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  • Writer's pictureMattijs Willenborg

The Race to the Start of the 2023 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Updated: Mar 31

Despite Wild One stealing the limelight of the attention in their race to get to starting line, Atomic Blonde’s journey, a brand new Australian-built JPK 11.80, was no less impressive. We thought it might be interesting to provide a bit more of a detailed insight into what went into getting Atomic Blonde to the start of the 2023 Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race. 

The Specification

JPK 11.80s are a production series boat as certified by World Sailing and as such lot of the boat is fixed and the same for every 11.80. This applies to the hull, deck structures as well as scantlings, girders etc all to ensure that the boats are safe, strong, reliable and meet the World Sailing & ISO requirements. 

However, beyond the standard spec that there is a range of bits that can be customised to fit an owner's objectives whether this is cruising, racing or short-handed handling. We like to offer as much customisation as possible as the design is extremely versatile and therefore the variety of options is quite extensive and all depends on an owner’s goals. 

In the case of Atomic Blonde, the objective was to built another evolution of Sunrise, one of the very successful JPK 11.80s out there, and built a very competitive and a yacht with the potential to win a Hobart. So the main focus was on maximising potential power and righting momentum with minimal rating impact through weight control & distribution, rig & sail design and sail controls predominantly. Beyond this, the owner had quite an extensive list of preferred equipment and fitout parts that he wanted us to incorporate. These ranged from Flowtech thru-hulls, e-glass stanchions, Harken V-blocks, watermaker, hot water system, specific sink, lithium batteries, additional hatches, rigid spray dodger, carbon grab pole and internal handrails, additional hard points and RopEyes for staysails and runners(instead of split backstay), canvas cupboard covers, 1.7m bow sprit, halyard locks, jib tackline, 2 aft pipe cots and saloon upper bunks as well as mix of Harken and Karver Winches. 

The Built

The project started with the mast production commencing in Europe in March and the hull construction commenced in June 2023 at JPK Pacific outsourced production yard in South Nowra, Innovation Composites. They had only just completed #1 which was a twin wheel steered JPK 11.80, that currently enjoys the waters of Port Philips Bay in Victoria, which has a predominantly cruising focus. The keel was being produced in the UK, by Iron Brothers, same as all the French made JPKs, which at present is surprisingly this still the most economical way. JPK Pacific is hopeful to get its keel and stainless steel rudder stock made locally, but for now the keel, mast and rudder stocks and bearings come from overseas. 

As the boat is built using full production tooling all the internal pieces can be made and be resin-infused in parallel to the hull production. The resin infusion also allows us to exactly know how much resin went into each part. The other benefit is that by the time the hull is cured, the internal parts and bulkheads can be placed in position and secured. All moulds were made inside hull #1 and therefore provide a perfect fit and speeding up the process. 

Come August the hull was released from the mould. Once all the internal structures are fixed in place, the boat can come out of the mould (so the mould can be used for the next boat) and the wiring and plumbing gets run, engine bed and engine get installed. Simultaneously the deck fibre and core materials are laid up ensuring all the reinforcements are in the right spots for all the tack points, blocks, clutches, winches and any other deck fittings. All equipment such as fridge, oven, hot water saloon upper bunks and all the veneer cabinetry in the galley, and nav table were subsequently installed. Before the deck is released, a counter-mould or gel-coated thin ceiling is glued onto to provide a super-smooth finish whilst also provide a small cavity to hide any potential wiring.

In September deck and hull were joined, with the joints are glued and screwed together. The mast arrived in September at White Bay 6, where it was temporarily stored before put together in October. 

In The Water

On 17 October, Atomic Blonde left the yard and was trucked to White Bay 6, straight away from the truck into water. The rigging was prepared at White Bay by the Diverse Rigging and was ready to go in, so by midday the boat was on its way to the marina for the mast to be jacket up, and spartite to be poured. The following day the fitout continues with boom, vang and mast brackets and instruments by installed and halyards and halyard locks being tested and other rigging jobs.

On Friday 19th a quick visit to Woolwich for inclinations for stability measurement to get the results in ahead of the October deadline. Back to the rigger to finalise rigging set up and to CYCA berth, it’s temporary home for the next 2 months. The owner contracted Larry Jamieson to coordinate the efforts to get the boat ready for the race with crew capable of sailing it. 

With rig now in, sail fitting with the team of North Sails the first week of November, IRC measurement and safety inspections completed at the CYCA, cat.2 signed off and just a bit 0f cat.1 and HF radio stuff to complete for Hobart. The boat is now ready and allowed to sail, just in time for the boat's first outing, the Bird Island race. 

With the boat in the water, stability, ORCi & IRC measurement done, it was time to get the boat sailing. The first outing, Bird Island race and particularly the conditions of 25-30kts proved a little challenging for a first sail. A few very simple and easy to fix teething issues resulted in not be able to fly a jib for 70% of the race and sail upwind under genoa staysail. Crew familiarity with halyards, tack points, furling drum switches, and double and triple heading and the shear power of the boat downwind illustrated the boat was ready to be unleashed. Our systems, processes, setup and crew just were not quite there. So mid-race it was decide to simply avoid any damage and we surfed home on full main and spinnaker staysail, still doing pretty good speeds and in the meantime the job lists were drawn up. By the time we reached Sydney, having caught up to the Sydney38, despite just sailing under staysail, there was a 64-point job list. 

Six weeks to go

The message hit home in and after that Bird island race, the boat is fast, we just got to get our stuff together to capitalise on it. We just got to ensure we can get stuff up and down without issues and have everything run well and let the boat do its thing. So processes were standardised and simplified. With half the crew from Perth or overseas, the Sydney-based team trained to get the centre and the front of the boat run smoothly, whilst one Western Australian mates of the owner worked to get the HF Radio, watermaker, on-board pc, wifi and all satellite comms working, the other worked on minor boat modifications such as an additional storage locker, adding pipe cots, moving saloon upper sleeping further outboard and get more cushions made, improving jib tackline set up, adding non-return valve to anchor locker, adding a halyard storage bar in front of the mast base, bow sail retaining system, extra cam cleats for seperate genoa staysail up/down hauler.

Additionally, the boat needed adjustments halyard strop, a faster reefing solution, an extra furling drum added to have a dedicated furling unit per sail, set up point to attach furling line with bungee. 

Race 2 - Cabbage Tree Island Race

JPK 11.80 (with yellow kite) Cabbage Tree Start - leading the pack
JPK 11.80 (with yellow kite) Cabbage Tree Start - leading the pack - Credit: A Francolini

A race start with a little storm cell hitting the yachts just before the start through 3 sail changes before leaving the heads, but much better execution and leading the mid-sized boats out. A navigational conundrum while being offshore which most of our fleet on our lee stern and point directly at Fingal bay, we opted to stay out, which proved a costly decision during the night. Clawed back the overnight losses for a mid-fleet finish. Systems and the boat performed well, just put it in the wrong spot during the night and parked up the boat twice. The benefit was, that it allowed us to practise light wind set ups. Post race with assistance of Carl Crawford, who joined us for the race, we worked on additional set ups to speed up operations on board. Structured organisation, a well-designed lazyjack systems, all hoist and reef marks confirmed and marked an extra pipe cot added as upper starboard quarter berth extra blocks for easy envelope drops, dedicated staysail sheets, better storm jib attachment (though the provided soft shackles proved hopeless in 45kts). 

10 days prior to Race, the Sydney to Hobart start, George Kennedy from Sunrise joined the crew and few additional tweaks mostly regarding staysail setup and generally sailing modes to be updated in expedition and Atomic Blonde was as ready as she was going to get in the 8 weeks available from launch to race start. 

Atomic Blonde went on to finish 2nd in IRC3 and 14th overall, despite a very poorly executed first night. A full recount of the RSHYR 2023 is soon to follow. 

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