Earlier this year it was announced that Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin had been selected to represent Australia at the (then) 2020 Tokyo Olympic games in sailing.
At 1pm on Boxing Day, as lunch is taken at the MCG, the gun will fire to signal the start of the 67th Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This year 88 yachts have entered for the 628 nautical mile blue water classic.
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. It attracts sailors and crews from all over the world.
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 super maxis 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’.
The race will start just off Nielson Park in Sydney Harbour, from two separate start lines, 0.2 nautical miles apart. The staggered start allows the larger, fastest yachts 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, in theory anyway, give all contestants a chance of winning overall.
So which are the boats to look out for? If all goes smoothly the line honours race is likely to be between Wild Oats XI, who is vying for her 6th win, and Investec Loyal (whose crew includes Phil Waugh, Phil Kearns, Anthony Minichiello, Danny Green, and Kurt Fearnley). These two yachts are the largest and fastest in the fleet which in their last major race, the Sydney to Gold Coast, finished only nine minutes apart after 42 hours of racing.
However, in ocean racing, all does not always go to plan, as nature may have a say in the result. Adverse conditions can lead to equipment failure, sail, rigging or even hull damage, while an errant sunfish, whale or submerged shipping container can rip the keel of a yacht. If any misfortune strikes the two favourites, it may open the door for Wild Thing, Lahana, Loki or Living Doll, all of which have been showing good speed in recent times.
On balance my pick would have to be Wild Oats XI. She has taken line honours every year since 2005, with the exception of 2009. In that year 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. Wild Oats XI has the pedigree and the crew to repeat her win of last year.
In terms of the overall win, Loki and Living Doll would have to be in contention, having both placed well in the recent Rolex Trophy of Sydney, but such is the nature of the handicapping system and the vagaries of the weather, the winner may come from anywhere in the fleet. My pick would have to be Loki. She has consistently finished at the front of the fleet in many of the major offshore series in the past few years, and looks set to add the Tattersall’s Cup to her trophy cabinet.
Apart from those in contention for the silverware, there are a few other yachts to keep an eye on. Perennial peoples favourite Brindabella will be there again this year. Sadly she no longer carries the C1 sail number from the Canberra Yacht Club, having been bought in 2010 by Jim Cooney of the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney. She may not be at the very front of the fleet, but if any of the leaders slip up, she may be close enough to pounce. Look for her to finish in the top ten.
Another yacht to keep a look out for is Ella Bache. This yacht has the youngest crew of this year’s fleet with an average age of 19 and is skippered by round the world sailor Jessica Watson. It will be interesting to see how these youngsters fair, especially if the weather turns foul. At the other end of the age scale look out for Syd Fischer and his yacht Ragamuffin. Fischer is 84 years old and is about to contest his 43rd Sydney to Hobart race.
There is an old adage among the sailing fraternity that you should never contest the Hobart race in a yacht that is shorter in length (in feet), than your age in years. Unfortunately Ragamuffin is only 52 feet long, so as usual Fischer is proving everybody wrong.
Apart from racing to win her 6th line honours title, Wild Oats XI has another, more sombre, duty to perform on her run south. She will be carrying and scattering the ashes of ABC helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst, who was killed along with reporter Paul Lockyer and cameraman John Bean in August. Ticehurst was an integral part of the media coverage of the race for many years, and is recognised as having been instrumental in the saving of many lives during the disastrous 1998 race, in which six sailors died.
All in all it should be a great race again this year.
Editor’s note: Follow the race via The Roar’s live blog which will go live on Boxing Day