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A win for a grand lady

Forty-three-year-old boat competes in the Sydney-Hobart race and cruises to a win in its division.

January 01, 2009|By Joseph Serna

In four years of sailing her, never had Chris Welsh experienced something like this.

“Nothing has been as adrenaline charged, scary fast and over the top. This is the crystal meth of yachting starts,” Welsh wrote from Australia, where he had pitted his 43-year-old boat, Ragtime, against some of the world’s best in the annual Sydney-Hobart Race.

This was the first time Ragtime, originally named Infidel and sailing out of Newport Harbor, had been able to compete in the 628-nautical mile race in years. The wooden boat’s hull, less than an inch thick, was too thin to compete, organizers had determined.

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That rule has since been lifted, and Ragtime, which Welsh had picked up at a 2004 sheriff’s auction, was free to sail the southern hemisphere again.

“He knew he was getting a treasure because of her history. He also knew she was old and going to need a lot of work,” said Chris’ mother, Sally Welsh.

Newport Beach’s Welsh family is a clan of sailors, from Sally and her husband, Terry, to Chris and their other son Doug, even down to the 12-year-old grandson Charlie. They’re all members of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, minus, of course, Charlie.

“We’re a sailing family and raising a sailing grandson,” Sally said with pride.

But this week has been all about Chris and Ragtime and their return to Australia. The boat is legendary in the sailing community, race organizers said. In the 1960s, the 65-foot yacht dominated the racing circuit with its long, thin frame and sharp edges. The hull is so low to the water it could almost be a submarine.

In the last four years Welsh and his crew have led Ragtime to wins in Tahiti races and competitions from Los Angeles to Hawaii. But on Dec. 26, they were jumping into the rough-and-tumble Sydney Hobart race, which some regard as the toughest in the world and where boats are regularly sunk every year during the race.

“I look to the weather and see one gust coming down that is just tearing the white caps into the air. At about 30 knots, gravity stops affecting the spray and it swirls and lifts straight up or sideways,” Welsh wrote in his summary of the race.

Despite age, potential technological disadvantages (even though Welsh improved much of the boat’s equipment), Ragtime sailed in for a win in its division.

“Looking back, it was a great race. Drama, wind, waves, scenery, all in some excess but in the end, no one was hurt and we’ve had the full Sydney-Hobart Race experience, all boxes checked,” Chris wrote.

“And it would be harder to have a better experience the next time around; this one was pretty perfect.”


JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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