Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ragtime to race to Hobart

By Jim Gale/Rolex Sydney Hobart media team
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 overall.

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. Read full article