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Highly Sprung

Craig Bannister .

Craig Bannister reflects on his remarkable journey aboard the 45-foot Beneteau racing yacht ‘Highly Sprung’ – owned and skippered by fellow Pallas Capital Director, Mark Spring – winning two divisions of the 76th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and finishing 7th overall.

Well, we can still hardly believe it. Prior to the race we said that if we sailed well then a top 3 finish in our division was possible but to win IRC Div 3 and ORCi Div 2 was truly amazing. With this year’s race marking our 2nd participation after competing in the 2019 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht race, we returned from Hobart with a whole new suite of incredible experiences that will leave a permanent mark in our minds.

While much of Australia was simply trying to avoid eating too much, getting sunburnt or catching Omicron on Boxing Day, Mark and I were part of the 13-strong Highly Sprung crew, setting sail from Sydney Harbour alongside a fleet of 88 yachts of varying sizes, ages and ambitions, all en route to Hobart via Eden and Bass Strait.

2021 was the 76th staging of the time-honoured Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and, without doubt, it delivered on the event’s formidable reputation. Looking back now, it was an amazing journey of two decidedly different halves. The first, thanks to 24 hours of sailing into a brutal southerly with wind gusts up to 48 knots (89km/p/hr), delivered a punishing test of physical perseverance, endurance, along with boat preservation for all crews. The sailing was tough, rigging was broken, sails were torn, the going was heavy and the seas were unrelenting. Certainly not for the faint of heart – or stomach!

The second was barely recognisable from the first. Was this even the same race?

It was stunningly beautiful as we sailed across Bass Strait in surreal calm conditions, accompanied by seals, sunfish and dolphins buzzing around the boat like torpedoes.

The sunsets and stars were incredible at night with not a cloud in sight. Of course, these more benign conditions presented their own challenges for the fleet to navigate, with the mental resilience and tactical judgment of crews constantly tested. Just 50 of the 88 starters made it to the finish line in Hobart.

The final stages of the 2021 race were different again. Turning westward at Tasman Island, there was virtually no wind for an hour. We were almost becalmed and the chance of a top 3 finish seemed to be slipping out of our reach after 4 days of tough racing, before a shift in conditions saw us screaming home across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River doing 10-12 knots under spinnaker (resplendent in the Pallas Capital logo, no less). Ocean racing can be fickle and this change of wind pattern came along just in the nick of time.

Arriving at Constitution Dock just before 8pm on December 30, we knew we had sailed a strong race, with a finishing time of 4 days, 6 hours and 55 minutes and when the final handicap race results were confirmed later that evening, we were beside ourselves with a sense of achievement. Highly Sprung was victorious in both the IRC and ORCi divisions having beaten our nearest rival by 30 minutes on corrected time, while also finishing 7th overall on handicap in the prestigious George Adams Tattersalls Cup (named after the Tattersall Lotteries founder, George Adams).

It was an exhilarating four days, and an experience I will be forever grateful for sharing with Mark and my fellow crew members aboard Highly Sprung. To them and all crews who competed I say congratulations and thank you. Simply incredible.

You can view the full results of the 76th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race here.

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