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“Could have. Might have…

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 15 Jan 21:00 GMT

...but second still feels pretty good. Epic Hobart." This was the message Lee Condell sent me after he and Lincoln Dews arrived aboard Sun Fast Racing. At one time they had been leading the two-handers, no mean feat when you consider some of the talent in the Division, then they'd slipped down to fifth place.

Sydney to Hobart is a long way on any boat, let alone a 30-something with just the two of you on board. I was keen to find out what had transpired during the trip on their Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, and Lee was good enough to tell me.

Now Rupert Henry and Greg O'Shea on the Lombard 34, Mistral, brilliantly won the Two-Handed Division. Fantastic race. Done a lot of racing together; good boat; went the right way. Tick, tick, tick. Any time you are tied to the quay, and the others are still at sea searching for wind, it definitely swings the corrected time pendulum your way. Well and truly. Congratulations to them.

Yet there are also many other cool stories from inside the battle. There were six Jeanneau vessels in the division, and they all finished in the top ten. One of these was Uprising, with Andy Miller and his son, Harrison, who had just turned 18, as the Skippers, and they finished in 8th position under IRC. David Henry (Rupert's Dad) is 78, and he completed the race on his Sydney 36 CR, Philosopher, with Stephen Prince as co-Skipper.

Transcendence Crento is another Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, and also a Father/Son combo in Martin and John Cross. They were up in the stakes early on, and crossed Sun Fast Racing's transom only some 200m astern of them, as Lee informed me. In this is also a bit of the tale of preparation, because Condell and Dews had a Symmetric bag on board, whereas Transcendence Crento did not, and their angles stayed wide, which is not so handy in a VMG running kind of race.

Condell and I had talked a lot about this with IRC not penalising you so much anymore for having a kite pole. Obviously the big sleds can garner up some huge boatspeed numbers, but as we saw, the four supermaxis were not really that far apart after a day and a half, and this speaks volumes as to the development of their respective hull forms/aero packages in the last few years to geo-fence the pack up a bit.

Still, back here in the more earthly LWL department, the quickest point between A and B remains a straight line. Deep is good. Great even. But too deep is way dangerous. Sun Fast Racing "...took a lot out of other boats in that deep running", as Condell explained.

A lot of effort had gone into their sail selection, remembering too that a Hobart is a 628nm Windward/Leeward. The wardrobe on board consisted of, "An all-purpose headsail, a heavy weather jib, storm jib, then Genoa and spinnaker staysails, a triple reef main, Code Zero, S2, A4, and light air J Zero. The latter is flown from the prodder of it's own cord, and is effectively a Code Zero, but in much lighter fabric. 10 knots true wind speed is tops and it sheets inboard further."

So if it had gone well early, what happened when the wheels fell off? They had been in position one or two under IRC, sailing the antifoul off the boat, and this included when it had turned into very cold, and very wet, as opposed to just very wet, from earlier on in the race. A tough time for decision-making, that's for sure. Up front you tend to sail in the one weather system these days, or the governance of it, whereas further back in the fleet it is more like the traditional two or three.

"It was the one time where we kind of took our focus off what others were doing. We made an assumption that there was only one option, which was just to stay on Starboard tack, the making board, and just keep the boat moving as quickly as we could. We did not pay attention to what was happening to the West of us, which was where the boats were lifting away", said Condell.

In the end this was magnified considerably, because those boats ended up making it close to Tasman Island when the breeze shut down and to subsequently then get around. 20 years ago at least, I can remember falling fate to the same issue, and can still hear me asking the Navigator, 'Which was the making board?' Oh the empathy... Should have gone in.

"What it demonstrates, is given all the aspects of what you're doing, you just can't take your eye off any one of them. You really have to keep on your game. We thought we were pushing the boat as fast as we possibly could into the breeze, and were just 15 degrees off where we wanted to be. Seemed like the right thing to just keep going. What we should have done was zoomed in on the AIS just to check what those West of us were doing. It would've been obvious pretty quickly that they were high pointing higher than we were."

"So where we were out wide there was nothing. I am pretty sure we were one of the longest without wind. Hip-nautic was out wider than us, so they were probably similar. It proved to be very expensive. It cost us hours. It would have been even worse had we not had the J Zero on board. Whenever there was a Zephyr of Wind, we got the boat moving. It really helped us to get back to Tasman Island probably quicker than others", reflected Condell.

We kind of touched on it before, and cold and wet is not a great way to spend a couple of days, but the surfing and the exhilaration of getting there can do wondrous things, and many a sailor is now getting older, not younger. Condell is no stranger to short-handed, and there's always a million things on your plate to deal with from running the boat, getting a sleep, getting a feed, charging the batteries, doing the sched, sail management, to doing manoeuvres. Honest sailors will admit they can get a bit fragile on more than one occasion.

So how tough was it, and how do you go with decision-making and analysing data and inputs from a myriad of sources? "I was less tired than I had been from some of the lead up races. I think the main reason was the first day and a half was easygoing, and we made a point of actually getting as much rest as we could in that time. It was all hand-steering, apart from manoeuvres, and we felt this was actually faster, given the conditions."

"Thinking about it now, a lot of it comes into the preparation. We set the boat up so that we could do transitions and sail changes easily without going bareheaded. We fitted the boat out in such a way that we could peel to anything from anything. It's where we thought we could help to make gains. Plus the 3300 is so balanced that running even under quite a lot of pressure isn't too difficult at all."

Have to be time to give a nod to the great Guillaume Verdier here. His double concave and additional stability hull form when heeled in the 3300 has proven itself to be quite the deal the world over, and with twin rudders ease of use and control are accentuated. Additionally, there is the super-buoyancy afforded by the scow-ish bow, and that is going to make a big difference in the troughs.

Condell commented, "The control we had was just amazing. I couldn't believe the bow didn't bury in some of the waves we went down. There was water shooting up three metres in the air, either side of the bow, but it didn't go down the mine."

It might have been easy to control, but because the troughs were steep you really had to be very careful about where you were pointing the boat to get down safely. It was incredible. Equally, in the smaller sets coming through you could actually get up and surf across the trough and up the back of the next wave.

"In the steep ones you pointed it down and hoped that the bow didn't bury itself, and you did not trip over it. We had just the one roundup, and it was actually remarkably gentle. At that point we put two reefs in quick smart, because we were clearly overpressed. We had 32 knots and even saw 36. That was enough with a full main. Having cars was great. We had some hand loops on the reef rings so that you could pull it down to clip it in, and marks on the halyard to drop to. Only 10 or 15cm to wind back on."

Having got through that first stage, Condell added, "It was a whole different ballgame once we got into the sea state when traversing between the mainland and Tasmania. I found that the most tiring by a significant margin was wearing a life jacket for days on end, and steering aggressively. My shoulders were absolutely killing me when we got to the finish. That was really uncomfortable."

The weight of the ocean jacket and PFD with harness may not seem a lot in the chandlery, but is significant when you are steering a lot. Condell said that he found it really tiring, and you have to remember too that this is aggressive steering both uphill and down, in a significant sea way, with very little break for two days at least before being becalmed. So five kilos on your shoulders and a million reps with the tiller is going to come to roost sooner rather than later.

Now you have cold, muscle fatigue, concentration, and chats to the voice in the head to deal with, so which is the toughest to handle? "No wind for seven hours was the hardest - utter frustration. We actually said to each other that as soon as you start to get frustrated, you take a break; change over and go below. In this way we could make sure that whomever was on deck and trying to eek out any boat speed was in the right frame of mind."

"It was pretty frustrating knowing how well we'd been doing up to that point, before the breeze dropped out. Countering the feeling that we could blow the whole thing and not be on the podium was so hard."

Obviously Condell was more than prepared for the mental game, and says he is even more aware of it now. Thing is, it has absolutely not precluded him from having another crack at it in the not too distant future. I think the 3300s have the potential to win, and naturally, I'd love to see that day, whether it's me, or one of the other boats."

So it definitely takes a lot of pieces to land correctly to win your division, fully crewed or not. However, I think that from watching the two-handers for two years now that you simply cannot make mistakes because you will get penalised. For sure this happens in the crewed event, but it seems to be that it's multiplied by having fewer hands being on board.

Condell also believes this to be true, but swiftly adds, "Also, the standard has lifted, to which I think everybody would agree. You had a lot more depth in the fleet than the previous year. Even the teams that had done last year have got much, much better."

Condell also highlighted just how well the Young 11, Pacman, was prepared, as in immensely stunning and so well set up. You also have navigators from big boats, Transat sailors (from minis to IMOCAs), graduates from France's short-handed academy, Class 40 winners - the list goes on. The attraction is well and truly there, as too is the high standard. I'm tipping 2023 will be another leap again.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's sites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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