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Ocean Crusaders tale of racing J-Bird in the 2023 Sydney to Hobart Race

by Ocean Crusaders 16 Feb 16:49 GMT
Ocean Crusaders J-Bird 2023 Sydney to Hobart Race © Craig Greenhill /

Having completed the race last year 2 handed, this year we opted to go fully crewed. For most TP52's, that means 14-15 crew, however with limited berths inside due to the galley and nav station fitout, we race with 12 people.

Our crew were a mixture of people from the northern regattas, a couple of Doyle Sail makers and some other Sydney crew to top up. One of the crew was Craig Greenhill who I sailed with back in 2010 on Brindabella. He runs Salty Dingo, a media company and he was to double as a sailor and photographer, covering the race from onboard and giving exposure for the boat.

There are two major keys to a successful Hobart for me. One is to have the boat as best prepared as possible. Without the tools, the crew can't do their job. And the Crew are the other key. Having a crew that knows the boat and can push it. On Boxing Day, my overwhelming feeling was we were under done with both. We definitely hadn't trained enough, and as we ordered some sails way too late, we didn't get them early enough to train with them and know them.

However, it was with excitement that we headed off on Boxing Day to a start line that the 6 first time Hobart competitors will never forget. The weather forecast was so undecided that we had no idea what we were going to get so the main plan was just to get south as quickly as possible.

30 minutes before the start, there was a massive downpour and that allowed the wind to shift Easterly. So when the start gun went, we chose the wrong side of the harbour. Locals will tell you that in an easterly you run the Eastern shoreline. We found ourselves down the other end and for a change, the maxi's were up the other end. We lost out quite a lot at the start but still rounded the first mark ahead of a few and then headed east. The wind died out, however the crazy chop from the spectator fleet was with us. We chose to go way east and hence the seaward mark for us was irrelevant.

After a while we headed south and eventually launched our A3 spinnaker. The rest of the afternoon we sailed south, heading offshore a bit towards the current. A few clouds changed the wind around and at one stage we had boats sailing the same way but on opposite tacks. At one stage we even sailed right up to the stern of Smuggler (another TP52) and they went one way, we went the other way. Hindsight says we should've gone their way as the next morning they were 60nm in front of us.

That night we experienced one of the most crazy electrical storms I've ever been in. With pouring rain and shifting winds, we even isolated the batteries at one stage as lighting was hitting the water all around. A boat nearby, Sticky, got hit and they saw their wind wand fall in the water, in flames, beside them. We eventually went west and finally sailed out of it and then headed south once again.

It was a long night so the next day, when we had sunny skies and calm seas, it was time to catch up on rest and prepare for the next bit which would be the Westerlies of Bass Strait. Our routing showed that we needed to head west of the rhumb line to get to the Westerlies quicker and have a better angle across the strait. In my tiredness, I forgot to check the currents and ended up taking us past the good current and into adverse current. We saw a lot of boats go down the coast to the east of us because of this, losing time to Antipodes, Chutzpah and a few others.

At this point I was cursing myself, but there was a long way to go. Eventually the winds filled in and by mid afternoon day 2 we were actually showing as leading our division. This certainly fired us up and we started to push harder. The forecast was showing that we were going to run from a westerly to a southerly around the top of Tasmania. Sure enough, in choppy and messy seas, we had a very abrupt change of direction, so much so that Stacey Jackson on Bumblebee V, that was cruising up behind us, radioed us to see if we were O.K.

We finally got consistent Southerlies and so the tacking upwind began, again, trying to get south as quickly as possible at all times. That night it started going a bit South West and that allowed us to once again head direct to the goal, which at this time was Tasman Island. As we approached Tasman Island, we were once again leading our division. Alive, the RP66 that won the race, did so well we had no chance of winning the race overall, so the next thing was to try and win our division.

One of the keys to us being so competitive was the ability to 'change gears' quickly and efficiently. This was thanks to the new Harken Furler on our bow. As some of you maybe aware, in last years race we had our furler fail at the Sydney heads. Well the upgraded Harken Furler performed so well and changing the size of our headsail was simple and easy and allowed us to keep the boat performing well. And we do this without sending someone up the front of the boat. Also the reefing system for our Doyle main is excellent and being able to put reefs in and out so quickly helps keep the boat performing at it's optimum.

Division 1 is full of TP52's and similar sized boats. The boats we were leading were Smuggler, Celestial (winner overall in previous race) and Caro (the red hot favourite for this race and winner of the 2023 Fastnet Race)To even be in this company was awesome for a boat that we had rebuilt ourselves and with an amateur crew. So our motivation was very high to keep pushing. We needed the wind to be favourable across Storm Bay and into the Derwent in order to get the division win. Unfortunately, that wasn't the forecast, and for the first time all race, the forecast was actually correct. It was upwind all the way to the mouth of the Derwent and entering the river, we were now in a race to hold onto third from Caro. To beat Caro would be amazing and we were also trying to keep Frantic, another TP52 behind us at the same time.

Up the river and the wind was moving and as we approached the last mark of the course, the John Garrow Shoal, we were taken wide of this and had to go on a wide tack. This cost us third and we eventually missed out on that podium position by just 5 minutes on handicap.

However we had earned the respect of our division, beaten 2 TP52's home and a few other boats in our division. Finishing 4th in what I believe is the most competitive division in the race, we have to be proud of that. But what made us so proud was that the crew all partied together and even the day after, were all still together. It is testament to a good team, that we all wanted to stay together. It's something we spoke about before the race and it came off.

Overall, the campaign was a huge success for what we want to promote. We have proved that you can be competitive in an older boat that is carrying renewable powered propulsion. We did it as sustainably as possible and we did it with a crew of good people.

Annika once again claimed the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy as first female skipper home, the second year running. Unfortunately, the competition were all on much smaller boats. Hopefully that changes over time and whilst there were more women in the race than ever before, we need more women owners/skippers, especially at the top.

We've also got to say a huge thanks to all of our supporters. The footage coming off the boat from Salty Dingo was excellent and the images in this article are all from them. Doyle Sails have once again have gone above and beyond. Not only did we have Charles (Doyle Quensland) and Garth (Doyle Sydney) onboard, the support from Shane at Doyle Australia was again superb. The team at Harken/Spinlock Australia were once again amazing, providing parts for us at the last minute, delivering the items to the boat to save us time driving. And as mentioned above, the Harken Mark IV furler was the purchase of the year.

Gill Marine are our new clothing supporter and kept us warm and dry whilst the Blue Lithium Battery System continued to provide enough power to cook meals and run our electronics all without starting any generators. The Bellmarine Drive and Solbian Solar Panels supplied by EcoBoats Australia are running faultlessly and the boat is holding together beautifully thanks to all the products by Gurit. Our B&G gear is still awesome and even when we were tired, the different color numbers on the Nexus displays are so much clearer for longer. And finally, the boat was looking so good with the new name on the side by Boatnames Australia.

As I write this, the boat is already back in Queensland, sitting at the Southport Yacht Club as we will be doing the Surf to City in early February before lining up for the Brisbane to Gladstone at Easter and then heading north again for Airlie Beach Race Week, the home of not only the best regatta in Australia, but the official home of J-Bird and Annika and my unofficial home. The support we receive from the Whitsunday Sailing Club is so amazing.

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