Matt Allen’s new TP52 Ichi Ban has been declared the overall winner of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2017 – and Allen, the president of Australian Sailing, can hardly believe it.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s been 34 years since we won on Challenge II with Lou Abrahams,” said Allen, who was Abrahams’ boat captain. “In 1992 I finished second with Morning Mist (Alf Neate) – but this is special, because it’s my boat,” he said after beating Bob Steel’s Quest to the punch by just over 20 minutes, and Tony Kirby’s Patrice by an hour.
Among the pre-race favourites, the Sydney yachtsman has personally won a multitude of yachting trophies with his variety of Ichi Bans (translates to No 1 in Japanese), but not the Tattersall Cup, although he has come close a couple of times. Last year after featuring in the top two throughout the race, the fickle Derwent decided otherwise, taking its toll on a few boats.
His last Ichi Ban (originally known as Shogun V and sailing this race as Envy Scooters Beach Ball 52) finished fifth last year and his Jones 70 was fifth in 2007.
“I’ve been planning this race since about 2001. I’ve built a number of boats, including the Farr 52, and in a way the Volvo, to do it. Then I built the 60 footer (Carkeek designed), then bought the original Shogun and modified it.
“This time I tried to find a boat that fits the formula and could compete in lots of conditions,” he says of his new TP52, unwrapped in October in time to convincingly take line and overall honours in the Newcastle Bass Island Yacht Race.
This boat is built lighter than her fellow TP52’s. Allen says: “The first thing I built this boat for was to go ocean racing - and especially the Rolex Sydney Hobart – it’s the premier event – everyone follows it and knows the winners of this race. It’s been a long held passion to win it – I did my first in 1980 at the age of 17.
Allen says putting the right crew together is absolutely critical: “Gordon Maguire and myself have been sailing together since 2002 - and I originally sailed with Hicko (the late Roger Hickman). You have to get it right and have the right sort of ingredients for solid camaraderie.
“The guys just worked so hard. When we had to put the pedal to the metal, we had to steer the boat at high speeds without comprising the integrity of boat.”
Going into the first evening, Ichi Ban had a bit of a margin on her contemporaries, but next morning the crew blew out the A3 and A6 (reaching and heavy air spinnakers respectively). “It slowed us down,” Allen concedes.
“With our backs against the wall, we had to come up with the goods to bring the boat the home.”
So Ichi Ban sailed under fractional Code Zero for a little while, but her angle was high, her earlier gain evaporated.
“It was kind of restarting our race. 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 and to a point where the A4 is pretty marginal.”
Allen says Ichi Ban was quite wide, a fair way east of Tasman, where they were expecting a good shift. It eventually came: “We were able to drop the A4 and replace it with the fractional Zero, which allowed us to come in really hot to Tasman.
“That’s when Youngster (Anthony Merrington) drove like he was stealing a car. There was so much water coming over the boat that you couldn’t see. Youngster just had to feel the boat and he pushed it so hard and we bore away to the Island.
“Bubsy (Wade Morgan) also did a phenomenal job of driving in tough conditions. These guys are unbelievable.”
Allen said he and sailing master, Gordon Maguire, talk to each other all the time. “Most times we know what the other is thinking – we debate things sometimes - but we kind of knew that we had to put it out there and manage the boat.”
The yachtsman remembers having to push hard to regain their lead, praying they would not get another gear failure along the way – Quest and others were firmly in the running – they could not afford any more hiccups.
“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, not knowing then…
“We didn’t do that with the A6 and it failed,” allows Allen, who has been an executive of the Australian Olympic Committee since earlier this year.
While he waited for confirmation of overall victory, Allen was over the moon to realise Ichi Ban had broken the 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.
Ichi Ban has also finished second overall in the ORCi category, where Quest reversed the trend by winning. Third was the Italian Cookson 50, Mascalzone Latino owned by Vincenzo Onorato, but skippered by Matteo Savelli in his absence.
Full results at www.rolexsydneyhobart.com
By Di Pearson, RSHYR media
Photo above: CYCA Commodore John Markos, Matt Allen and General Manager of Rolex Australia Patrick Boutellier - ROLEX Studio Borlenghi