Adventures Ocean Racing Yacht

Two from twenty-eight

A look back at the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart with the winning Ichi Ban skipper, Matt Allen. 

It’s been 34 years since I won my last Rolex Sydney Hobart. As a 21-year-old I won with Challenge II as the boat captain in my fourth race, and it has been a dream, like many fellow sailors to win since then, as a skipper.

This year in the Rolex Sydney Hobart I sailed my twelfth Ichi Ban, and the third I have entered in three years. My 60-footer finished sixth on handicap in 2015, the JV52 finished fifth last year.

This edition, a Botin 52, we purpose built in Spain specifically to win the race. When the new hull was combined with our existing offshore rig, the best crew I have ever sailed with, and seriously good conditions, it proved to be everything we had hoped and delivered a win for our team that we have been attempting since 2001.

We also set a new record for the fastest time by a conventionally ballasted record set and held by Brindabella (George Snow) in 1999 (by one hour 36 minutes) and the Under 18.5 metre yacht record set by Yendys (Geoff Ross) in 2008.

It really was incredible that you could go that fast in a 52-footer. It was some of the most exhilarating sailing I’ve ever done and it was just a great opportunity to push the boat so hard. It really was the best Hobart in terms of conditions I have seen in my twenty-eight races.

We all know that in yacht racing it isn’t always about skill. You have got to be good, but you have also got to be lucky.

We didn’t have the best start to the race, but we always knew that the Rolex Sydney Hobart is about way more than just the start. Going into the first night we had already made up ground and extended on those who we knew to be our competitors, including Quest who gave us no choice but to put the pedal down.

On the first morning, we blew out our A3 and our A6 leaving us with few options in what we knew was to be a race primarily downwind. With our backs against the wall, we had to come up with the goods to bring the boat the home. So we sailed under fractional Code Zero for a little while, but our angle was so high that we watched most of our earlier lead disappear.

Our race restarted again at this point. We waited for the wind to decline a little, reset the A4 and decided we needed to run it all the way until we got the right angle to gybe to Tasman Island in increasing speed. We really pushed the A4 to a point where it was very marginal.

The sailmakers reminded me when I had the A4 made that I took every cloth strength up a notch – so it was up-spec – extra cloth and upgraded with bigger patches, the foot built higher, even though it reduced the sail area a bit. The guys were amazed it didn’t fail. It’s a decision I made nearly a year ago, and one that I will never regret.

By this stage we were way east of Tasman when the shift we were expecting eventually came. We were able to drop our A4 and replace it with the fractional Zero, and we came in hot to Tasman Island.

That’s when Youngster (Anthony Merrington) drove like he was stealing a car as we bore away to the Island. There was so much water coming over the boat that you couldn’t see. Bubsy (Wade Morgan) also did a phenomenal job of driving in tough conditions.

To win the Rolex Sydney Hobart, as a skipper, is a lifelong dream, but the crew really made it all happen for me. They really are the best I have ever sailed with.

Gordon Maguire, the sailing master, and myself have been sailing together since 2002. You have to get it right and have the right sort of ingredients for solid camaraderie. The guys just worked so hard for the team.

Despite the speed that we had in some sections and taking time out of those around us heading into Storm Bay, at Garrow Light we parked with no wind at all. We sat there for 25 minutes, I know because we were all watching the clock. No one said anything, but you could tell that we were all thinking, “here we go again”.

Last year we were becalmed in a similar spot for five hours and watched the race slip through our fingers. Experiencing that as a team pushed us so hard to do everything we could this time around to make it right.

Ichi Ban’s course into the Derwent River

Probably one of the reasons Tasmanians are such great sailors is because of how tough the Derwent can be on you, but this Rolex Sydney Hobart was no different to the rest. You really do have to win each segment of the race, and your division to get the overall win. This year we had things go our way, and we drove it like we stole it.

To win the Rolex watch on top of the race itself is a serious bonus. It might be the most expensive watch ever purchased, but it really is worth every cent and every bit of time you invest, because it is such a tough and demanding race and every year it throws up something different.

Thank you to my crew, and all who helped with our campaign to make my record two from twenty-eight. I am already looking forward to my 29th in 2018.

Article by Matt Allen