RSYS wins the Sayonara Cup…by seconds

The RSYS challenger has won back from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania one of Australia’s oldest and most famous yachting trophies, the Sayonara Cup, in a day of extraordinarily close match racing on the River Derwent, writes Peter Campbell.

The Cup Challenge Match was sailed in one-design International Dragon class yachts with the RSYS challenger, Whimsical, steered by Matt Whitnall, winning 4-2 against the defender, Karabos IX, skippered by Nick Rogers.  

“A win for yachting” was how RYCT race officer Nick Hutton described the match while Gordon Ingate, at 93 years of age, the doyen of the International Dragon class, commented: “The River Derwent at its best.”

Ingate came to Hobart as the patron of the RSYS Challenge, providing his boat Whimsical to Matt Whitnall and his crew of David Chapman and David Giles. On Friday he steered Whimsical in a trial sail on the Derwent with Chapman and Giles, adding “This may well have been my last sail on the River Derwent, but what a glorious day.”

Of the six races sailed in the Sayonara Cup Challege Match sailed on Saturday 16 March, the winning margin was only once greater than 14 seconds; in race three just one second separated the two Dragons as they crossed the finish line; in race five it was two seconds.

Whimsical won the first race, the first time in many years that a challenger had won the opening race of a Sayonara Cup challenge match. Karabos IX levelled the score with a sailaway win in race two, finishing one minute and 21 seconds ahead. Then came Whimsical’s two-second win in race two after a spinnaker luffing match to the line. The RSYS boat led 2-1.

Rogers and his crew of Leigh Behrens and Oliver Burnell scored their second win with Karabos IX in race four, by 12 seconds, to tie the score at 2-all, but Whitnall’s two-second win in race five gave the challengers a 3-2 lead.

They needed just one more win to take the Cup back to Sydney, and this they did with a hard-fought 13-second victory in race six, winning the best of seven race series 4-2.

In the two closest races, daring manoeuvres by Whitnall and his crew nearing the finish line gave the Sydney sailors two vital race wins. The first winning tactic was to make three fast spinnaker gybes right on the finish line, thus gaining the right-of-way over Karabos IX. They crossed one second ahead.

The second tactical move was to force a penalty against Rogers, again right on the finish line, and thus nullify the penalty the Tasmania crew had gained on Whimsical earlier in that race.

“To win such a great event as the Sayonara Cup is very exciting and an honour,” the 49-year-old Matt Whitnall said at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania after the late afternoon finish to the Challenge Match.

“Not only is it a famous yachting event, full of great history, but is a contest where there is such goodwill between the competitors and each of the clubs,” the Sydney sailor added.

Whitnall, who regularly sails Dragons and Etchells out of the RSYS, was ful of praise for his crew. “They are real tradesmen, calm and collected at all times…David Giles has sailed in five Olympics in Stars, David Chapman is a world champion tactician in several classes.”

Matt Whitnall’s father Max was an outstanding sailor in high performance centreboard classes, including 505s and Flying Dutchman, and Matt’s children are all sailors, too, with his elder son, AJ, a top ten youth sailor in Laser 4.7s.

The inaugural event that created the Sayonara Cup was an Interstate Challenge off Sydney Heads in 1904 between the gaff-rigged 80-foot cutters Sayonara from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria and Bona, representing the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.

Sayonara won, and owner Alfred Gollin presented the ornate silver trophy, named after his yacht, as a perpetual trophy. The Sayonara Cup became a famous yachting event, with a large public following, and has been contested, with wartime and other gaps, in 80-footer and 60-foot gaff-rigged cutters and post-World War II in Eight Metres, then for the past 35 years in International Dragons.

‘Royal’ Clubs in Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong and Hobart have been challengers, winners and defenders, with RYCT holding the trophy since 2009 when Nick Rogers in Karabos VIII won the trophy on Sydney Harbour.

Mark Bethwaite was the previous Sayonara Cup winning skipper for the RSYS steering Sea Joy VIII, to a 4-3 win over Nick Rogers in Karabos VIII on the Derwent in 1993.

Driving force behind the RSYS’s challenge has been Squadron member Nicole Shrimpton, owner of the Eight-Metre class yacht Defiance.
“I came down to see the finish of a Sydney Hobart Race and, visiting the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, I saw this magnificent trophy, with all its history, in a trophy cabinet,” Ms Shrimpton recalled.

With the influence of Gordon Ingate, she convinced the Squadron to issue a challenge…"and today we have won it back!” an excited Nicole said this evening as she and the crew of Whimsical celebrated their victory in the Sayonara Cup Challenge Match 2019.

Words:  Peter Campbell
Photos:  Penny Conacher