Olympic swimmer hopes return will mark start of bigger things to come in ocean racing
WHEN Olympic swimmer Geoff Huegill sets off for his second Sydney to Hobart as a crewmate on the Syd Fischer-skippered maxi Ragamuffin Loyal on Boxing Day, he will do so with one eye on reaching the finish line and another on a long-term future in the sport.
Huegill hopes his return will mark just the start of bigger things to come in ocean racing, a sport the 33-year-old has embraced now his swimming career is behind him.
''Once you get the bug for it, it definitely gets a hold of you,'' Huegill said on Christmas Day, which he spent with his wife, Sara Hills, and daughter Mila. ''Now that I have time on my hands in terms of not having to train every day [for swimming], I know I can put that time and effort into doing some more sailing and getting involved in the sport.
''The more experience I can get, not only these boats [maxis] but other boats - from your TP52s right through to your Volvo 70s and every other boat out there - the better I can be. It is something I really enjoy and we will see how it pans out over the next little bit.''
Huegill was part of the Anthony Bell crew on Investec Loyal in the 2010 Sydney to Hobart. He could not race last year, when she won, due to the Olympic trials.
But Fischer, who has leased the yacht from Bell this year, dismisses the ''sailing celebrity'' tag. On Huegill, the 85-year-old said: ''He is very strong and he fits in well. And he has done it before so he is not new to it ? He is a great.''
When asked if he will be doing much of the back-breaking grunt work on board, Fischer said with a wry smile: ''With those big shoulders he's got to.''
Huegill has never regarded himself as a celebrity. Given the calibre of crew on Ragamuffin Loyal, he sees them as celebrities. ''It means you have to try harder to earn that position from the other guys that have done it,'' he said.
''But if you look at the boat, they are all celebrities. Matt Humphries - one of the youngest sailors to have done the Volvo [around the world] ocean race - and there are guys like [Volvo racer] Andrew Cape ? You have all these guys who have the runs on the board - even Syd who [is about to do his] 44th Hobart.
''To be able to be a part of that crew and work with those guys is something I have really taken on board and enjoy.
''Even though swimming is an individual sport, you still train together with the team and travel together and do the job that needs to be done. Sailing is like that. You all put yourselves through some physical and mental challenges and it's what you earn together as a group or a team.''
SYDNEY-HOBART Starts at 1pm, live on Channel Seven THE ODDS $1.25 Wild Oats XI $5 Ragamuffin Loyal $8 Wild Thing $17 Lahana HANDICAP $5 Loki $8 Living Doll $10 Celestial, Shogun, Wild Oats XI $11 AFR Midnight Rambler TAB Sportsbet
HOW THE HANDICAP SYSTEM WORKS * Sydney-Hobart organisers user the IRC handicap system, the details of which remain secret to prevent yacht designers creating boats that could take advantage of the rules. * Under the IRC rule, a yacht owner takes a series of fairly straightforward measurements of his or her yacht; the length, weight, overhangs and sail sizes, whether the boat has a fixed or canting keel, water ballast, carbon fibre or aluminium mast. * That information is sent to the Rating Office of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in the UK, which then issues a rating for the boat, which is basically a multiplier of the boat's elapsed time during a race. * Each hour the boat takes to finish is multiplied by its rating time handicap factor to produce its corrected time. The higher the rating, the bigger the multiplier, the bigger the difference between handicap time and elapsed time.