Hell Sal, it's just a race. The story of two Helsal's Sydney - Hobart

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5:13 AM Tue 23 Dec 2008 GMT
'Sally Smith and Rob Fisher, the only brother & sister to have skippered opposing boats in any Sydney to Hobart' &copy Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi
Three days out from the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart and all is relaxed on board Helsal IV. Skipper Sally Smith is in the cockpit comfortably chatting with family and a couple of the crew, a raging nor-easter is blocked by the big spray dodger and awning.

Helsal III (Photo Credit: unknown) - .. ?

A hundred yards away lies Helsal III. Her decks are an obstacle course of tools, spare parts and other assorted bits and pieces. Sally's brother, Rob, juggling phone calls from suppliers and tradesmen is in surprisingly good spirits in the chaos that surrounds him.

'You should be wearing a hard hat here,' he jokes in welcome. 'It's more like a building site than a yacht.'

It sums up the two sides of a unique competition.

For the first time in the Rolex Sydney Hobart's 63 year history, boats skippered by a brother and sister will be competing head to head.

'Others siblings have pistols at 60 paces,' Sally jokes. 'For us it's yachts at 60 feet.'

Sally's Helsal IV is surely the most comfortable boat going to Hobart this year. The French built Dynamique 62 weighs in at 26 tonnes. She is big, strong, with everything you could want for a round the world cruise. Her galley would do some household kitchens proud.


'This is just a beautiful boat,' Sally says proudly. 'We are going to have a champagne cruise. She is absolutely five star.'

While most of the other race crews will have to limit the amount of spare, dry clothing they can bring on board, and food is largely of the mars bar and sandwiches variety in the never ending quest to keep boat weight to a minimum, the Helsal IV crew can fill their boots. In a 26 tonne yacht no amount of clothing, freezers of food or bottles of red are going to dent the waterline one inch. The only down side is that Rob has nicked Helsal IV's chef, so Sally will have to do the cooking herself.

'I didn't steal him. He wanted to come with us,' Rob protests. 'He was horrified when he saw the two burner stove though.'

It certainly is more spartan on Helsal III, even making allowance for the bits and pieces strewn everywhere in the mad dash to get her right by Boxing Day.

Rob and Sally's father, Dr Tony Fisher, originally owned the 20 metre pocket maxi Helsal III in the late 80's and early 90's, setting a race record for the Gosford to Lord Howe Island Race and winning line honours and on handicap in the Sydney Mooloolaba Race.

'Because she had a centerboard she was always more a cruiser racer,' Rob says, 'and never that successful.'

Tony and Rob took her to Bali for some charter work and sold her there, but in 2000 she came back to Australia, sitting neglected on a mooring for most of the time until they bought her back in April last year. By this time she needed a complete refit.

'We decided to replace the centerboard with a fixed keel, so that has meant completely rebuilding the interior of the boat,' Rob says.

'We have pulled the rig out and extended the mast. We carry the same sail are but it is much more user friendly now. We are only half way through the whole job. We hadn't had the sail up before we left for Sydney last week. We didn't have steering or an engine until the day before.

'I have spent so much on this refit I could have bought a brand new TP52 for less money. But I couldn't take the family out on the weekend on a TP52 and the sort of racing I want to do with my mates, if I turned up with a TP52 I'd feel like an idiot.'

Since buying Helsal III back Tony has got the racing bug back again too. Instead of going south with his daughter on the luxurious Helsal IV he will be roughing it with his son.


Helsal IV (Photo Credit: unknown) -

Sally doesn't mind. With the men out of the way she gets to be skipper. Indeed she is the only woman skipper this year.

'What a fantastic position I've been handed,' she says, 'it will look great on the resume won't it? I want us all to have fun, have a safe trip, and be able to say I've done a Hobart'. That's a bucket list thing isn't it? Something you have to do before you die.

'It's my first chance to do the race. Rob doesn't mind cruising with women on board, but he refuses to race with one. Says it's bad luck. That's why I want to beat him.'

Rob says the rebuilt Helsal III is definitely faster than she was originally.

'With the current forecast we should be doing 20's,' he says, 'and we only need to average 11 knots to do be in Hobart in two days.'

That will be at least two days earlier than his sister. But beating Helsal III isn't what she is focused on. It's beating her brother.

'The fastest he has done the Rolex Sydney Hobart on Helsal IV is four days, five hours and 29 minutes. I have to get there in less time than that. When we beat him I want the bottle of Bollinger we bet properly chilled.'


'Sally might be more comfortable than us,' Rob responds, 'but its 26 tonnes versus 14 and we've got a bigger rig. For two days we will be in port while they'll have 50 knots on the nose. I hope they enjoy their dinner then.'

www.rolexsydneyhobart.com




by Jim Gale / Rolex Sydney Hobart Media


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