Small boat, big ambition
Story by Ivor Wilkins, as seen in Breeze Magazine Summer 2023
In the middle of winter this year Marc Michel found himself in a company board meeting where the conversation became “pretty unpleasant”. There and then, he decided he had had enough. He resigned the same day and decided to fulfil some goals that had been too long delayed by fulltime employment.
The first was to take his wife to Italy for the northern summer. The second was to tackle the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race in his Dehler 30, Niksen.
“I decided now was the time to do these things, not in four or five years.” In the spirit of life being about embracing challenges and chasing dreams, he reasons, “You are long time dead.”
This will be Michel’s 10th Hobart. All the previous times, not all of which were completed, were on other people’s boats. “I thought there was a certain symmetry in doing the 10th one with my own boat,” he says.
At the best of times, the 620-mile race is a formidable challenge. Michel is not making it any easier by taking it on two-handed with a boat that barely creeps over the minimum eligible size.
“We are the first NZ boat to contest the double handed division in the Hobart race. The objectives are to be the best looking 30-footer in the race and the first 30-footer into Hobart, irrespective of ratings,” he says.
Michel will be racing with his Niksen co-owner and fellow Squadron member Logan Fraser, who is 20 years his junior.
“Logan is a graduate of the Mastercard Youth Training Programme. He had his own boat, C U Later, which he raced two-handed for many years. I used to race against Logan and we always had good battles, so I thought he would be the ideal candidate.
“Logan has been a partner in this boat since new (2021). We have done a number of events together including the SSANZ Northern Triangle, the RNZYS Three Kings Race, the Round North Island Race in February and this year’s Coastal Classic.”
They finished 3rd in the Coastal Classic double-handed division after suffering a wipe-out in confused conditions and 30-knot winds following the gybe into the Bay of Islands at Cape Brett.
“We ended up with the boat lying on its side for a reasonable amount of time and ended up with a broken forestay and the wind gear and VHF antenna ripped off the masthead,” says Michel. “We eventually recovered and limped to the finish, but spent the best part of an hour sorting ourselves out in the dark.”
Valuable lessons were learned, however, which could come into play with the Hobart race. Their normal downwind policy is to sail without any water ballast, but in similar conditions in future they intend retaining more ballast to trim the stern down.
Michel’s sailing experience goes back more than 30 years, including a stint as a pro yachtsman. Australian born, he was chairman of the Short Handed Sailing Association of Australia and completed many events on the East Coast as well as a Round Australia Race and a Lord Howe handed events relies on percentage sailing. “It is the ability to sail the boat at the highest percentage of performance for the longest period of time. That means you want to maintain a fairly continuous level as much as possible, not with peaks and troughs.
“That means maintaining energy levels as much as possible, because if one gets fatigued, it is very difficult to keep up that level of performance.”
They will maintain a watch system, but it will vary, depending on conditions.
Basically, it will be three hours on and off during the day, dropping to two hours, or even one hour during the night. He expects the passage to take around five days.
With that in mind, the Judel/Vrolijk design team came up with a package that includes water ballast, carbon fibre rig and prod, twin rudders, a 940kg lead keel and T-bulb drawing 2.2m and a flexible sail plan, which Michel and Fraser have modified to their own specification.
“On the forestay we have a J1, which is reefable to J3,” says Michel. “Inside that we carry a J4 on a furler, which we use upwind if it is blowing, or as a staysail downwind. On the end of the prod, we carry a code zero or gennaker. It is relatively easy to change gears.
“We are probably the only Dehler 30 in the world to also have a symmetrical spinnaker with a very long pole. Light air running is the boat’s weak spot, so that fills that gap.
“We have built a new jib and main for the Hobart. The main has three reefs, so we do not bother with a trysail.”
Speaking as the final preparations were underway for heading across the Tasman for the event, Michel said meeting all the Sydney-Hobart safety stipulations had been very onerous. “The paperwork is incredible,” he said, as he ticked off items like weight and inclination tests, keel and rudder certifications, medical kits, personal EPIRBs and AIS kits, communication systems and on.
“I understand why the regulations are so strict,” he added. “They have had some terrible experiences and people have had to front up to coroners to explain themselves, so I don’t criticise the bureaucracy, but I have been full time on this for the past couple of months.”
Michel and Fraser will take on one additional crew member – “the guy I did the Melbourne-Osaka Race with” – for the Tasman crossing allowing plenty of time in Sydney to make any final preparations for the Boxing Day start.
Niksen will not be the only RNZYS boat lining up for the race. Caro, the Botin-designed TP52 campaigned by Swiss member Max Klink is also entered, following a busy summer season in Europe. After a convincing win in the stormy 2023 Fastnet Race, Klink has the Sydney-Hobart in his sights as “unfinished business”. Caro finished last year’s race 3rd overall.