At 1pm AEDT on Boxing Day, as lunch is taken at the MCG, the gun will fire to signal the start of the 72nd Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Join The Roar for live updates from the race.
This year 93 yachts have registered 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.
Every year the race attracts sailors and crews from all over the world, and this year is no exception with 12 international crews taking part from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, the UK and Germany.
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”.
Once again the race commences with a staggered start just off Nielson Park in Sydney Harbour, utilising 2 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, in theory anyway, give all contestants a chance of winning overall.
So which are the boats to look out for? Last year the honours went to the American supermaxi Comanche, with Wild Oats XI being forced to retire with a busted mainsail. Comanche has not returned to defend her title, which leaves the door open for Wild Oats XI, however I see her being challenged by a previous winner, the highly modified, and re-engineered CQS, which won in 2004 as Nicorette. Perpetual Loyal has also returned for another shot at the title.
The long range forecast that was released earlier in the week, and had some of the media talking about a record breaking race, with similar conditions to last year.
The race is forecast to start in a 15 knot nor’-easter, building to 25 knots off shore. This should lead to a spectacular start up the harbour, followed by a spinnaker set as the yachts turn south out of the heads, and a flying run down the coast for the first few hours.
However, between 6 and 11pm AEDT on Boxing Day, a moderate southerly of 20-30 knots wind strength will hit the front of the fleet, slowing their rush to Hobart.
These southerlies are expected to last until well into the next day, before they swing around to the north again for the final push into Constitution Dock. The timing of that northerly change will determine whether or not the race record can be broken.
It is hard to say how well CQS will go, as she has only been on the water since November, I would fully expect her to give Wild Oats XI a run for her money, but will she be fast enough? I think Wild Oats XI will regain her crown.
However in ocean racing all does not always go to plan, as nature may often has 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 favourites, it may open the door for Scallywag, Loyal or one of the Volvo 70s, Giacomo, Black Jack or Maserati.
In terms of the overall win, the forecast southerly and light winds across Bass Strait brings the 50-60 footers back into contention for the Tattersall’s Cup. The Tp52s, including last years overall winner Balance would have to be the top contenders. The longer the southerly lasts, the better it will be for a Tp52 to take the honours.
However, if it is shorter than expected, it brings my pick Patrice into contention. Patrice can just about hold on to the Tp52s down wind and broad reaching, but loses ground into the wind. However her handicap advantage is a large one, and if she can stay close, she may just pip the more favoured yachts for the Tattersall’s Cup.
Apart from those in contention for the silverware, there are a few other yachts to keep an eye on. Three time overall winner Love and War, is making another run south this year, and for those who like sailing in style, the CNB 76 luxury cruiser Charlotte, will be conveying her crew in style to Hobart.
Follow the race via The Roar blog, from start to finish.