Midnight Rambler has been a feature of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for many years and this year her skipper will keep a tradition going
Midnight Rambler has been a feature of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for many years and this year her skipper will keep a tradition going he tells OLIVIA PRICE
OFFSHORE: You’ve had about the same crew for 25 Sydney Hobarts - what keeps you together?
PSALTIS: Good question and sometimes you wonder (laughs). There’s eight of us, but six have done something like 126 Hobarts between us, and the other two have done theirs together. So the young guys are up the front, and there’s six of us down the back… well not quite exactly like that! We’ve been together for a long while, a lot of those guys were there in the 1998 Hobart. We’ve just got a core crew that understands the Midnight Rambler way, like it and enjoy it. We never cut a crew out as Hobart approaches to bring in a superstar. If you’re there for the season, you do the race. So it’s worked pretty well and we’ve won and lost a few races, but we’ve had a good time.
OFFSHORE: What is the Midnight Rambler way?
PSALTIS: Team work is everything, we have work days and I normally get the most glamourous guy to scrub the bilge and share around all of the horrible jobs. There’s no one that’s above anyone else. In watch systems, I know it’s silly at times, but other boats may look after their helmsman and give them more sleep. We don’t do that, though maybe to our detriment but there’s nothing worse than sitting on the bow on the rail and some guy down below is getting more kip than you. You can’t help but get annoyed with that sometimes, so we try to keep everyone totally equal. I think it just instils a team ethic where we are all looking out for each other.
OFFSHORE: This is your seventh Midnight Rambler - where did you start and what have you got now?
PSALTIS: We’ve had all sorts of boats, started with an old IOR Farr 40, which was a great boat. We won more races than we deserved to win because IOR was dead by then, we were racing much faster boats. We still did okay under IMS with the IOR boat. We bought a Hick 35 in December just before the 1998 Hobart, and managed to win that race in the horrendous conditions. The third boat was a North Shore 369, which wasn’t bad at all. We would have liked a tough Hobart with her because she was under sail area and really well built, and rated pretty well, but it was not to be. The Farr 40 came next that we did six Hobarts on. Even now I still can’t believe we did that many on a Farr 40! We spent a lot of time beefing it up; the bows and put a new bulb on it and changed it a number of ways, but it was still very wet.
Following that was the Kerr 40, which we’ve only just finished racing. We did four Hobarts on her I think and we won a lot of good races going north – we won our division several times in the Gold Coast Race and won the Ocean Pointscore and the Short Ocean Pointscore at the CYCA. Then I was meant to be retiring and got out of the game. I’d done 35 Hobarts by then, but things change and now I’m back into it with the Sydney 36. It’s not as sexy, fast or glamourous as the Kerr 40 but it’s still a pretty good boat. I’m finding that there’s some little tweaks and changes that the boat really reacts to and goes faster. They’re also a little bit more seaworthy. We’re all getting a bit long in the tooth now and it will still be tough, but she’s got just a nice mix of being seaworthy and still a bit of power in her.
OFFSHORE: Tell us about some of your first Sydney to Hobarts.
PSALTIS: My first six Hobarts as an owner/skipper, before any of the Midnight Ramblers, were on a light displacement IOR 30-footer called Nuzulu. If you got too many people off the rail at once, she would wipe out and fall over! The minimum possible stability has now been changed to 115 degrees, but back then we were young, dumb and crazy to get through it.
One thing we used to have a little more of, was a great comradery surrounding the race. It’s not as prevalent these days, and I think it’s a shame. The boats are much bigger and there are more paid hands on board. Back in the day we used to have bets with crew and have kegs on the boat that loses where all the crew on both sides would get involved and get stuck into an 18-gallon keg. I’m trying to resurrect it this year, we’re the second smallest boat, which is amazing because 36-footer used to be a mid-sized boat back 20 years ago. There’s a Sydney 38 called Cinquante, and we’ve got the 18-gallon bet with them to drink on the losing boat, and the whole crew will be on the dock together celebrating together. I think it’s a shame that some of that comradery has gone, and I’m old fashioned so I’m looking forward to doing that again.
OFFSHORE: Midnight Rambler won the race overall in 1998. What’s changed on the safety and race management side?
PSALTIS: It was such a tragedy; people I personally knew died in the 1998 Hobart and it was horrible. Winning that race was a big win for us, although it was a tragedy, we were pretty proud that we got through it without any help. Safety has evolved big time. Back then the CYCA were considered the best practise in the world, but everything evolves and it’s about continuous progress. Now we’re at a much, much higher standard, which is a good thing. As I said, the CYCA holds the highest standard for yacht racing, and I really take my hat off to them. There’s such a high quality of preparation; it’s world best. Also, looking after the people that do come out and help us, and making sure that they’re looked after as well, because they are taking a huge risk.
OFFSHORE: And for this year’s race?
PSALTIS: One thing about this year’s race is that my father, Bill who’s done 22 Hobarts of his own, is being honoured with firing the warning gun for the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. I’m very proud to be out there with him, and to still be keeping our family tradition going.