22 November 2012

Southern Raider (Davidson 38)

Southern Raider was a Laurie Davidson design, built in Christchurch in 1981. She had a rating of 29.4ft, and was reasonably short for that rating, at 38ft, but sported a lofty fractional sail plan. She had a relatively brief but eventful career on the international offshore scene. 

Southern Raider during the 1982 Southern Cup trials (J Malitte)

Southern Raider was a member of the New Zealand team for the 1981 Southern Cross Cup, joining the Farr design Feltex Roperunner and the S&S Ngaruru, but their performance underscored something of a demise in New Zealand's offshore prowess at the time, with the team finishing sixth overall. The team's effort was not helped by Southern Raider's retirement on the first night of the Sydney-Hobart race following structural problems.

Celebrating their trials result (D Christie Collection)
Southern Raider was bought by John Stephenson shortly before the trials for the 1982 Clipper Cup, after seeing the performance of her Australian near-sistership Szechwan. She was sailed up from Lyttleton with only days to spare, and for most of the crew the first race of the trials was their first sail on the yacht.  She struggled in the first race with a torn mainsail and navigational errors, but bounced back to win the second and fifth races, to finish third overall, just one point off first placegetters the Lidgard 40 Dictator and the Frers 45 Solara.

The yacht joined the Lidgard 40s Dictator and Defiance in New Zealand's 'small boat' Green team. All three yachts were designed and moded for lighter airs than perhaps would be expected in Hawaii, but the signs looked promising when Southern Raider won the Sauza Cup warm-up regatta by one point from another Davidson design Sweet Caroline (Australia). 

Well reefed during the gale-afflicted 1982 Clipper Cup series, with US yacht Checkmate heading off downwind (photo J Malitte)
However, the New Zealand effort in the Clipper Cup itself was not helped by the fact that the series was affected by the presence of two hurricanes in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. Both New Zealand teams were significantly off the pace in these conditions, and the Green team's hopes were further dashed when the Japanese yacht Lazy Albatross managed to take out both Southern Raider and Dictator at the start of the last race.

Southern Raider on a fast reach (photo A Sefton)
The collision with Lazy Albatross split Southern Raider's foredeck across to the centreline and lifted the deck for several feet along the sheer. The crew were forced to retire from the race, which counted for triple points and saw Southern Raider slip well down in the overall standings to 35th place (following placings of 28/28/19/26/dnf), and sixth in class. Dictator also had to retire, and the Green team ended up ninth overall.

Southern Raider during the 1982 Clipper Cup series (photo J Malitte)
A year later, Southern Raider competed in the Auckland to Suva (Fiji) race - she finished in first place in both the Division A IOR and PHRF fleets, an impressive effort after breaking her tiller (and a crewman's finger) on the first day out, and steering the rest of the way with the jockey pole lashed to the tiller stump. 

Southern Raider leaving New Zealand for the last time at the start of the 1983 Auckland to Suva race (7 May 1983)
Sadly, however, Southern Raider, was abandoned on the return voyage (via Noumea) in June 1983. The yacht was caught in an un-forecasted gale that also affected several other boats in the area at the time. The yacht's skipper, Geoff Blakey, radioed that Southern Raider was taking on water and requested assistance. With conditions deteriorating and the boat starting to crack and sink further, it was later resolved to abandon the yacht, and the crew arranged to transfer to a ship, the Jumbo Stella Two. Tragically, one crewmember, Bob Whitehouse, was drowned during a difficult transfer from Southern Raider to the rescue ship. All five other crew were safely transferred and the yacht was left to sink.

The moment of impact between Southern Raider and the rescue ship which trapped one of the crewmembers (photo RNZAF Orion)
The last photo of Southern Raider - abandoned and sinking by the bow (photo RNZAF Orion)

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