In 1945 the double-ender “Rani” finished first and got both the line honour and won the over-all in the very first Sydney-Hobart race. She was the second smallest of the nine participating yachts.
Rani was a short-overhang, double-ended, light-displacement 35-footer (not unlike a well known Kaskelot “Salt”, I’m just mentioned it) – designed by A.C. Barber in Sydney and built by the Steel Brothers of lake Macquarie in New South Wales.
Dear fellow double-ender admirers, if anyone have more knowledge and a more detailed description of Rani – feel free to submit a comment. The photo used here is the only one I can get my hands on.
The following is copied from Knockdown, The Harrowing True Account Of A Yacht Race Turned Deadly
By Martin Dugard, Pocket Books.
The following paragraph ran in an Australian yachting magazine in October 1945: “Yacht race to Tasmania: It is expected that an ocean yacht race may take place from Sydney to Hobart, probably starting on December 26, 1945. Yachtsmen desirous of competing should contact Vice-President Mr. P Luke, 62 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, for information. Entries close December 1, 1945.”
Their boats were heavy cruising yachts with deep keels instead of true ocean racers, but nine skippers sailed that first Syd-Hob. One of the nine starters was a fifty-two-footer named, in a moment of midwar patriotism, the Winston Churchill. Huon-pine planking, copper nails, cloth sails. Hauled up from the water two days before to let the hull dry, then a hull polish of Johnson’s floor wax to help her slip through the water faster. Built in 1942 by Tasman shipwright Percy Coverdale, Winston Churchill was considered the finest yacht in all Australia. Legend has it that her namesake even gave his blessing to her moniker on a postwar trip to Australia.
Overlooked in the prerace hoopla was Rani, a thirty-four-footer skippered by John Illingworth of the Royal Navy. Rani was also made of Huon-pine planks, pounded into the frame with copper nails. Her sails were hand-stitched cotton. All ropes were Indian hemp. The mast was Oregon pine, the rigging was cast iron, and the bilge pump was a pair of sailors clutching a tin bucket and frying pan. The crew wore Royal Australian Navy gear, mostly cotton impregnated with wax.
Illingworth was taking the Syd-Hob challenge seriously, having spent the months beforehand visiting Australia’s south coast and speaking with fishermen about the winds and currents of the Bass Strait. He also developed friendships at Sydney’s local weather bureau to learn more about weather patterns over Eastern Australia and Tasmania.
But all that knowledge went missing. The Bass Strait didn’t take kindly to the event, heaving a gale at the fleet. Boats were scattered. Rani went missing. In an era before radios were aboard racing boats, there was no way to inquire about her location or the condition of the crew. All that was clear was that she had left Sydney with the standard issue of navigational aids: paper charts, coastal guides, a compass fosteering, and a sextant for determining position. The CYCA gave her up as lost. It had been a major blunder allowing such a small boat to race across the Bass Strait.
But five days after the storm began, Rani suddenly sailed up the Derwent River into Hobart. This greatly amazed the CYCA welcoming committee at the dock for two reasons: first, Rani had been given up; and second, no one else had yet finished. Little Rani had won the first Syd-Hob in six days, fourteen hours, and twenty-two minutes. It’s still the slowest winning finish in race history, but henceforth, the first boat across the finish line would receive the Illingworth Trophy. Rani also won on handicap that year, the first of only four boats in Syd-Hob history to do so. Winston Churchill finished third.
The 628 nautical mile course is often described as the most gruelling long ocean race in the world, a challenge to everyone who takes part.
From the start in Sydney Harbour, the fleet sails out into the Tasman Sea, down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait, down the east coast of Tasmania. At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final sail up the Derwent River to the city of Hobart.
It is my plan to continue to make a list of double-enders that either are famous or should be. I am currently researching the Halvorsen brothers who build and sailed a long list of double-enders in Sydney-Hobart races. I want do a story on Suhali, maybe the Tumlare, Colin Archer and so on. Please feel free to give me hints on double-enders I should know about.