2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart Entrant
There is only one American entry in
the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year,
Chris Welsh Spencer 65 Ragtime, but it really is a case
before quantity. This is one of the most accomplished racing
all time. She is drop dead gorgeous, too.
The history first. Ragtime has covered
150,000 miles of the earths
watery surface since she was launched in 1964, half of those
on the race
course. Originally built in New Zealand under the name Infidel,
radically thin skinned plywood lightweight, with her long narrow
and hard chines was eventually deemed too fragile for the southern
hemisphere, and banished to the United States.
In 1974 the renamed Ragtime launched
herself into the realms of ocean
racing legend. In a nail biting finish to the 2,225 nautical
TransPacific race from Los Angeles to Hawaii Ragtime sliced across
finish line 4 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of the most famous
her era, the much bigger and more powerful Windward Passage,
new record. The following year she finished first again. Ragtime
go on to complete 14 Transpacs, more than any other yacht.
Yet in 2004 Chris Welsh found her at
a sheriffs auction.
You literally had to go through
barbed wire fences, guard dogs, rickety
gates, he recalls. The boat was chained to a dock
fishing boats that had been impounded, like she was in goal.
Welsh has reconfigured Ragtimes
rig and put on a new rudder and keel,
and says the boat is even faster now. He raced the boat in another
Transpac and he was knocked out by how well Ragtime performed.
"When the boat gets going, surfing big waves on the way
to Hawaii it
just lights up water shooting out the sides, going really
gets really nice to drive.
So Welsh decided it was time for Ragtime
to venture back into the
southern hemisphere, entering her in the 2008 San Pedro to Tahiti
To his surprise Ragtime completely dominated the race, winning
Discovering that it would cost no more
to ship Ragtime back to the
States from New Zealand than from Tahiti, Welsh thought he might
do some sailing there, too, so Ragtime continued on to Auckland.
Welsh found himself pleasantly surprised at the results. Ragtime
Coastal Classic Bay of Islands race in conditions that saw just
the 250 starting yachts finish, followed by a second placing
White Island Race.
Now Ragtime is bound for Hobart.
Initially I hadnt planned
to go to New Zealand, let alone Australia.
Its a big hike. But after we did so well in Tahiti and
New Zealand it
started to gel that we should go to Sydney and do the Rolex Sydney
So that is why, skimming amongst the
big, wide bodied, muscley carbon
fibre modern racers this year there is a sleek, pencil thin black
that is so low down to the water it looks more like a submarine
stealth boat than one of the competitors.
Ragtime harks back to a different age,
of wooden hulls, bright varnished
coach houses; all straight lines and hard, angular chines at
waterline. She is simply stunning, like one of those speedboats
by the likes of the Great Gatsby.
She is also, for a 60 foot long boat, tiny.
We always joke that Ragtime is
a 60 foot long 20 footer, Welsh says.
A Cal20 with a 20 foot bow and a 20 foot stern. If you
go below you see
that apart from a cramped toilet there is 26 feet of absolutely
but hull in front of the mast. And for the twenty feet behind
companionway there is only 26 inches of headroom. So everybody
the middle, in the hallway. We call it that because
its 20 feet by 11
feet wide. You cant fall far. With a full racing
crew of nine it can
get very cozy.
The modern racing cockpit is a huge
expanse, a working platform like a
factory floor, full of people hard at work, not a place to sit.
what the rail is for. Ragtime is small, cramped, a place where
can jam himself into a corner and look at the stars.
I had one night between Tonga
and Tahiti, says Welsh. There was no
moon, every star in the world out, a chute up. On deck alone
hours with an iPod and so bright by starlight you thought the
out, just crystal, doing 16s and 17s. I dont know if there
boats around where you can just sheet off the chute and go for
By Jim Gale/Rolex Sydney Hobart media