Cougar II smashes 18-year-old record at 65th Maria Island Race

Cougar II crosses the finish line off Castray Esplanade at Hobart’’s historic Battery Point. Maria Island Race 2012
Rob Cruse
Tony Lyall and his racing yacht Cougar II captured the 65th Maria Island Race in a record-breaking fashion, making him one of the legitimate contenders in the upcoming Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

The powerful TP52 cut 22 minutes and 20 seconds from the record of 19 hours 50 minutes set 18 years ago by the maxi ketch Tasmania, which then went on to take line honours in the 50th Sydney Hobart Race the same year, 1994.

Owner/skipper Lyall, a GP at Beaconsfield in northern Tasmania, doesn’t have a Sydney Hobart record in his sights, but rather the coveted Illingworth Trophy for the first boat on IRC corrected time.

'These TP52s have the ability to win the Sydney Hobart overall, that’s why a bought Cougar II,' an elated Lyall said after crossing the finish line with an elapsed time of 19 hours 27 minutes and 41 seconds for the challenging 180 nautical mile race from Hobart to the island off the rugged south-east coast of Tasmania and return.

Cougar II led the Tasports Maria Island fleet from start to finish, hitting high speeds on Friday night as she ran under spinnaker across Storm Bay before south-westerly winds reaching 30 knots.

While a line honours victory was never in doubt for Lyall, breaking the record was a close tactical sail in fading winds in Storm Bay and a strong ebbing tide in the Derwent this morning.

'It’s an awesome outcome…breaking an 18 year old yacht race record…we were confident of a record when we rounded the top of Maria Island at 3am yesterday, but that deflated with the wind when we rounded Tasman on the way home,' Lyall said after berthing Cougar II at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

'It turned out to be a tough challenge, a tactical race to keep up our boatspeed sailing back across Storm Bay and up the river.'

Lyall said that on the Friday night they had experienced up to 30 knots crossing Storm Bay. 'We recorded some amazing times, the boat constantly logging 18 knots. We started from Hobart and 7pm and were at Tasman Island by 10.30pm and at the top of Maria Island by 3am; from Cape Raoul to Tasman took us just 25 minutes…we were honking!' he added.

Owner/skipper Tony Lyall backs Cougar II into the wharf at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. Maria Island Race 2012
Rob Cruse

'After a fast beat back down the coast the wind dropped to 5 or 6 knots after we rounded Tasman Island and sailed into Storm Bay this morning.

'The breeze was up and down for the rest of the morning but we managed to maintain boatspeed, gybing at good angles under our big asymmetric spinnaker up the river,' Lyall added.

When Cougar II finished, the second boat in the fleet, Gary Smith’s Bakewell White 45, The Fork in the Road, was about two hours astern but she and other yachts suffered from light and fickle winds in Storm Bay.

Three hours after Cougar II finished, The Fork in the Road was battling battling light winds and an adverse tide in the river, with Dump Truck, Whistler and Ramrod south-west of Cape Raoul, and Pisces and Martela just around Tasman Island. Fordplay was last in the fleet.

Whistler running in a fresh breeze in the Bruny Island Race
Peter Campbell