The Derwent: the goal that becomes a gaol

The Derwent: the goal that becomes a gaol
CHRISTOPHER DRAGON, Sail n: USA4304, Bow n: 43, Owner: Andrew & Linda Weiss, Country: USA, Division: IRC & ORCi, Design: Sydney 43 Mod - Protected by Copyright

The Derwent takes prisoners. You can be on your best behaviour but this river doesn't believe in early release, for anyone.

This is the story of Helsal 3 and the American boat Christopher Dragon.

The recidivist Helsal 3 learned the hard way this morning. It took her a full eight hours to cover the 11 nm from the Iron Pot to the finish line.

“We sailed a blinder to Cape Raoul, but from Cape Raoul onwards it lightened off and by the time we turned into the river we knew we were gone,” skipper David Stephenson said.

“We knew what we were in for, we could see it.”

At least the crew on Helsal were locals. They’ve been on the Derwent before and knew what to expect. For five of those eight hours, they shared the Derwent agony with a boatload of newcomers on Christopher Dragon.

Visiting Americans Andrew and Linda Weiss brought their boat halfway round the world only to be met by the enigma that is this river.

The Weisses live in New York, keep the Sydney 43 Christopher Dragon there and race it, very successfully, on the US east coast. In fact, in 2015, only Comanche beat them in the Block Island Race week, which is a series of races.

Andrew and Linda decided to ship their boat to Australia for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. They had to ship it 1200 nm to Palm Beach to put it on an international freighter on October 20 bound for Newcastle. When it arrived on December 12, they had to sail the yacht to Sydney to prepare for this ultimate ‘bucket list’ race. It was a highly-fancied entry.

Christopher Dragon crossed the line just before 1130 today, 33rd to finish, released by the Derwent after five hours from the Iron Pot, 11 nm away. They had rounded Tasman at 2230 last night, so it took them 13 hours to cover 40 nm to get home.

What else happened? They lost a spinnaker halyard, split their racing mainsail, took it down, repaired it, put it up again, it lasted 80 miles, split again, took it down, ran up their spare, a smaller main. They tore one spinnaker and lost engine power last night but the batteries were charged enough to enable them to make all their radio skeds and see her home.

“All that hurt us a bit. It was not the best thing to happen to us,” Andrew Weiss said.

“It was a fun experience. It took us half way round the world to get here but it was a great race, doing it.”

Will they come back?

“I guess we’ll come back. It’ll take a little bit,” he said.

Back to Helsal.

“We had been looking at Hobart from 26 miles down,” Stephenson said.

“We were stuffed for 26 miles. You’ve got to overcome frustration, because you go onto one tack and put one set of sails up and you go onto another tack, use another set of sails, and we still weren’t getting anywhere.

“The only good news was we knew the other boats were in the same situation, and that’s what sailing is about.”

This race seems to have been a litany of shredded spinnakers, among the synthetic ribbons scattered across the Tasman are a couple from Helsal and Christopher Dragon.

“We shredded a couple of old spinnakers,” Stephenson said. “In the end, we put the spinnakers away and ran with the staysail and jib top, to make life easier at night, and even then, we were doing over 20 knots,” Stephenson said.

By Bruce Montgomery and Jim Gale, RSHYR media