September 16, 2002 Sporting identity Neville Crichton has set his sights firmly on line honours at this year's Rolex Sydney to Hobart having recently christened the most technologically advanced Super Maxi ever built: Alfa Romeo.The 90-foot long, 135-foot high super maxi is constructed almost entirely from carbon fibre and is odds-on favourite for a successful S2H campaign since clocking up a series of convincing wins and course records since its debut at Hamilton Island Race Week in August. Owner/skipper Crichton spoke with Gizmo after Alpha Romeo completed her first overnight ocean race, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's 85 nautical mile race from Sydney to Bird Islet (south of Newcastle) and back. Crichton was understandably "very happy with the way the yacht performed", finishing outside the race record due to light winds but still 5 hours 41 minutes in front of her nearest rivals including 80-foot S2H challenger Brindabella.
Crichton puts the outstanding performance down to the use of latest, lightest gear and excellence in yacht design - almost everything is made of carbon fibre including the mast, hull, rudder and boom, plus the working sails. The spinnaker has a load capacity of up to eight tonne and the Reichel/Pugh designed craft also incorporates a water ballast system capable of moving six tonnes of water - Crichton points out that the use of water ballast is illegal in the Sydney to Hobart race so a second keel configuration will be used.
A name familiar to many Australians from his days as a champion touring car driver, Sydney-based New Zealand yachtsman Crichton is aiming to win both line honours and first place on corrected time overall under the IRC rating rule in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart, although he concedes that anything can happen in such a gruelling race.
Alfa Romeo would have been the sixth boat named Shockwave owned by Crichton, who has previously won the world Two Ton Cup races and represented New Zealand in the Admiral's Cup, but the decision to change the name was taken for marketing reasons given that Chrichton owns ATECO, the Alfa Romeo in Australia and New Zealand.
Designed to be the fastest maxi afloat, Alfa Romeo is now in full racing trim and will take part in lead up races from her Sydney base as part of her S2H preparation. On debut at Hamilton Island the yacht achieved line honours victories in all nine races of the Big Boat Class and won two longer races on IRC corrected time, once agian out performing potential Sydney to Hobart challengers such as Australian Skandia Wild Thing and Brindabella. Her average speed of 9.52 knots over the new course was the fastest long race average ever recorded in the 19 year history of Hamilton Island Race Week.
Reichel/Pugh predict that on a spinnaker reach she will be capable of 30 knots and according to Crichton, Alfa Romeo's the full potential has not yet been shown: "I believe she will be a great all-round boat, but you won't see her at her best until after the Sydney Hobart when we fit a lighter keel, use the water ballast and carry full size spinnakers," says Crichton.
"I was very happy with the way she sailed at Hamilton Island, despite the fact that the first time we hoisted the racing sails was on the morning of the first race." Built in Sydney's northern suburbs by McConaghy Boats, construction was completed in New Zealand with the addition of the 135-foot mast, US made keel and completion of the rigging. Winches and deck gear are from Harken and the sails are by respected Australian manufacturer North Sails.
The visual impact of the yacht at sail is obvious. The sleek hull is silver on the outside, black on the inside and the state-of-the-art interior including 12 berths, seating area, galley, head and navigation section are finished in carbon fibre or silver polyurethane lacquer and teak and red trimmings.
Currently based in Sydney at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Alfa Romeo will sail to Auckland after the 630 nautical mile Sydney to Hobart for the Millennium Regatta as part of the 2003 America's Cup Pageantry of Sail, followed by a stint of competition in the Northern Hemisphere including the 2003 New York to Hamburg Transatlantic.
Alfa Romeo - TECHNICAL DETAILS:
Owner/skipper: Neville Crichton
Clubs: Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Cruising Yacht Club of Australia
Designers: Reichel/Pugh, USA
Builders: McConaghy Boats, Sydney, Australia
Mast: Southern Spars, Auckland, New Zealand
Rig: Fractional with backstay runners and checkstays
Sails: North Sails, Sydney, Australia
Construction: Carbon fibre hull, keel, mast and working sailsLOA: 27.43m (90 ft)
Beam: 5.6m (18.3 ft)
Draft: 4.0m (13.1 ft) - two configurations, one keel when using water ballast; heavier keel to meeting IRC speed rating of 1.600