Sydney Hobart. Two words that represent a pinnacle of offshore racing. The Sydney Hobart is a life-long ambition for many a serious sailor; in the recent 69th edition nearly 1,200 sailors in a 94-boat fleet answered the siren call.
Beginning in 1945 as a regional regatta, it has grown to become one of the top three international offshore races. It now attracts maxi yachts from around the globe; this year five 100-ft. maxis and three Volvo 70s lead the way. The international fleet was comprised of entries from Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus, and of course Australia and New Zealand.
The 628-nautical mile offshore Rolex Sydney Hobart is renowned as one of the most grueling races in yachting. Which is probably part of the attraction, sailors challenging themselves with a level of difficulty matched only by the beauty they encounter along the way.
It’s a race for the most courageous, in the now infamous 1998 edition five sailors died and 55 were rescued by helicopter. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the imagery my mind has conjured for the hull of Larry Ellison’s Sayonara delaminating; the bow was actually starting to come apart. His interview in The Wind Gods and quotes in The Billionaire and The Mechanic about the ’98 race storm have forever moved me.
While most of us bask in an afterglow of Christmas on December 26 these sailors choose to meet the challenge that is the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
This year’s race began with picture-perfect conditions as a threatening low pressure system had headed out to sea, leaving welcoming blue skies and a 15-18 knot southeasterly. Hundreds of thousands watched from the shore, on television and globally via online streaming coverage. The iconic Sydney Opera House provided a stunning backdrop for the start.
The much-anticipated match up between Robert Oatley’s Wild Oats and Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal (the ex-Speedboat, Rambler100) super maxis did not disappoint and several newly launched boats with veteran crew provided extra excitement: Karl Kwok’s Botin 80, Beau Geste; Matt Allen’s Carkeek 60, Ichi Ban and Jim Delgat’s Volvo 70 Giacomo.
On the second day Perpetual Loyal made the strategic move to head further offshore. The tactic worked and Loyal gained 14 nautical miles over Wild Oats XI, the six-time winner of the race. It seemed Wild Oats had a secret weapon in navigator Stan Honey. Later in the day Wild Oats got into their groove and passed Loyal to take the lead. Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100 was a close third.
The third day brought the frontrunners to the notoriously rough Bass Straight where they began to cede in the uncharacteristic light wind. Wild Oats lead over Loyal increased to 26 nautical miles and further back the Volvo 70s Giacomo and Black Jack were battling it out with the 80-ft. Beau Geste.
The lighter winds proved challenging as the boats were configured for stronger conditions. Wild Oats lead grew to 50 nautical miles and although Loyal was able to make some of it up, it wasn’t enough.
Wild Oats crossed the finish line with an elapsed time of two days, six hours, seven minutes and 27 seconds. Skipper Mark Richards and crew took their seventh line honors win, which tied the impressive 50-year record of the yacht Morna, later renamed Kurrewa IV.
A sharp change in weather greeted the remaining fleet on day four. The treacherous sea conditions off the Tasmanian East Coast took its toll with five yachts retiring, including Henry Lloyd which lost it’s rudder bearing and Wedgetail dismasted off of Tasman Island. Karumba reported a steady 40-45 knots off Tasman, with a peak of 57 knots.
Darryl Hodgkinson’s Crookson 50 Victoire was able to ride those wild conditions and crossed the finish line for the overall handicap lead. They had to wait the night for confirmation to see if any other boats could reach Hobart in time to best them though. Mid-morning the next day the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia confirmed Victoire as the Overall Winner of the 69th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Hodgkinson credited his tactician Sean Kirkjian who is a veteran of 17 races with the win; he likened him to a wizard who plays ocean chess. Interestingly, the apt-named Victoire was the skipper’s birthday present to himself—with the goal of winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart within two years. Cheers to him for making it the first try!
The final yachts sailed into port on December 31st, greeted by the thousands of New Year’s revelers on shore. Hobart’s spectacular fireworks display congratulating all finishers of what was one of the most challenging Sydney Hobart’s in recent history.
Next year will be the 70th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. It will be sure to once again attract sailors and yachts from around the world; Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal have confirmed they will take part. I cannot wait!