|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(15-12-2005) Two years ago, the 98-foot New Zealand maxi Konica Minolta was the gun boat of the Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race, her only rival Melbourne maxi Skandia.
Skandia featured the latest in canting keels and electronic winches, while the more traditional fixed keel Konica Minolta relied on manpower and water ballast, yet no-one could tell which was the faster technology. The two boats literally match raced each other all the way to Hobart, with neither able to establish dominance.
In 2004 Konica Minolta was again one of the gun boats in the Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet and was in the lead when she fell off a huge wave and was forced to retire off the Tasmanian coast with structural damage.
Today, Konica Minolta was back out on the track against the latest canting keeled maxis, in the first day of the 2005 Rolex Trophy – Rating Series. This time her rivals are Alfa Romeo, launched six months ago, and the weeks old Wild Oats XI.
This time, by the end of the first leg, a short two and three quarter nautical mile beat to windward in light winds and flat seas, it was already becoming shockingly clear just what a quantum leap in boat speed the last 12 months of technological development has produced.
Konica Minolta rounded the first mark almost six minutes behind front runner Alfa Romeo. By the end of the brief three leg course, after an hour and a quarter of racing, the gap had widened to eleven minutes.
Make no mistake, Konica Minolta is still a supremely fast yacht. But these new boats seem to have a whole extra gear. At the big end ocean racing has entered a new era.
Of course the price that Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats XI have had to pay for their blinding speed is complexity. By comparison, Konica Minolta is a model of simplicity. She has nothing like the computer and hydraulic systems of her rivals and the only part of her hull that moves is her rudder.
In the flat waters off Sydney today complexity won hands down.
How will it go in Bass Strait?