As the height of the festive holiday season approaches, preparations are in full swing and excitement fervent for Friday’s Boxing Day start to the 2014 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
The magnitude of this 70th edition is reflected in the size of the international fleet: the forecast 117 race entrants, comprising yachts from seven different countries, represents the most sizeable Rolex Sydney Hobart depart since 1994.
“This year is both the 70th edition of the race and the 70th anniversary of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia,” explains John Cameron, Commodore of the race organisers. “There is a strong international flavour in 2014 with Maxis coming from America and lifting the level of appreciation of yachting around the world and the importance of this race. The Rolex Sydney Hobart is part of Australian culture; and for the start Sydney Harbour becomes an amphitheatre. An estimated 500,000 people will line the shoreline, together with hundreds of boats coming to watch the start on the water.”
The pre-race weather briefings have provided competitors with an early idea for what to expect. Record-breaking conditions are not forecast; a gripping, intriguing, tactical adventure down to Hobart is guaranteed. Weathermen predict a strong southerly during the first day, slowing the progress of the 100-foot Maxis in their pursuit for line honours and the race record. The northerly breeze forecast, following the arrival of the frontrunners in Hobart, could benefit the mid-fleet in the pursuit of the coveted Tattersall’s Cup awarded to the race’s overall winner.
The 2014 race’s impressive and eclectic list of international competitors includes leading lights from the business world, America’s Cup winners, a former supermodel, a plastic surgeon, soldiers and veterans from the Australian Defence Forces and champions from the sports of rugby and surfing. Competing yachts range from Sean Langman’s 80-year old, nine metre Maluka of Kermandie, through to Southern Myth which first competed in the race in 1954, to the five 100-foot Maxis, the newest of which is Jim Clark’s imperious Comanche from the United States. Foreign crews including the Polish entrants on Katharsis II and Selma Expedition have travelled thousands of nautical miles to compete in the race for a first time; contrasting to Martin Power’s Bacardi set for her record twenty-ninth journey south. The race welcomes its very first competitor from South Korea, Sang Cho on Clipper Ventures 10; and witnesses Duende’s Tony Cable compete in the race for a momentous 49th occasion. There are those planning days on a diet of freeze-dried food, others with a dedicated chef onboard.
Line honours quest
In the quest to be first to Hobart, Wild Oats XI, fastest finisher in seven of the last nine races, remains the crew to beat. An unprecedented eighth win would elevate Bob Oatley’s crew to the record books surpassing the seven line honours victories set by Morna/Kurrewa IV between 1946 -1960.
Wild Oats XI’s task is rendered more difficult, and intriguing, this year with the presence of the world’s newest and most technologically sophisticated Maxi as her direct rival. Comanche arrives with great promise and potential. Clark will not be sailing south but his Comanche crew is stacked with an impressive array of professional sailing talent including skipper Ken Read and 2014 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, James Spithill. “This is sort of a Volvo 70 on steroids. It’s an unusual design, pretty radical,” explained Clark. “If I wanted to build a boat just for the Sydney to Hobart, I would have taken the most famous, successful boat of all time in that race and copied it. Instead, we designed a boat to be in open ocean races and try to break records. It’s probably the most radical boat design in this race.”
The crews of Wild Oats XI and Comanche are not expecting a simple head-to-head tussle for line honours. At 87, Australian sailing icon Syd Fischer is striving for success with his virtually rebuilt Ragamuffin 100. Fischer has already tasted line honours glory this year, winning the Rolex China Sea Race in April. Perpetual Loyal’s Anthony Bell won line honours in 2011, and will seek to upset the formbook again. The Perpetual Loyal crew comprises Tom Slingsby, Spithill’s America’s Cup teammate and 2010 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year. Manouch Moshayedi’s RIO 100 makes for an interesting outsider, especially if conditions suit his boat. “We are made for lighter winds. If it is really windy Jim Clark will enjoy it, if it is really light I will!,” admitted Moshayedi.
Defender of the crown
Victoire is the defending champion and seeking to make history becoming the first boat to win back-to-back Rolex Sydney Hobarts since the mid-1960s. As the early weather forecast indicates a race that could favour the mid-fleet, Darryl Hodgkinson’s 50-ft boat could be among the pack primed for glory. Her winning mentality could make the difference. “In the last three Hobart’s we won our division every time. We know we’re getting better. We understand the sail plan better and are better prepared than last year. I’m nervous, but we’re in a better place than last year,” explained Hodgkinson.
The race record to beat is one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012; requiring the first boat to arrive in Hobart on Sunday 28 December before 07:23.12 local time.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has run each year since 1945 and has been sponsored by Rolex since 2002.
The race start will be shown live on the official race website at www.rolexsydneyhobart.com
A Parade of Sail, welcoming historic competitors from the race’s proud history, takes place from 10:30-11:30 AEDT before the race start.