Oskana in box seat for Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race line honours  

When the gun fires off Portsea Pier to start the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria’s (ORCV) Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race, at 1200 hours on Thursday 27 December, all eyes will be on a Tasmanian boat and crew with line honours, overall win and perhaps a new race record on their minds.

Hobart orthopaedic surgeon, Michael Pritchard, bought the 2013 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner (then Victoire) last year and has been sailingOskana with pace on Vanessa Copeland pic up a storm with the renamed Oskana in Hobart since, as well as entering her in major interstate races.

The canting Cookson 50 has a fine pedigree under various names, taking line and overall honours in the 2007 Sydney Gold Coast Race. She also finished second in the 2010 Sydney Hobart and fourth in 2011 and 2012. Pritchard has since driven her to line honours in the 2017 Maria Island Race among other triumphs. 

Her Melbourne to Hobart rivals should be on guard, because Oskana will no doubt be the benchmark boat for a triple crown. Whether she can beat the 1day 17h 28m 59s record for the 435 nautical mile course set by Shortwave in 2008, and also win the race overall, remains to be seen.

Pritchard is cautious: “’To finish first you must first finish’, is a term we embrace on the boat. Shortwave’s record has lasted a decade, and it smashed the previous record, so the weather may not always play the game,” he states.

“We will race hard, but safely – they are key ingredients of a successful campaign.  A record is a noble achievement, but weather plays a large role. If those weather gods are favourable, Oskana has the boat speed to potentially make us all extremely proud.

“With their canting keels, the Cookson 50’s are a terrific reaching boat. If ever we have a race that delivers that type of weather, she should perform beautifully. It would be great to experience those weather patterns, and potentially come home with a win,” Pritchard admits.

While Oskana is capable of taking the triple crown, when it comes to the overall win, she will have to get past the likes of fellow high-profile Maverick will be one of Oskana27s rivals pic courtesy ORCVTasmanian entry, Whistler (David Aplin), and local boats in Justin Brenan’s Alien, Paul Bunn’s Christine, and Maverick, being sailed double-handed by owner Rod Smallman and Tom Vaughan, son of ORCV Commodore, Martin Vaughan.

“They all have their strengths in different wind patterns. It will depend if there is an opportunity to slip into another favourable weather system. Occasionally the parking lots will bring the field together for a restart, and at other times, an opportunity opens up to take a jump,” Pritchard concedes.

Pritchard is doing the race because, “We choose to do the Melbourne to Hobart race to do something different. The west coast of Tasmania is a wild, beautiful and a potentially dangerous place to be. But we think it will be a challenging environment, and we’ll learn lots about the boat, hopefully in reaching conditions…”  

In the meantime, Oskana’s crew is doing as many locally affiliated races as they can, and the’ Westcoaster’, as the Melbourne to Hobart is commonly known, is one of those.

“We’re members of the Derwent Sailing Squadron and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, so we like to share things around and experience new adventures with a terrific bunch of people. We enjoy each other’s company, and work on the boat together, knowing at the end of the day we’re responsible for her maintenance, for our safety,” the busy yachtsman says.

Some others in the fleet are doing so double-handed or have opted for ‘Four + Autohelm', meaning four crew and an autohelm, introduced by the ORCV in July. They include Annette Hesselmans and her experienced all-women crew on Red Jacket.

Eagerly following Red Jacket’s progress will be women from the race’s first ever all-female crew in the Melbourne to Hobart. Sabina Rosser (skipper), a long-time sailor at Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, was the driving force behind the 1998 entry aboard Dictator. 

An experienced offshore racer, Rosser’s crew included the late ex-ORCV General Manager, Pauline Lister (foredeck), along with Katie Holroyd (helm), Kathy Wooley (runners), Di Burns (runners), Julie Davis (cockpit), Beth Edwards (runners), Deanne Colledge (cockpit) and Maureen Dobson (navigator), all still competitive sailors today. 

The Duncanson 11.54 metre yacht was kindly loaned to them by Barry Main at no cost, and with an upgraded sail wardrobe, even though they were not regular members of his crew. Pura Milk was launching Pura Tone Milk at the time, leading to their sponsorship and renaming of the boat to ‘Pura Tone Dictator’.  

In the lead-up to the Westcoaster, Rosser and crew trained in races on Port Phillip and in the ORCV's famous Melbourne to Apollo Bay Race. Pura Tone Dictator went on to finish the 1998 Melbourne to Hobart in second place in PHD and saving the best for last, winning their division in the King of the Derwent. Combined with their result in the Cock of the Bay, Pura Tone Dictator came third in the ORCV Sovereign Series.

The Melbourne to Hobart course takes the fleet from Portsea Pier, out of Port Phillip, across Bass Strait, travelling down the rugged west coast of Tasmania, around the southernmost tip of Australia, before heading up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart.

For Notice of Race and entry, please go to: http://www.orcv.org.au/for-competitors/nor   

For all ORCV information, please go to: www.orcv.org.au