Old fox outsailing the young pups

  • Racing
  • NEWS
  • By Jennifer Crooks
  • 28 Dec 2006 10:21:00
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Lou Abrahams from the Sydney 38 Challenge is preparing for his 44th Rolex Sydney Hobart to equal the record set by the late John Bennetto

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Seventy nine year old Victorian Lou Abrahams, sailing his 44th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is proving yet again that experience and seamanship win ocean races as much as physical fitness and athleticism.

Seventy nine year old Victorian Lou Abrahams, sailing his 44th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is proving yet again that experience and seamanship win ocean races as much as physical fitness and athleticism, even in the modern era of high tech speed machines.

Sailing his Sydney 38 Challenge, Abrahams is currently leading the fleet on corrected time, more than an hour ahead of second placed Bacardi, skippered by co-owners Graeme Ainley and John Williams, also from Victoria, and another fifteen minutes ahead of one of the pre-race favourites, Geoff Ross’ Yendys.

If he can maintain the lead to Hobart it would cap an extraordinary sailing career. 

Abrahams has already won the race twice, in 1983 and 1989, and over the years has become known as the godfather of Australian ocean racing.  This year the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia awarded him the 2006 Ocean Racing Veteran of the Year trophy for the third time.

Yet Abrahams didn’t sail his first Sydney Hobart until he was thirty six years old, in 1963, aboard Winston Churchill.  He hasn’t missed one since.  “I like the race,” he says, “it’s a good test of putting a team together and pushing hard.”

These days Abrahams prefers to be the strategic brain behind the boat, not the brawn, spending most of the race at the chart table plotting the yacht’s next move.

“I delegate a great deal. I can’t do what I used to do but I can still enjoy it and still be a major part of it.” 

If anything, though, he is even more competitive now than he was when he was young.  “I’ve always had a competitive streak, in business and in sailing.  We don’t go just to go sailing. We go to win. That’s why I’ve always got a good crew, because they know they are on a boat that is out there to win, not just be part of the number.”   

Challenge also leads the hotly contested one design Sydney 38 Division, ahead of Star Dean-Willcocks and his old Sydney 38, Another Challenge.  Abrahams won the Sydney 38 division of the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart and has become a devotee of one design racing, saying he is enjoying his sailing as much now as he ever has.

Abrahams is noncommittal about whether there will a 45th Rolex Sydney Hobart.  At 44 he has matched the record set by the late beloved Tasmanian yachtsman John Bennetto. 

If he does call it quits this year a win would be a magic send off. - Jim Gale 

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