|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(13-9-2006) In 1966 the 61-foot triple planked kauri yacht Fidelis crossed the Tasman Sea from New Zealand and showed the world some early Kiwi yachting magic when she took line honours and set a new record in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race that year.|
These days, in the era of high tech carbon wizardry and canting keels, Fidelis will be amongst the classic entries when she lines up for the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her line honours win.
Built in 1964, she’s already been well and truly pipped as the oldest boat in the fleet by Sean Langman’s 1932 built Maluka, but the two are expected to add a magnificent historical touch to the starting line up, and both are likely to stay on in Hobart for the Wooden Boat Festival in February 2007.
While the half model of Fidelis that hangs in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron attributes her design to Vic Speight, the man who commissioned Fred and Jim Lidgard to build her triple diagonal-planked kauri hull, most people now believe that the guiding hand behind her elegant lines belonged to the legendary Norwegian designer Knud Reimers. The only known sistership of Fidelis is a yacht called Bacchant which was designed by Reimers and is now in Wisconsin on one of the Great Lakes, having been taken there sometime after the second World War. Whatever the case, the design was a breakthrough.
Her racing career started with a line honours win in the Auckland to Suva Race of 1966. She then made her way to Australia to enter that year’s Sydney Hobart. Under owner Jim Davern, Fidelis did more than just get the gun in her inaugural Hobart - she set a new race record of 4 days, 8 hours and 39 minutes which was to stand for the next nine years.
The following year she broke the race record in the Auckland Noumea Race and returned to finish runner up on line honours in the 1967 Sydney Hobart.
During the eighties Fidelis was altered extensively and last year she underwent her second major refit. Shipwrights laboured to transform her from a stripped-out ocean racer into one of the fastest and most luxurious passage makers around. Teak decks, roller furling headsails and a classic teak fit-out complete with leather upholstery turn plenty of heads when Fidelis ventures out of her berth at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
Sydney yachtsman Nigel Stoke has owned Fidelis for more than a decade and skippered her in the 50th Sydney Hobart in 1994, placing first over the line and 9th in the 30 Year Veterans Division on corrected time. More recently he has cruised many times to Lord Howe Island for ‘Ned’s Beach Barbeque’ and contested this year’s Hamilton Island Race Week.
Befitting this grand lady, Stoke and his crew of eight won’t be packing freeze dried food for the 628 nautical mile trip south on Boxing Day, 26 December. Rather there will be printed menus and reheated gourmet fare. “We don’t do sandwiches on the deck,” laughs Stoke who featured in Vogue Entertaining magazine back in 1994 for his culinary choices at sea.
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has received 16 applications for entry so far, a positive indication that the fleet size could come close to equalling last year’s 85 starters.
The latest application in an outstanding line up is from a former overall winner, Ausmaid, in the 2000 race which means of the 16 applicants so far, three are former overall winners, Ausmaid, Terra Firma and Illusion, and one is a former line honours winner.
Overwhelmingly the applications so far are from boats built outside the last decade including Maluka, Fidelis, the 1975 built BSG, 1977 built Berrimilla and three launched during the 1980s – Katinka, Gillawa and Illusion.
“It’s very encouraging that we already have 16 boats with almost two months to go until entries close,” says CYCA sailing manager Justine Kirkjian.
“With the older boats like Fidelis, BSG and Illusion entering, it just goes to show that despite last year’s treble by the maxi Wild Oats XI, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is really any boat’s race for the Tattersall’s Cup,” she adds.
“Handicap honours are available to any entrant and history shows it would be extremely rare to expect two ‘big boat’ races in succession,” concurs CYCA sailing committee chairman Garry Linacre.
The newest boat in the fleet is likely to be Geoff Ross’ latest incarnation of Yendys, his fifth and the first grand prix yacht to be built in China at McConaghy International’s joint venture boat yard. Yendys is due to leave China mid October bound for Sydney (its namesake spelt backwards). Ross is a former overall winning skipper, taking the top honours in the 1999 Sydney Hobart with a previous Yendys.
Applications for entry close 3 November 2006.