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From the vault: Lindsay May, Navigator of Brindabella recalls the first time maxis battled it out on Sydney Habour.

The 50th edition of the Sydney Hobart in 1994 attracted what remains the biggest fleet on record: 371 boats. Many of the world's top maxiyachts had been shipped or sailed to Sydney for the showdown against the other big names. In some cases, the match-ups had been years in the making.

The scene was set then for the inaugural Canon Big Boat Challenge, with up to 15 maxis battling it out for 18 nautical miles around the Harbour's spectacular landmarks.

Lindsay May was aboard Brindabella, which stormed triumphantly home ahead of the foreign competition.

'What I recall was that it was a remarkable marketing initiative by Canon Australia who brought to yachting the colour and spectacle previously enjoyed by tennis and golf. Canon promoted the event and hosted a few hundred dealers and clients at the CYCA and on the water. Most of these executives had no idea how exciting yacht racing could be, until Canon opened their eyes.

There was a host of famous overseas maxis: Longobarda, Congere, Sorcery, plus locally skippered boats with overseas links, Exile (HK), Tasmania (formerly Grant Dalton's New Zealand Endeavour, winner 1993-94 Whitbread race), and Broomstick (South Africa). Ourselves, (Brindabella), Wild Thing. Bobsled and Hammer of Queensland were out there to ensure the overseas boats were really going to have to earn any bragging rights on the harbour.

It was a typical Sydney summer day with nor'easter written all over it. There was a lot of excitement on the dock with these maxis about to compete, but few of them had previously raced against each other, so form was unknown.

Brindabella, then at 75 feet, had suffered hull damage in the 1993 Sydney Hobart in her first hit out. Repaired, she had raced all season and crew and boat were match fit, but the unknown was Tasmania, chartered by Tasmanian Bob 'Beanhead' Clifford of Incat fame. A capable but wily yachtsman, demonstrated by his charter of this famous yacht.

A ketch being two masted, typical Tasmanian jokes were rife. As winner of the Whitbread Round the World race, where you settled down for long legs, how would she handle the short tacks and gybes dictated by the confines of Sydney Harbour?

Clifford had on board the cream of Tasmanian yachting and then some. Graeme 'Frizzle' Freeman and brother Julian, Chris Harmsen, Stephen 'Rowdy' McCullum, Ray Gumley, Craig 'Stringbean' Clifford, plus locals Bob Scrivenor as navigator and John Hanger' Harris. It was a very capable team.

The nor'easter built above 16 knots and the first beat to Manly saw a lot of short tacking. Brindabella back then had running backstays and the aft winches were underpowered, especially for short tacking duels. As navigator, my job was to throw off the lazy runner then start winching the new runner in. As one tailed, another crew would come back and help grind the runner back to full tension. Usually the runner was just fully on when it was time to tack. All crews were fully challenged.

Tasmania led the way until the last run from Manly back to Bradleys Head and the Opera House finish. As the big white-hulled ketch favoured broad gybe angles, Brindabella slid down the eastern shore.

Tasmania went way across into Obelisk Bay and when she gybed back onto port, it was visible we had a slender lead. With hearts in our collective mouths, Brindabella held off all that Tasmania's crew could throw at us, going on to win what was to be the first of five Big Boat line honours.

Tasmania went on the win the 50th Hobart. As both boats were engaged in an early morning speed duel, off Cape Raoul just 25 miles from the finish, Brindabella suffered a halyard failure allowing Tasmania to take the gun and avenge the Canon Big Boat defeat.

Editor's note: Well-known yachtsman and official City of Sydney photographer Ron Dunphy was also out for the much-anticipated race and captured all the atmosphere of a magnificent yachting spectacle. Thanks to the Ron Dunphy Collection.
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Author:May, Lindsay
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2016
Words:669
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