared for a tactically challenging race.

"It's going to be a really, really tricky race. The navigators, in particular, are going to have it absolutely cut out," Ketelbey said. "There's two ways to go north. Either you go in and chase the land breeze or you go out and get bumped by the current and take whatever wind is out there.

"Someone is going to guess the right way and get it right, and they're probably going to clean up. Hopefully it's us."

This race will give the Highly Sprung crew experience for the races ahead. After completing the Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, the team will continue to Hamilton Island for Hamilton Island Race Week on August 20-27, which Spring dubs as the "world's greatest regatta". Then, it's back to Sydney for smaller offshore races in the lead-up to the Sydney Hobart.

The only downside of racing the TP52, according to Spring, is the food arrangements. Weight minimisation becomes crucial in a tightly-matched fleet like the TP52 class. As a consequence, there will not be a designated 'chef'. Instead, the crew will dine on "ready-packed cardboard meals for brekky, lunch and dinner".

But at least they'll beat majority of the fleet to the bar at Southport Yacht Club, with an estimated arrival time of Monday evening.

"We'd been watching these guys [on the TP52s] for five years now, passing us on the way back [during offshore races]. And we'd be like, 'They'll be having dinner at 7pm with a glass of wine and we'll be there at 4am.'

"But now, if we sail the boat well, we're going to get up there at least amongst the first bunch of people. So, no doubt, speed to the bar is very important."

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