30 September 2017

Hitchhiker (Frers 40)

Hitchhiker (photo Powerboat-world)
Hitchhiker was a 40.5 foot yacht, designed by German Frers in early 1980 for West Australian yachtsman Peter Briggs. Her lines derived from Frers' earlier SORC champion Acadia, and his previous Two Ton champion Gitana, but with a more modern and conventional approach, with moderate displacement, relatively clean lines, flat garboards and a deep keel (see profile drawing below). Favourable sail area to displacement and wetted surface ratios provided excellent acceleration. The boat was built from Kevlar and Klegecell by Bakercraft in Perth, and featured longitudinal bulkheads to provide immense fore and aft stiffness. Briggs underscored his seriousness with his Hitchhiker campaign by fitting the yacht with a German-made titanium-stocked rudder from Speedwave, and ordered a spare Stearn mast for the boat. All her sidestay turnbuckles were fitted below deck, and like most competitive IOR boats of the day, she carried a huge amount of internal ballast under the floorboards, with all possible weight centered amidships and down low. Hitchhiker measured in at 31.2ft IOR, a reasonably high rating for a 40 footer but reflected Frers' thinking at the time to not give up too much speed through excessive hull shape deviations in a quest for a lower rating.

So advanced was Hitchhiker’s design and construction, and her performance so competitive for the era, she was selected to represent Australia at two Admiral’s Cups (1981 and 1983). Briggs commented in 2013 (during preparations for that year's Hamilton Island Race Week) that the reason why Hitchhiker was a great boat in its early days was because it was an all-rounder and was quick in light, medium and heavy weather.

At the 2013 event, a bold battle flag donning a large red thumbs-up signal flew proudly on Hitchhiker’s forestay while the crew was immaculately dressed in matching red and white crew uniforms. The concept behind the boat’s moniker and flag dates back to 1980. Briggs explained that the concept behind the boat's moniker and flag came from the brainstorming of names in 1980 when they came up with ‘hitchhiker’. “Initially we thought ‘what a dumb name!’ but 'hitchhiker' means ‘free lift’ and that’s what you want in sailing, rather than when the wind knocks,” Briggs explained. “The thumb went with the hitchhiking and red is my favourite colour so we went with that". 
Hitchhiker during the 1981 Australian Admiral's Cup trials (photo Chris Furey)
One of her former crew recalls that Hitchhiker had all her halyards exiting the mast below decks. "Our 'platform' had all halyard winches mounted along the front edge. I did the bow and I would knock on the deck signals to the pit man down below. One knock hoist. Two knocks stop. And so on". 
Hitchhiker was the star of the 1981 Australian Admiral's Cup trials, counting five wins and line honours in two of the races to confirm her place in the team.
Hitchhiker amongst the fray during a general recall in the first race of the 1981 Admiral's Cup
Hitchhiker during the first race of the 1981 Admiral's Cup, with Pinta astern and to windward, and Britain's Victory to weather

Hitchhiker arrived at Cowes with a terrific reputation this was further bolstered when Harold Cudmore was brought on to join skipper Noel Robins for the inshore races. Unfortunately, however, Hitchhiker's reputation came undone right from this first race when she got tangled up with US yachts Scaramouche and Stars & Stripes, and Spain's Bribon III, and ended up over the startline early. More photos from that race can be seen here. Although Hitchhiker went on to finish the race, she was disqualified, presumably for the startline collisions.
Hitchhiker gets caught on East Bramble buoy in the second race of the 1981 Admiral's Cup (the full sequence can be seen here)
Hitchhiker suffered from another poor start, and needing to improve from her dismal first race effort she approached East Bramble buoy too low, and found both Canada's Pachena and Potitos blocking her ability to tack, and against a contrary tide Hitchhiker ended up on the buoy. Hitchhiker collected a two-point penalty for hitting the buoy, and a further ten points for fouling Bribon III, and took just six points from the race.
Another view of Hitchhiker's predicament at East Bramble buoy
Robins and his crew on Hitchhiker did their best to make amends in the next three races, but could only manage average placings in the Channel Race, the third inshore and the Fastnet race finale, to finish in 34th place overall, the lowest placed yacht in the eighth placed Australian team.
Hitchhiker (right) seen here in a downwind line-up during the 1981 Admiral's Cup with Canada's Amazing Grace alongside (centre)
Leeward mark action aboard Hitchhiker during the 1981 Admiral's Cup (photo World of Yachting 1981-82)

Hitchhiker stayed in Europe after the Admiral's Cup to compete in the Two Ton Cup in Porto Cervo in September 1981. She was small for a Two Tonner, and having not been designed for the event, it was necessary to fit a larger mainsail to lift her rating closer to the 32.0ft Two Ton limit. In generally light airs, Hitchhiker was the best boat at the series and won the Cup from Smeralda Prima (Peterson design), an Italian yacht helmed by Australia's John Bertrand, and Aries (Holland design), a US yacht helmed by Harold Cudmore.
Hitchhiker chasing Italy's Yena during the 1981 Two Ton Cup in Porto Servo, Sardinia (photo World of Yachting 1981-82)

Hitchhiker was the first and only boat to represent Australia in the Admiral's Cup, Clipper Cup and Southern Cross Cup teams. The strong breezes and choppy waters of the 1982 Clipper Cup in particular suited the boat, and she was consistently fast.  Hitchhiker also benefited from an all star crew, with Robins (skipper), Jack Baxter, Skippy Lissman, Joe English, Peter Gilmore, Peter Cavill, "Chas from Tas", Phil Smidmore, Geoff Gale and Dave Forbes ("4 Bears"), an Olympic gold medalist and America's Cup sailor. 
Hitchhiker powers upwind during the 1982 Clipper Cup
One of her crew recalls that "Noel had a habit of doing a conservative (late) start and simply sailing through our division and into the bigger boat division (that started five minutes before us) by the windward mark. By the end of the race we often found ourselves two divisions ahead of our division.

"4 Bears was brought on board to add to our steering depth for the long races at Clipper Cup. Hitchhiker would death roll like a pig square running in strong breezes (see photo, left). Most IOR boats did. In one of our triangle races at Hawaii Noel steered for the first four legs in a fresh breeze. When we turned the top mark for the square run Noel turned the tiller over to 4 Bears. It was the first time he had touched the tiller. Three death rolls later (30 seconds) the spin pole tip went under and the mast got pushed sideways and went over the side. In hindsight not the best time to introduce a new helmsman. Still, we got back together for the next race (unlike her team-mate, Police Car).

"In the Molokai Race we blew apart our favourite Kevlar mainsail. We knew it was on the way out but it was still fast. We carried a spare. However, because of the earlier dismasting the headboard slug would not go past the join in the mast. We removed both headboards off both mainsails and bolted the headboard off the torn mainsail onto the spare main. The whole process took over an hour while bucking our way to windward with just a #3 jib up (see photo, right). Once we got going again (in last place) we sailed through many divisions to arrive at the windward mark (as usual) leading our division and amongst the division of bigger boats that started five minutes ahead of us.  
We ran out of water in the Round the State race and found stainless steel nuts in the toolbox to suck to promote salivating".

Later, in the 1982 Southern Cross Cup, Hitchhiker was first around the windward mark in the short ocean race before being passed by the much larger boats on the return leg, and taking the overall win for the race.

Hitchhiker (left) on the start line just to windward of Di-Hard, with Once More Dear Friends (3000) during the 1983 Australian Admiral's Cup trials (photo Australia's Yearbook of Sail 1)
Briggs spent $100,000 refurbishing Hitchhiker for the 1983 Australian Admiral's Cup trials, including $40,000 worth of new sails from North, a new Zapspar mast to replace the one that was broken in the Clipper Cup, and alterations to the deck and interior layout by boatbuilder Ken Beashel. She retained a higher rating at 31.7ft (her key rating dimensions were 34.22 L, 12.26 B, 15,264 DSPL). While many new boats competed in the trials, including an updated version of Hitchhiker - Bondi Tram - she finished as unofficial top scorer of the series. Her race placings, 3/6/3/5/4/2/2/2/1/4 told the story of steady improvement through the trials as the crew,, comprised of sailors from Perth and Sydney, settled in. She joined the Australian 1983 Admiral's Cup team, alongside Bondi Tram and Once More Dear Friends, a Dubois 39 foot minimum rater.
Hitchhiker crosses Bondi Tram during the 1983 Australian Admiral's Cup trials (photo Australia's Yearbook of Sail 1)
Hitchhiker put in a more solid performance in the 1983 edition of the Admiral's Cup, opening with a very encouraging first in the opening race, but then dropping off with placings of 23/15/18/29 to finish as 16th yacht in the individual results, behind Bondi Tram (13th), with the Australian team finishing fourth overall.
An epic shot of Hitchhiker during the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week (1984)
Hitchhiker was transported to the East Coast for the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week in 1984. In fresh breezes Hitchhiker played the underdog role and won by a mere one point after entering the final race four points behind.
Hitchhiker hoists her spinnaker while Inch by Winch loses hers during the 1984 Hamilton Island Race Week
Later, the beautifully maintained Hitchhiker was again transported 5,000km from Perth, Western Australia, across the bare Nullarbor Plain to Hamilton Island on a semi-trailer, apparently the longest distance in the world to drive a yacht of its size.  With his three combined trips to Hamilton Island, in 1984, for the 25th anniversary, in 2008 and 2013 (where she formed part of the "First Fleet" division), Briggs has spent 30,000km on the road transporting Hitchhiker to the world famous regatta.
Hitchhiker during the 2014 Hamilton Island Race Week (photo Charterworld/Andrea Francoli)
“In the old days when we trucked over in ’84 we didn’t have to have a lead car and those sorts of things. Today, there’s a lot of rules and you have to have a car at the front saying ‘vehicle following’ which increases the cost considerably - it’s a big effort,” Briggs said in 2013.
Hitchhiker during the 2008 Hamilton Island Race Week (photo crosbielarimer.com/Sail-world)
Briggs still owns Hitchhiker and maintains her in original condition in Perth. The following video is of Hitchhiker sailing downwind, and giving her crew some white-knuckle moments, during the 2008 Hamilton Island Race Week:

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