At 1.00pm today, as lunch is taken at the MCG, the gun will fire to signal the start of the 69th Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race for 2013. Join us for live race updates as the fleet make their way beyond the heads and head south.
This year 94 yachts are registered for the 628 nautical mile blue water classic, including the 12 yachts competing in the Clipper Round the World Race.
First run in 1945 as a race for friends down the east coast to Hobart, this annual event is now regarded as one of ocean racing’s premier events, alongside races like the Fastnet.
Every year the race attracts sailors and crews from all over the world, and this year is no exception with the first ever entrant from Cyprus – Zefiro, the Farr 100 Supermaxi.
To most casual viewers the event is just for rich boys with their expensive toys and rock star crew.
While that may be true for the Supermaxis at the front of the fleet, the fact is the majority of competitors are everyday men and women who indulge their passion for sailing by crewing on yachts going south for the “Quiet Little Drink”.
This year is even more remarkable, as with the inclusion of the Clippers we have amateur sailors who have paid to be part of a round-the-world sailing experience.
Once again the race commences with a staggered start just off Nielson Park in Sydney Harbour, utilising two separate start lines, 0.2 nautical miles apart.
The staggered start allows the larger, fastest yachts (60 to 100 feet in length) a clear run to the heads, unimpeded by the smaller, slower yachts.
Each start line has its own distinct rounding buoy near the heads to even out the total distance travelled, just like the stagger on the running track.
Two major trophies will be up for grabs – The John Illingworth Trophy for the line honours winner and the Tattersall’s Cup for the overall winner on handicap or, in sailing parlance, corrected time.
For obvious reasons the majority of media and public interest will be on the race for line honours between the big boats, but what most sailors want to win, and the more prestigious of the two, is the Tattersall’s Cup.
The winner of this is likely to come from the smaller boats in the fleet. The handicapping system, the sailing equivalent of cricket’s Duckworth/Lewis Rule, is a complex equation taking into account the length, sail area, the age of a yacht’s design and other technical factors to (theoretically) give all contestants a chance of winning overall.
Boats to watch
Last year Wild Oats XI had it all sewn up soon after leaving the heads. This year she is in for a real challenge all the way to Hobart, with the Supermaxis Perpetual Loyal, Ragamuffin 100 and Wild Thing all capable of giving her a close race.
I think the real threat will be coming from two or three of the slightly smaller Maxi yachts in Beau Geste and former Volvo Ocean Race contenders Giacomo and Black Jack.
In ocean racing, all does not always go to plan as nature may often have a say in the result. Adverse conditions can lead to equipment failure, sail, and rigging or even hull damage, whilst an errant sunfish, whale or submerged shipping container can rip the keel of a yacht.
If any misfortune strikes the favourites, it may open the door for some of the Clipper fleet.
The pre-race favourite would have to be Wild Oats XI. She has taken line honours every year since 2005, with the exception of 2009 and 2011.
In 2009, her sister yacht – the New Zealand Supermaxi Alfa Romeo II beat her by a couple of hours after taking advantage of a breeze that missed the rest of the fleet on the first morning.
Then in 2011 she was overtaken by Loyal early on the last morning, taking advantage of favourable wind conditions.
Wild Oats XI has had substantial modifications to her undersides with horizontal foils added to aid in downwind conditions. However I am going to stick my neck out again this year and pick the ‘dark horse’ Beau Geste to take line honours.