Chris Dickson ready to brave killer strait again

22:02, Dec 25 2013

Still waters run deep, and so do memories of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart blue water classic for renowned New Zealand yachtsman Chris Dickson.

After steering Sayonara to line honours - the ultimate Pyrrhic victory after six sailors and five yachts were lost in the maxi's wake - Dickson bade farewell to Australia's iconic, though treacherous, 630-nautical-mile journey down the eastern seaboard across to Tasmania.

It took the Aucklander until 2010 to test those waters again, when he was aboard Limit on a trouble-free run south, and he also took some convincing to tackle the race for a fifth time on New Zealand's solitary entrant in this year's race.

Winemaker Jim Delegat eventually convinced the 52-year-old to bolster an afterguard featuring the experience of multiple Volvo Ocean race and Sydney-Hobart veteran Steve Cotton, and Spanish navigator Juan Vila - a two-time America's Cup winner.

Delegat, 64, who fulfils a long-held sailing ambition when the 94-strong fleet leave Sydney Harbour today, coaxed Dickson aboard the rebranded Volvo 70 Giacomo for the annual Coastal Classic from Auckland to Russell - a relatively short journey in October to whet the appetite.

"I did the Coastal Classic and a couple of other races," Dickson told Fairfax Media from Giacomo's pontoon at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

"Jim asked was I coming to Hobart? I said, 'No'. Would I like to do the Hobart? I said 'No."' However, it didn't take long for Dickson to experience a sea change - a decision that saw him get to know the reigning Volvo Ocean Race winner[(in 2012 as Groupama 4] better during this month's traditional Big Boat Challenge and CYCA Trophy-Passage Series.

"Jim's a lovely guy, he's a new owner in the game of Grand Prix ocean racing so, like a lot of others, I said 'We'll do the best we can for him'," he said.

Dickson is accustomed to experiencing hardship on the water, whether it be with KZ7 in the 1987 America's Cup off Fremantle against Dennis Conner or the 1993-94 Whitbread, where Tokio looked on course to win the W60 class before being dismasted during the fifth leg.

The 2007 America's Cup was also a salutary experience for Dickson, who resigned as CEO and skipper of BMW Oracle after suffering a heavy loss to Luna Rossa in the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Yet the 54th edition of the Sydney to Hobart remains a watershed moment for Dickson, a victory he takes no satisfaction from.

"Until you just mentioned it, I'd never thought that we actually won it. It was just totally irrelevant. There were lives lost, we had broken legs and arms and ankles on our boat.

"We survived ... is the way I remember it, where many didn't," he said.

"I've had my fair share of races like that 98 Hobart over 30 years of offshore racing. I've just been fortunate that I've been in good boats, with good crews."

"After 98 it took me 12 years to come and do another one. Now I'm back again after three. I'm losing my memory, I'm getting stupider ... "

Dickson might joke that his recollections are fading, yet he knows what to expect when Giacomo tries to head off Black Jack and Southern Excellence II in the Volvo 70s race within a race.

"Every single one has been the same recipe. It's an ugly bit of ocean, it's a tough race," he said.

He is confident that is another common denominator this year with Giacomo - "a fantastic turbo machine" - equipped with a crew boasting a combined 80 or so Hobart's under their safety harnesses.

Dickson will call the tactical moves alongside fellow veteran helmsman Cotton, while Delegat, who outlaid more than $1 million to acquire Giacomo, is the nominal skipper.

Cotton, a fixture as tactician aboard Living Doll in recent years, is in double figures in terms of the Sydney-Hobart, and although the round-the-world race is seen as a pinnacle of sailing, he disagrees.

"The challenge of the Hobart is to get there and back ... it sets the platform for any race," he said.

Completion is often regarded an achievement in itself and Delegat is not setting expectations too high as defending champion Wild Oats XI and rival hi-tech maxi Perpetual Loyal are predicted to vie for line honours.

"Everyone enters the race with the dream of winning but the reality is you've got those big line-honours boats ... but on corrected (handicap) we've got as good a chance as anybody, really.

"I'd like to think if we could come in five, six or seven - it'd be a good effort and obviously we'd like to be the first (Volvo) 70 in."


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