Gallery: Race to the Rock | Tuna Club of Tasmania 26th annual Australian Bluefin Championship
The Race to the Rock is a thrilling race in offshore-like conditions that traditionally marks the beginning of the Tuna Club of Tasmania 26th annual Australian Bluefin Championship.
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"Anglers, let’s go fishing!" With that, a wild dash started in the Tuna Club of Tasmania’s 26th annual Australian Bluefin Championship. 70 boats lined up at the beautiful Eagle Hawk Neck in Tasmania’s rugged south-east for the standing start eagerly awaiting the checkered flag to drop, yet these weren’t race boats; instead it was a sportsfishing fleet, varying from 4.5m tiller-steer tinnies right through to large floating gin palaces. We lined up in the all-new Surtees 700 Gamefisher Hard Top with a gutsy Evinrude ETEC 250HO outboard motor.
The latest trend in sportsfishing muscle is high-speed offshore-capable hulls that are comfortable with big horsepower. Our marine engines are powerhouses of modern engineering that manage to combine enormous power to weight ratios with frugal fuel consumption, making long offshore dashes an everyday event.
There were trailerboats of every size, material and make in contention. Stabicraft boats lined up next to Signature boats, Quintrex boats next to Bar Crushers, Stessl boats beside Savage boats, Caribbeans with Cruises and Bass Strait Boats next to Sonairs. New boats and old, repowers and refits, even a Stabicraft with a length enhancement.
We were well prepared – Tasmanian Surtees dealer Hadley Deegan, a second-generation boating guru, took the wheel and arranged the load. We were not only carrying all the equipment of a fully equipped game fishing outfit but also the four large heffalumps (me included) that completed his crew – loosely described as ballast.
I got the navigator’s position and local identities from Team Deegan/Penn/Simrad – Hooch, Mozza and Pete – shuffled around in the centre and rear adjusting the balance as we drove. The new Evinrude RX4 prop bit hard from the exhilarating start right through to the flying finish as Hadley expertly negotiated the head on swell.
It’s fair to say that we spent as much time flying above the water as we did in it and the new 7m deep-vee well and truly exceeded my wildest dreams. Not once did we hit hard; not once did the hull moan or creak as is common for many competitors’ alloy offerings. A few years back I made the statement that 2013 was the year when premium aluminium hulls finally performed as well as, if not better than, their heavier fibreglass counterparts.
I’m delighted to now declare that the 700 Surtees Gamefisher has taken the bull by the horns by going even better again.
The deeper we travelled into the Southern Ocean on our way to the Hippolytes, the rougher it got as the wind and swell gained strength and we left the protection of Tasman Island to the south.
Visiting the Hippolyte was a tick on my bucket list but I never expected to be travelling to it in a white-knuckled rampage, locked into the passenger position in an airborne Surtees speedster.
The main Hippo is a granite monolith rising more than 100m above sea level, with another 100 metres to its foundations on the ocean floor below. It’s a spectacular sight that will remain indelibly stamped in my brain, yet its grandeur is somewhat overshadowed by the magnificence of the Tassie coastline itself.
We made a fast start from a good position, which is essential in any race. Hadley was quick off the mark, planting the throttles as the big V6 ETEC roared into action. Its note isn’t like a ballsy V8 but rather the sporty confidence of a highly tuned V6.
I was braced, white knuckles on the Jesus bar and knees flexing as the rodeo ride erupted; Pete took centre spot, incidentally becoming an air cushion between Hadley and me, while Piss and Wind (Mozza and Hooch) played trim tabs, dangling from the strong handrails of the hardtop.
It later dawned on me that our Surtees Gamefisher probably resembled the Flying Nun, its big Simrad Halo radar aerial prone atop the very welcome hardtop enclosure as we leapt from peak to peak out front of the 70-strong pack in our wake.
A good start is always important but clean water is vital in the briny. Large safety glass windows allow exceptional vision forward and to both sides, where we kept an eye on the competition. The driver’s wiper had very little to do as the hull flew over most of the slop and when gravity did take its inevitable course the soft hull pushed the deluge aside like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Hadley drove like a man possessed yet with the control that comes from long experience. He read the sea perfectly as the rest of us hooted and hollered at the thrill.
I’ve been amazed with the instantaneous control of the new E-TEC outboard motors; not only with the instant and constant acceleration throughout the rev range, but also with the snappy response when you need to back off quickly when mounting a larger than usual peak with the inevitable hole that follows. The control is almost like braking, allowing you to hold on to top speed longer and back off later, increasing the competitive edge through precise control.
There was more than one heart-pounding moment as we delved deeper into the race but while it was clear within a few kilometres that we had left most challengers trailing, we never backed off. We called the finish line as we neared the Hippo and breathless celebration began.
This was Hadley’s third consecutive win in the Race to the Rock and a proud moment for us all. There were surprisingly few bruises and no breakages but the thrill may have taken a few years off our lives.
The Surtees 700 Gamefisher was simply outstanding, the 250hp E-TEC outboard motor thrilling, the surroundings enthralling and the companionship heart-warming. Some say we had an unfair advantage.
Then came the serious business of going fishing…
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