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 An Old Boat Worth Watching.. here is the story

 Ragtime rocks


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 of quality
before quantity. This is one of the most accomplished racing yachts of
all time. She is drop dead gorgeous, too.

The history first. Ragtime has covered 150,000 miles of the earth’s
watery surface since she was launched in 1964, half of those on the race
course. Originally built in New Zealand under the name Infidel, the
radically thin skinned plywood lightweight, with her long narrow hull
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 mile
TransPacific race from Los Angeles to Hawaii Ragtime sliced across the
finish line 4 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of the most famous maxi of
her era, the much bigger and more powerful Windward Passage, setting a
new record. The following year she finished first again. Ragtime would
go on to complete 14 Transpacs, more than any other yacht.

Yet in 2004 Chris Welsh found her at a sheriff’s auction.

“You literally had to go through barbed wire fences, guard dogs, rickety
gates,” he recalls. “The boat was chained to a dock surrounded by
fishing boats that had been impounded, like she was in goal.”

Welsh has reconfigured Ragtime’s 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 fast – it
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 race.
To his surprise Ragtime completely dominated the race, winning 1st

Discovering that it would cost no more to ship Ragtime back to the
States from New Zealand than from Tahiti, Welsh thought he might as well
do some sailing there, too, so Ragtime continued on to Auckland. Again
Welsh found himself pleasantly surprised at the results. Ragtime won the
Coastal Classic Bay of Islands race in conditions that saw just 140 of
the 250 starting yachts finish, followed by a second placing in the
White Island Race.

Now Ragtime is bound for Hobart.

“Initially I hadn’t planned to go to New Zealand, let alone Australia.
It’s 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 hull
that is so low down to the water it looks more like a submarine or a
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 the
waterline. She is simply stunning, like one of those speedboats favoured
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 nothing
but hull in front of the mast. And for the twenty feet behind the
companionway there is only 26 inches of headroom. So everybody lives in
the middle, in the ‘hallway’. We call it that because it’s 20 feet by 11
feet wide. You can’t 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. That’s
what the rail is for. Ragtime is small, cramped, a place where a fellow
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 for three
hours with an iPod and so bright by starlight you thought the moon was
out, just crystal, doing 16s and 17s. I don’t know if there are many
boats around where you can just sheet off the chute and go for it.

By Jim Gale/Rolex Sydney Hobart media team