Gear failure cripples crew’s Sydney to Hobart challenge
ONLY moments into the start of the 69th Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, with an impressive international fleet straining to take on the 628 nautical mile challenge, Rod Jones' Audi Sunshine Coast was forced to retire.
The 50-foot vessel, which had a host of Sunshine Coast sailors aboard, was on the front line in the thick of the action and racing in a 16 to 18 knots south-easterly, sandwiched between the super-maxis Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin 100.
Then disaster struck.
"Probably less than a few minutes after the start we heard a bang and the luff tension on the code zero (spinnaker) went," skipper Rod Jones said.
"We initially thought the code zero had failed. Just after that we realised that the external halyard fitting at the top of the mast had failed and after a little bit of inspection we realised then the halyard had torn down the side of the mast to the hounds. We ended up with a big split in the side of the rig.
"You wouldn't believe it. We actually replaced that particular fitting the other day with brand new gear.
"I am not implying that there was anything wrong with the gear. It's just one of those things. We did replace it, thinking 'we'll make sure that's all new'."
Knowing they had no choice about withdrawing from the race, the team got the boat back to dock at Sydney City Marine to inspect the damage with the possibility of a quick fix and then entering the boat in the Club Marine Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race starting on January 2.
"We now don't believe it's do-able (repair rig). We are going to pull the rig out of the boat tomorrow, but we think it will need a professional repair and I doubt we will get that done before the Coffs race," Jones said.
Helmsman Matthew Chew joked: "I achieved one of two Hobart goals. The start was exciting but I will have to do a finish in the next few years."
Jones was philosophical.
"The crew are subdued. It's a less-than-ideal way to go out of a race, especially so early.
"The guys have all been there and done that. It's just part of the cycle. Tomorrow is another day."
Recognising Audi Sunshine Coast as a fast boat with good Hobart handicap potential, the crew have already talked to Jones about delaying his plans to sell it, in order to try for another campaign in the Sydney Hobart race's 70th anniversary year.
Jones has the boat for sale with his sights set on getting back into one-design, possibly an MC38.
"It's a really good boat, but it's whether I have the mental energy to drive that campaign again the way that I have driven it for the last two years," Jones said.