I wrote this post several years ago but thought I would share it as it contains an account of how the race began.
The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is over for another year and I have been meaning to write something about it for a couple of weeks but haven’t had the opportunity to do so until now. A little late I know.
The first race was sailed in 1945 making this year’s race the 70th anniversary. Back in 1945 there were just ten entrants listed; the winning yacht was Rani which won both handicap and line honours. This year’s race had 119 entrants I believe. A couple of years ago I went to look at a display of newspaper headlines for each race and took a couple of photos there. Here is The Mercury headline in 1945 where it says that there were 9 entrants.
Traditionally the race begins on 26th December and these days the start is televised. We usually switch over from the Boxing Day Test Match to watch the start. I love to see all the yachts making their way out of Sydney Harbour especially when conditions require them to use their spinnakers. This year I watched a segment showing how they retrieve the TV camera operators who travel out of the harbour onboard some of the yachts. They pack up their cameras in waterproof bags and literally jump off the moving yacht into the sea to be picked up by a chase boat. Not a job I would fancy at all.
I was in Sydney a couple of years ago and found myself at Rushcutter’s Bay Park, the closest I’ve come to seeing where the race begins. In Sydney it is possible to view the yachts leaving the harbour from various vantage points on land or from the water in a ferry or charter boat or from your own boat if you are lucky enough to have one. Spectator boats have become so numerous that there is practically a traffic jam on the water as they all jostle for the best views. Strict guidelines have had to be made to prevent spectator boats from interfering with the race fleet.
The trip to Hobart is rarely uneventful. There are nearly always a few yachts that have to turn back due to problems with gear or sails. Sometimes there is rough weather and smaller yachts turn back or take shelter along the New South Wales coast. Then comes Bass Strait. According to the official website Bass Strait can be dead calm or spectacularly grand. One terrible year, 1998, wild weather caused havoc with the race fleet. Five boats sank and six sailors died. Of a fleet of 115 only 44 yachts made it to Hobart. Sadly this year was also marred by tragedy of a different kind. A small plane carrying a pilot and photographer crashed near Port Arthur in southeastern Tasmania, both were killed. Several yachts stopped to help with the search for the plane after it was reported as going down.
Normally although the race is hard the majority of yachts arrive safely in Hobart. The first to arrive are always the big maxi yachts competing for Line Honours and there is always much speculation about whether the race record time will be broken. This year the win went to Wild Oats XI in a time of 4 days, 2 hours 1 minute and 34 seconds. This was the eighth time Wild Oats had taken Line Honours, also a record. The first yachts over the line often arrive in Hobart at night or the early hours of the morning. This year for the first time in several years the winning yachts arrived on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t there but my friend Bruce who was visiting from Melbourne was and took this photo which he has allowed me to use.
A couple of hours after Wild Oats arrived the American maxi yacht Comanche arrived. The rest of the fleet arrived over the next three days and I managed to get to Hobart to see them later in the week by which time the weather had changed of course. Tired but happy crews are always greeted enthusiastically by the crowd and give a welcome gift of a carton of beer by race officials. By New Year’s Even most of the yachts have arrived as well as those competing in the Melbourne Hobart and Launceston to Hobart races. Here are a few pictures taken in previous years. The overall winner is calculated using adjusted times and speeds according to each yacht’s handicap. Wild Rose was declared the winner. An interesting point about that is that Wild Rose was the first Wild Oats.
The day that my sister and I went to see them the weather was truly horrible. It rained nearly all day but when it slowed to a drizzle I managed to take a few pictures anyway. There were a few yachts arriving and we walked around the pontoons to see those that had already arrived. Giacomo was one that suffered damage on the last leg of the journey and was forced to motor in to Hobart after being dismasted in rough weather.
Here are some of the yachts we looked at.