Neville Crichton’s ‘skiff on steroids’ takes 1st in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, but outside the record time

Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton’s supermaxi, nicknamed the ‘skiff on steroids’, has taken line honours in the 2002 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, surfing up the River Derwent under her massive spinnaker before a fresh seabreeze to cross the line off Hobart’s historic Battery Point at 5.58 local time this afternoon.

Her elapsed time for the race, 2 days 4 hours 58 minutes and 52 seconds, was well outside the 1999 race record set by Nokia, but is the second fastest in the 58 year history of the 630 nautical mile bluewater classic.

On the dock yesterday evening, owner/skipper Neville Crichton admitted it was an easy race. “We didn’t break any records but we didn’t break the boat either. We would love to have started a day later, this would have put the race record under serious threat.”

“It is very important to this boat’s history to have a Hobart win under its belt.”

Thousands of Tasmanians and visitors lined the foreshores of the Hobart waterfront to cheer the silver-hulled 90-footer across the line, her spinnaker flying, and with a flotilla of spectator and official boats escorting her up the river in a 15 knot seabreeze.

Unlike Thursday’s rainy start in Sydney that was the source of the easterly conditions prevailing for the race, Hobart turned on a brilliant sunny summer’s day, fit for the finish of one of the greatest bluewater classics in the world.

In a race of somewhat benign character without a traditional southerly “buster” (as yet) Alfa Romeo – and in fact, most of the fleet – has been hard on the wind only in beating to the seamark, one mile off Sydney Heads.

Winds all been from the east – south-easters, easterlies and north-easters, with today’s north-easter the freshest so far in the race, reaching 30 knots off the east coast of Tasmania. Other than the two boats involved in collisions at and soon after the start, there have been no retirements from the fleet of 57 that set sail from Sydney on Boxing Day.

As Alfa Romeo finished, the Sydney Open 66 Grundig, skippered by Sean Langman, was more than 25 miles astern in Storm Bay, while the British 97-footer, Canon, was 30 minutes behind her. Both have given their time of arrival in Hobart at 8.45 pm tonight.

Nicorette and Australian Skandia Wild Thing rounded Tasman Island within a few minutes of each other, giving their ETA in Hobart as after 9.30 pm

A quantum leap in design and construction, the Australian-built, New Zealand registered 90-footer led from start to finish, a performance that points to world-wide domination of maxi yacht racing in Crichton’s international campaign.

Alfa Romeo, designed by USA naval architects Reichel/Pugh and built in Sydney by McConaghy Boats, Alfa Romeo, which began her racing career only four months ago as Shockwave, is the largest yacht to take line honours in the Sydney Hobart race.

For her Sydney-based, New Zealand owner today’s victory is the culmination of two years of planning with the best yacht designers, builders, sailmakers and yachting gear manufacturers in the world to create a boat to win line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

Two years ago he had the disappointment of being forced to retire with his previous Shockwave when she encountered heavy weather in Bass Strait.

“This new boat is immensely strong, built to win the Hobart Race and then go on to racing internationally,” owner Crichton said before the race started on Boxing Day.

With potentially the hottest maxi yacht in the world, Crichton, a top helmsman in his own right, then set about putting together the best professional crew in the world, not any easy task in this year of the America’s Cup.

With sailmaker and international yachtsman Michael Coxon as sailing master and tactician, the crew includes sailors from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Ireland, veterans of America’s Cup, Admiral’s Cup, Sydney Hobart, Olympic and other international campaigns.

Apart from Crichton himself, the helmsmen on board include Andrew Beadsworth from Great Britain, Noel Drennan from Ireland, and Australian Ian “Barney”, already a winner of four Sydney Hobart Races, three overall on handicap and line honours aboard the record-breaking Nokia.

Other prominent sailors in the crew include New Zealander Stuart Bettany and Australians Steve Jarvin and Alastair “Alby” Pratt.

Alfa Romeo (nee Shockwave) began her racing career in the Hamilton Island Race Week in August and for the past two months has been racing with outstanding success in Sydney, both in short and long races, including winning the JPMorgan Regatta, the Canon Big Boat Challenge and the British Trophy, taking line honours and IRC handicap honours in every race she contested.

Following the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, Alfa Romeo will sail across the Tasman Sea to Auckland where the heavier keel she used for this race will be changed and other modifications completed before she contests the Millennium Cup Regatta as part of the America’s Cup Pageantry of Sail.

She will then go to the Northern Hemisphere to contest the TransAtlantic Race from New York to La Rochelle in France and other maxi yacht regattas in Europe.