Though it occurs nearly half a world away from the US, the annual Sydney to Hobart Race remains one of the most captivating events in our sport. This 627-mile slog south across the Bass Straits and into the Southern Ocean, which began as it does each year on December 26, has endured for 57 years to become a classic in the sport. This year, despite the fact that the event was nearly scrapped due to a lack of sponsorship, the Sydney-Hobart Race appears to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Not only are the eight VO 60s from the Volvo Ocean Race among the fleet, but six custom-built titans are slugging it out for offshore bragging rights en route to Hobart's Derwent River. As you read this, the leaders are likely midway down the track, the memories of the holidays fading in their wakes.
The renewed vitality we suggest isn't something that can be measured in terms of participants—only 75 entries materialized for this year's race. And after the staggering tragedy of the 1998 edition of the event, in which the fleet was slammed by a vicious storm with winds in excess of 80 knots and seas nearing 60 feet, it's difficult to imagine that any event could immediately reestablish itself. Six sailors perished in that race and another 55 were rescued. It was, in simple terms, a maritime catastrophe.
But the organizers of the Sydney-Hobart Race—the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia—hold fervent hopes for their Boxing Day event, and those feelings appear to be echoed by a cadre of boat owners, several of whom have committed enormous resources to optimize their steeds for this contest. Apart from outright victory, each will hope for a crack at eclipsing the phenomenal one-day, 19-hour, 48-minute, and two-second record set in 1999 by the Whitbread 60 Nokia
. (Given the forecast for this year—moderate southeasterly winds for the first day—that record doesn't appear to be within reach.) Among this sextet of would-be victors is George Snow and his newly lengthened Brindabella
, now an 80-foot offshore speedster. Snow and his team should see ample competition from Grant Warrington and his crew aboard the 86-foot Skandia Wild Thing
, along with Ludde Ingvall and his 79-foot, water-ballasted Nicorette
(line honors winner in 2000), Sean Langman and his modified Open 60 Grundig
, John Kahlbetzer and his Bumblebee 5,
and Richard Roberts' just-launched 68-foot Ikon
, a racer-cruiser.
Adding additional fervor to the proceedings was the fact that the event's organizers, though bereft of title sponsorship for their race, have managed to get the Australian importers of Citroen cars to offer a $10,000 prize for the fastest boat over the first leg of the course. Calling their sprint the Citroen Dash for Cash, the organizers pledged to award this prize money to the first competitor passing the initial buoy offshore from Sydney Heads.
As with any distance event, and this one in particular, simply finishing should be considered a success. Statistics indicate that in all 56 previous editions of the race, some 4,505 boats have entered, 3,690 have completed the race, and a staggering 815 have retired. Nonetheless, the practicality of simply finishing will be somewhat of a lesser concern for the largest entries as they focus on the prize of line honors.
After starting in Sydney Harbour, the fleet heads down the coast of Australia, then across Bass Strait to the eastern coast of Tasmania. They must first sail around Tasman Island, and then transit the 30 miles of Storm Bay, whereafter they'll sail another 11 miles up the Derwent River to the finish off Battery Point in Hobart. This year, meteorologists Down Under expect that a transitional weather scenario will favor the larger boats as a passing weather front will leave unstable winds covering the region by Day Two. For more up-to-date information on this year's race, images, and a statistical look at past races, log on to the official website for the Sydney to Hobart Race: http://s2h.tas.gov.au/2001/front.php.
Sydney-Hobart and Harnesses Revisited by John Rousmaniere
Grappling with that Vicious Storm by John Rousmaniere
2000 Telstra Sydney-Hobart Race by Rob Mundle
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