There is plenty of hype around British entrant Sunrise – one of the early contenders to challenge for overall honours in the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Tom Kneen’s JPK 1180 – sailed with a predominantly Corinthian crew - has made waves on the international stage over the last 18 months.
Though Sunrise may appear to be punching above weight, her consistency in major offshore races proves she is deserving of her place amongst sailing’s elite.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Kneen and his crew. Sunrise made the sailing world take notice in August 2021 by claiming a famous win in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
"It was a life changing event for us," said Kneen. "It’s everything you expect it to be and more in terms of the consequences.
"I still walk into my living room and see the Fastnet Challenge Cup sitting there and think ‘why is that there?!
"People do dream about winning that race and we did. Also, I did it with my mates. I didn’t go and spend a million quid on a boat optimised to win the race and hire 15 professionals to do it.
"We did it with people I’d met in bars in the south coast of England over the last few years!"
Kneen and his crew celebrate the Rolex Fastnet Race triumph. Photo: RORC/Paul Wyeth
Sunrise backed up that result impressively in the Rolex Middle Sea Race, finishing second overall having been in pole position before the unprecedented invoking of an alternative finish line for safety reasons.
Then came a divisional win in the 2022 RORC Caribbean 600 (which was won overall by another international entrant for the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart – Warrior Won).
It was only upon returning to the UK from the Caribbean and taking a much-needed break that Kneen was able to reflect on Sunrise’s achievements.
"It moves the needle in terms of expectation," he said. "We’re taking on people who are much better resourced and more experienced.
"They’re generally miles ahead of me as an owner and where our crew is at in their journey.
"We realised that we’re actually quite good at this. That’s the main reflection.
"There was a weird moment for me personally when I was asked to talk at a charity dinner and they said ‘we want a high profile sailor, would you be interested in doing it?’
"I said 'I’m not a high profile sailor, why do you want to talk to me?!'
"It’s not my job, it’s my hobby. On reflection, yes, the season was absolutely unbelievable."
Sunrise is among a competitive group of international boats headed for Sydney. Photo: ROLEX/Kurt Arrigo
World-renowned sailor Dave Swete is the only pro on board Sunrise. Swete was enamoured of the owner’s ambition to win major races around the globe.
In seven years of ownership, this is the most content Kneen has been with his crew dynamic, so it’s no coincidence that the boat is performing at its best.
"The boat is epic. It has been constantly improved by this rather obsessive crew," he said. "We know that if we sail well, we’re competitive.
"The crew coming together at the right time made a huge difference to our performance.
"I’ve concluded that it’s my job to identify who the best people are and put them in an environment where they can do what they’re best at.
"The team is completely emotionally involved in the project and do it for fun.
"I always say it’s definitely nothing to do with me. The guys living closer to the boat are thinking about how to optimise it and improve it all the time. They do it for fun and because it’s their obsession. That’s where the credit should be.
"That’s what’s really special, it’s because they love it. That sets us apart from pro teams."
Despite Sunrise’s success, Kneen admits it "feels almost like we’re a bit early" to be taking on the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
This will be Kneen’s first trip to Australia and the majority of the crew are competing in the great race for the first time.
"I feel a bit of pressure, because we’re stretching ourselves," he said. "With this program, I’m always stretching myself to the absolute limit in terms of resources.
"You get used to it, but this is a pretty big deal."
Kneen admits the media attention has taken him by surprise. Photo: RORC/Tim Wright
That said, Kneen is raising the stakes himself, dreaming big ahead of the trek to Sydney.
"It’s probably unreasonable to think we’ll go and beat the 52s, but that’s the mentality we go into the race with," he said.
"We’ve got a mentality on the team that we’ll go and take on the titans. It was a logical next step, but there are a few things that led me to say ‘let’s do this’.
"It’s massive and we’re really excited about it. We’re taking it really seriously.
"I won’t be happy in life unless I win the Hobart overall. Maybe there will be a few attempts to get there, so I’ll manage my expectations."
Kneen describes Sunrise as his "mental health wash".
He added: "As soon as I get on the boat and take control of the tiller, I feel 100 per cent better.
"The boat for me is a very safe place. It doesn’t matter whether I’m upwind or downwind in 30 knots.
"Once I get on board and we’re off, that’s mental health therapy for me."
A new challenge awaits for Sunrise. What lies over the horizon?