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Historic Solveig prepares for greatest modern test

Historic Solveig prepares for greatest modern test
Solveig in action during the Sydney to Hobart Classic Yacht Race Regatta. Andrea Francolini

Historic Solveig prepares for greatest modern test

The historic classic yacht Solveig is preparing for her greatest modern era test in the 2021 Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race.

The Halvorsen 36 - which won Sydney Hobart Line Honours in 1953 and Overall Honours in 1954 – returned to Australian shores in 2017 and was restored closer to her original look thanks to then-owner Bob Allan.

Solveig is now in the grateful hands of owners John Whitfeld and Annie Lawrence, who showed incredible determination to re-establish the boat’s offshore racing capacity.

Much of the work was fast-tracked with an eye on competing in the 2020 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. But COVID-19 disruptions have meant Solveig’s only blue water race in the 21st century was the 2020 Cabbage Tree Island Race.

So, as skipper John, navigator Annie and their crew set sail for Southport on 31 July, they’ll be focused on simply getting across the line.

“We did the Cabbage Tree Island Race and finished,” John recalls. “We knew we’d be the last boat back, so we jokingly said we were happy to record our own finishing time rather than keeping the start boat out there.

“As it turns out, by 7am on the Sunday morning, we were the only boat remaining so they had a whole radio sked out there for one boat.

“The crew all signed up again for this year. It’s unfinished business for us, so we’re going to do the Sydney Gold Coast, Cabbage Tree Island and Sydney Hobart.

“We’re not planning to do all the Blue Water races, because she’s an old girl – she’s 71 years old and sooner or later, something will break on her and we want to preserve our sails."

It took plenty of time, patience and support for John and Annie to get Solveig ready for the Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore.

She underwent extensive modifications at Woolwich, bow to bow with a fellow Sydney Hobart winner in the form of 100-foot super maxi Wild Oats XI; poetic juxtaposition of very different eras in yachting.

Solveig preserves all of her beauty and grace as a classic yacht, but with essential upgrades in preparation for the challenges of blue water racing.

Secured by fibre glass and equipped with the electronic essentials, John and Annie now joke that Solveig will outlive them.

“It’s like the old Harbour Bridge – you finish painting at one end and you have to go back and start at the other; it never stops,” John laughs. “But you know that when you sign up for it.

“This year is more about boat management. It’s about looking after the rig and not putting it under an undue load.

“It’s a whole different set of problems to beating a bunch of other 38s or 52s in like-for-like racing. Ours is a different scenario and, in my books, it’s no less challenging.”

John and Annie are certainly prepared for the challenge of which John speaks.

Between them, the experienced offshore sailors have done more than 40 Sydney Hobarts.

Their passion for sailing is evident in the pride they have at owning a yacht with decades of history etched into her timber.

“We’re spending more time looking after the boat than sailing it, but that’s the joy of it,” John says.

“We’re so taken with it. It’s the history, we’re so proud of it.”

Check out the latest list of entrants for the 2021 Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race.