Rolex Sydney Hobart: Like Father - like Son – saltwater in their DNA

Robert Steel giving his second Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece to his navigator, Michael Green.
There aren’t many people who have done more than 25 Hobarts, yet in the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart, there are three sailors who have not only passed the quarter century milestone, but are fast closing in on the records of their remarkable fathers.

Carl Crafoord, Lahana’s navigator, is on his 27th outing, closing in on late father Max’s 30 in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s famous race. Ichi Ban’s Robert Case is starting his 27th, still well short of dad Bernie’s 40, but Robert is just 42 and has not missed a race since 1985, so is well on his way.

Counting 33 races already, Mike Green, sailing master on Quest, is closing in on the legendary late Peter Green’s 35. 'I don’t think I’ll top him,' Mike says of his dad, who was the first ever to reach 35, which he did in 1989.

'I’m hoping to reach the same. It’s a bit like Bradman; it’s okay to match his record, but seems wrong to better it,' ‘Greeny’ admits.

'Dad said to me ‘you do your first because it’s interesting - after that, you deserve everything you get’,' he said.

'It gets to the point where you don’t know anything else,' Robert Case says. 'When December rolls around, the race just gets in your mind every day. I’ll keep going as long as I can. It’s a challenge, a step away from your regular working life to relish. I’m sure Dad misses it now.'

'Old age catches up,' Bernie Case remarks, 'but I’ve got nothing left to prove. I’ve won all the things you want to win.'

Like Green and Crafoord seniors, Bernie boasts a glittering career in ocean racing, chalking up seven Admirals Cups and another seven Clipper/Kenwood Cups on top of all those Hobarts.

'I’ve been a helmsman all my life, but it’s a 24 hour job. You’re on all the time - you can never say I’m off watch now,' says Case senior. 'When you’re needed you’re needed.'
Robert Case accepting his 25 Hobart award from Matt Allen, owner of Ichi Ban. Credit CYCA Staff
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Neither Bernie nor Robert had auspicious introductions to the Hobart. 'We had 60 knots, got pushed half way to New Zealand,' Bernie recalls of his ride on Larntarni.

'We rolled upside down seven times. The owner had replaced the wooden deck with steel and then taken weight out of the keel to make up for the extra weight on top.'

Robert responds: 'I was just finishing Year 11 when I went down on Mandrake. 'It was a really good bunch of guys, and we were flying down past Jervis Bay when a southerly change hit us. We kept breaking halyards until we ended up with only one by the time we got to Eden.

'We didn’t think it was very smart to try to cross Bass Strait with only one halyard, so we pulled out, so my first was a bit of a non-event.'

Mike Green notched up his first race in 1977, one of those years when it was best to stay home. There seems to be a seven year cycle in this race. Every seventh race those bitterly cold, vicious winds from the Southern Ocean just seem to get particularly ornery.

His dad Peter was sailing master. 'He was an outstanding driver in heavy weather,' Mike says. 'I prayed to him in ‘98 (when a disastrous storm hit the fleet), trying to remember what he would have said to me.'

Really, though, good or bad, the first race was always just going to be the beginning. The fathers had planted ocean racing in their DNA, and there was no escape.

Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2012 - 21/12/2012 Carl Crafoord, navigator on LAHANA


'I grew up with this,' says Carl Crafoord. 'Every weekend as a kid I’d be down at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia while Dad went out racing. Every time he went to Hobart, I’d be on the dock untying the lines. I’d also do deliveries with him. On holidays we’d be always delivering the boat to a race.

'My father was so caught up with the sailing scene. Everything in his life; work or play, was caught up with the water.'

'I remember Boxing day as a kid,' Robert Case recalls. 'The whole family’d be round the TV to watch the start. Mum would be screaming ‘How many times do we have to look at the big boats, what about the others,’ if dad was on a small boat.'

Robert, Carl and Mike have all done their time on those littler boats, when it takes oh-so-long to cover the 628 miles to Hobart, and they are not at all sorry that their 2012 rides, Lahana, Ichi Ban and Quest are at the high-tech, high speed end of the spectrum.

'If you’re going to be miserable, be miserable for a short time,' Mike jokes. The boats they sail now are from another planet compared to the cumbersome, wet dinosaurs their fathers sailed, when it was all about seamanship.

'Those old IOR boats were pigs downwind. You knew you were going to wipe out; you just didn’t know which way,' Mike says.

'Quest is a joy to sail. In the old days, the adrenaline came from fear and terror. Now it’s from pleasure.'

They were the days before GPS, navigation software, real time internet plots of the entire racing fleet. Times when boats mostly went to sea with galvanised wire stays and halyards - and cotton sails - and rather than carbon, stainless steel and Kevlar.

You knew where you were if the clouds lifted enough for a sextant sun or star sight. Otherwise, you dead-reckoned your way down the coast.

So when Mike, Carl and Robert speak of their fathers, there is a note of deep respect and affection for the skills and character they bought to ocean racing, and the Corinthian culture of the time.

'He wasn’t there to make money,' Robert says of Bernie, 'He was there because he wanted to be there.'

'It was a much more blue collar then,' Carl adds. 'They built their boats; there was always a plumber or some other trade on board. When things broke, you found some way of fixing it and continued on; you didn’t call in someone else.'

Mind you, Robert Case reckons Bernie wouldn’t think twice about swapping his old IOR behemoth for an Ichi Ban, a Quest or a Lahana. 'He’d be there in a heartbeat - wouldn’t have an issue with the speed. Then, doing 10 knots was a big deal; now we do it in practically no wind at all.'

'Dad would call Lahana a proper yacht,' Carl Crafoord says. 'He’d be happy it’s a big boat, too - it’s a long race in a 40 footer.'

'The basic rules of seamanship don’t change,' Mike Green says, 'even though the methodology of sailing has.'

'The only reason I do the race is because of my father. He did 30, I want to at least match him,' Carl Crafoord says. 'Sailing is for life. In Rugby League, you’re on the heap at 35. In sailing, you’re just working it out. I can remember every race, the conditions, the people. I don’t climb mountains or jump out of planes. I don’t do risky things; but going to Hobart is quite normal.

'The Hobart gives you a chance to look yourself in the eye,' Robert reckons. 'People rely on you, you rely on them. You don’t want to let them down. Competing is a privilege, not a right. You are always learning something new. If you aren’t learning anymore it’s time to give it up.'

'It was totally inevitable,' Mike Green says. 'When I was seven, my father bought me a Manly Junior. I used to rig it on Clontarf Beach the first day of the summer holidays and it would stay rigged until the last day. My father was in marine chandlery. It was always going to happen.'