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Risen From The Ashes

The new Reichel/Pugh 63, /Loki/, is a stunning replacement to her lost-at-sea namesake. A Grand Prix Launch from our April 2009 issue

March 24, 2009
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RP 63 Loki 368

Rolex/daniel Forster

Cameron Miles’ timing was exquisite. Exquisitely poor, that is. The rangy Australian surfer-the sailing master aboard the Reichel/Pugh-designed 60-footer, Loki-had just come on watch and taken the helm near the halfway point of the 2007 Rolex Middle Sea Race, a 606-mile offshore affair that’s basically a circumnavigation of the Italian island of Sicily. Conditions were, in a word, sporty. Loki was two-sail reaching on a wind angle of about 130 degrees under a double-reefed main and a No. 6 jib, coursing along in 45 knots of breeze at 15 to 16 knots with occasional bursts up to 22.

“The boat felt good,” says Miles. “It was comfortable, everyone was happy, and things were going well.”
“We’d been in far worse conditions on the East Coast of Australia,” seconds owner Stephen Ainsworth, a Sydney businessman who’s been sailing for 35 years, including 11 Sydney-Hobart races.

That’s the funny thing about ocean racing. It only takes an instant for the world to come undone, for situations that are reasonable and at hand to swerve into treacherous and uncertain territory. Which is precisely what happened to Loki.

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“We came down this one wave and the boat loaded up just a little more than it would normally and we just had no steerage whatsoever,” says Miles. “So I jumped to the other wheel thinking that we’d done some cable damage, which we’d done in the past. That’s when I looked behind us and saw the blade floating off behind the boat.
“That was the point when I was probably going to get seasick.”

So this is a tale not only of two races-before and after Loki lost her rudder-but also of two Loki’s. For what transpired in the immediate aftermath of the near catastrophe would ultimately lead to a brand new Loki launched in December of 2008, a no-holds-barred, state-of-the-art 63-foot racing machine, a boat that Miles would ultimately say “had risen from the ashes.”

But we’re getting slightly ahead of the story.

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The Loki that found itself rudderless in the Golfo di Castallammare, on the northwest coast of Sicily between Trapani and Palermo, was actually Stephen Ainsworth’s third boat of the same name, the other two being a Swan 44 and 48, respectively (“Loki” is the Scandinavian god of mischief and trickery). The carbon boat had been built in Queensland, Australia, by Iain Murray’s Azzura Yachts as a dedicated racer/cruiser with full accommodations; in fact, Ainsworth’s intention after the Middle Sea Race had been to sail to the Caribbean in the ARC Rally and loll about the islands for a season, a plan that was put on permanent hold the second the rudder snapped off just below the bottom bearing.

The original forecast for the 2007 Middle Sea Race had been for a severe mistral packing winds of 50 to 60 knots, and though the truly heavy air never did materialize, it was still a seriously harsh, breezy contest conducted in nasty, squirrelly seas: Around two dozen boats retired and George David’s 90-foot Rambler shattered the course record by over 16 hours after a passage of 47h: 55m: 3s. Loki was sailing a strong race and was poised for an excellent finish until Miles lost control, glanced astern, and almost tossed his lunch.

It was around five in the afternoon on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007; dusk would soon be descending, and over the next several hours, confusion would reign. Miles, no stranger to the outstanding point breaks along Sydney’s northern beaches, for a brief period harbored a notion of surfing the boat behind a breakwater and into a quiet port. But he quickly realized it wasn’t a viable option.

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“The idea was, without steerage, all we could do was go across the breeze or dead downwind,” says Miles, adding that the crew had gained minimum control of Loki by turning over the auxiliary and streaming warps and a storm jib astern. “The original theory was, okay, let’s make for a port (in the gulf), but the harbors weren’t very well marked on the chart, the water wasn’t deep enough, there was a lee shore, it was all bad.”

For a brief time Miles and Ainsworth thought a towboat was on the way, but it ultimately stayed put due to the rough weather. Likewise, the Farr 70 Atalanta II remained on station for awhile but carried onward after deciding they didn’t have the ability to tow Loki, either. Hours passed. Around eleven that evening, Ainsworth made an executive decision.

“I wasn’t going to risk the crew getting injured, or staying with the boat and hoping we could anchor it,” he says. “That was far too dangerous. We were on a rocky coast. So I agreed to be airlifted off.”

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With that, the Italian air force dispatched a big Sikorsky chopper that plucked Loki’s 16-man crew from a deployed life raft, without incident, in two eight-man rotations. Both Miles and Ainsworth said the rescue could not have gone more smoothly, and credited the mandatory training the crew had received in Australia prior to the Sydney-Hobart Race. Suddenly, as if beamed up to the Starship Enterprise, the team found themselves wandering the halls of a Palermo hotel in their wet foulies.

“But the next morning, someone organized some charity to bring over a whole lot of Sicilian clothes, so we’re all walking around in nice Italian leather shoes and shiny suits,” says Ainsworth. “Looking back, it was quite hilarious.”

Ainsworth had one other morning revelation. “Luckily we’d thought to bring our passports,” he says. “So I discovered you only really need three things in life to survive: your passport, a credit card, and a mobile phone. With those three things, you can do anything.”

Before leaving the boat, almost as an afterthought, Loki’s crew had tied every loose sheet and line together and tossed a pair of anchors over the side. Remarkably, they learned the next morning, the anchors eventually caught and held, and Loki could be seen just a mile or two from shore. By that time, Ainsworth had contacted a salvager as well as his insurance agent, and the two spent much of the day haggling over the price of a rescue.

Meanwhile, as valuable time slipped away, the Italian authorities were busy closing ports and, perhaps inevitably, the makeshift anchor rodes eventually parted. Loki washed ashore, its rig broken, late that afternoon, roughly 24 hours after the rudder vanished; remarkably, someone shot a nine-minute video of the boat crashing onto the beach which is now posted online (visit SailingWorld.com to see the video). A day or two later-before they were thrown in the slammer-several of the thugs who looted the boat were seen walking through town in Loki gear. The boat’s satellite transponder ended up on an inland farm four miles from the wreck.

Now a lot of owners, having undergone such a traumatic, unsettling episode, might require some distance and reflection to sort out their emotions before making any rash decisions. Some might even consider a break from the sport. Those owners are not named Stephen Ainsworth.

“My first thought was, well, that was an interesting experience, but it’s not going to stop me from going sailing,” he says. “I was having too much fun. So I thought, the best thing to do when you fall off a horse is to get straight back on. So that’s what I did.”

“The next day,” says Miles, “Stephen and I were having a few drinks and walking around town, and he said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to let that get me down. I’m just going to get a new boat. And this time it’ll be a no-compromise boat: No cruising orientation, just a good, fun boat to go racing in.’

“There was no waiting for the insurance or anything. He called Jim (Pugh of Reichel/Pugh) and said, ‘I want you to design a new boat. We’ll be ready to push the buttons in a couple of weeks.’ By November [2007] we had the first drafts of the design.”

From the outset, the plan was to have the boat ready for the 2008 Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, which started the day after Christmas. Ainsworth had been happy with the job Azzura had done with the previous Loki, and approached them first regarding the new one. When they didn’t have an open build slot, he turned to McConaghy Boats, just north of Sydney.

“When they started doing the plug there were three R/P boats in the yard at the same time: Loki; Moneypenny, which was just being finished off; and Neville Crichton’s 69-foot Alfa Romeo,” said Ainsworth. “They just rolled right into mine without having to reinvent the wheel with regard to the latest things R/P had been putting into their boats.”

The Loki brain trust decided on a fixed-keel underbody after briefly considering a canting-keel configuration, a notion that was discarded due to concerns about maintenance.

“As far as the hull form, it’s a similar concept to Bella Mente, Alfa Romeo, and Moneypenny,” says Miles. “You could say those current R/P designs have had mixed results. So we made a lot of modifications to the hull to try and improve things a little bit.”

Indeed, the original lines for the 63-footer incorporated a hard chine in the hull, a feature that was reconsidered and ultimately abandoned well after the build was underway. “There was a little bit of a design issue because the chines they put on (some of their other recent designs) weren’t working terribly well for the boats upwind,” said Ainsworth. “It was a late change to get rid of it and it took a fair bit of extra time.”

Pugh noted it wasn’t the only change made to the boat as the design process evolved. “We basically wanted to reduce the volume in the back of the boat, the amount of displacement and wetted surface, so we made some modifications,” he says, adding that the rudder was also modified and the rig slid aft from its original placement.
Loki was launched in Sydney Dec. 10, just over two weeks before the annual dash to Hobart, and was sailing a day later. In the Hobart Race, the boat’s first ocean race, Loki scored a seventh in the 15-boat IRC-1 division (one place behind another new R/P design, the 62-foot Limit) and eighth overall in the 75-boat IRC group.

“We had a really good start in the Hobart race,” said Miles. “We had a good first night running in 25 to 30 knots of wind, sort of averaging 22 knots, up to 28 for four or five hours. The race went a little funky for us in the middle but then we got some more heavy running the next evening, into the next morning, and we sort of caught back up again. But the boat’s awesome, really good.”

A month later it scored its first win at the Skandia Docklands Invitational off Melbourne, besting a fleet of 17 IRC entrants. In 2009, the boat will sail local events in Sydney, Hamilton Island Race Week, and the next edition of Sydney-Hobart.

And further down the line?

“Maybe in 2010, we’ll head back over to Sicily and the Mediterranean,” says Ainsworth, “and complete some unfinished business.”

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