With 85 boats at the start and more than 1,000 sailors taking part, it is impossible to cite every stand out highlight of this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. But as the wind and sea spray settles on this edition, and before attention turns to this year’s 75th race, here are some reflections of what helped to make the race memorable.
BOXING DAY EXTRAVAGANZA
Sydney Harbour was at her finest for the 1pm Boxing Day start, with glorious sunny weather and a 10-15 knot north to north-easterly wind later reaching 25 knots outside the Heads. And the 85 yachts delivered magnificently with their display of colour and sailing prowess.
However, no sooner had the massive spectator fleet, those on shore and the television audience witnessed the three waves of boats start and then charge up the Harbour, creating a trail of zigzagging wakes as they gybed to port and starboard then set spinnakers for Hobart, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race provided its first dramas.
There were no false starts or collisions that have marred previous starts, but two early retirements reminded once again how the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 628 nautical mile race can so mercilessly turn on any crew or boat.
The first retirement came at 3.25pm with Gordon Ketelbey’s CYCA registered TP52 Zen reporting that they had retired due to rig damage.
Then at 4.20pm we received news of line honours contender, Seng Huang Lee’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag – registered with the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and one of five super maxis in the race – retiring with a broken bowsprit. The David Witt skippered boat returned to Birkenhead Point Marina in Sydney.
NAIL-BITING RACE TO THE END
The four-way battle between the remaining super maxis was a nail-biter from start to finish.
The Oatley family’s Wild Oats XI, with Mark Richards at the helm, finally surged away from her nearest rivals - the Peter Harburg owned Black Jack with Mark Bradford skippering, and Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant’s Comanche - at Tasman Light to cement its race winning lead.
Until then, only four miles separated not only them, but also Christian Beck’s InfoTrack for most of the race. The sight of all four boats on the Derwent River at once – even after Wild Oats XI established her lead – was historic.
The sight of Wild Oats XI sailing alone to the finish though was majestic, especially with a magnificent spectator fleet in her tow. That a boat 14 years old and with eight previous wins to her credit could still beat such a strong list of challengers was testimony to those who had designed, built, maintained and sailed her over those years.
However, in her wake, the battle between Comanche, Black Jack and InfoTrack was absorbing; with Black Jack edging out last year’s winner Comanche in the last 100 metres after match racing her from Tasman Island. Notwithstanding, InfoTrack’s fourth place in the conditions that prevailed was also deserving of praise, and certainly a credit to the strength of her crew. Both Wild Oats XI and Black Jack’s skippers remarked on it being an incredible performance in conditions that did not suit InfoTrack.
The line honours outcome was marred by the uncertainty of a Race Committee protest against Wild Oats XI relating to a report from the owner of Black Jack, advising that Wild Oats XI’s AIS had not transmitted throughout the race, but her record ninth win stood after the International Jury declared the protest invalid.
As intriguing as the battle for line honours, though, was that for the main event, overall victory – and the Tattersall Cup. It was a battle that was forever seeing an unusual change of positions throughout before the final conclusion.
It was a battle that began from the gun after which Black Jack led out the Heads for the second year in a row, but in their wake a fleet that was gybing to port and starboard in attempts to find the best exit in light and patchy conditions – not to mention the wash left by the front start line boats, making it a difficult exit for the following two lines as the wind lightened and shifted even further.
The major head-turner in Black Jack’s wake though was the sight of the Carkeek 60, Winning Appliances, skippered by John Winning Jr, in fourth position after they turned right at the Heads, leaving Comanche behind them, and then began the sail south to reach Hobart as the ninth boat to do so and eventually place fourth overall.
Meanwhile, in a race where there was no real pattern and the conditions were so variable, the defending overall champion, Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban, kept going up and down the leader board like she was in a game of snakes and ladders, as did so many boat sizes that featured in the top 10. In the end, the 60 to 70 footers prevailed, finishing top four – and this year, an unusually high amount of them.
The local win by Tasmanian Philip Turner’s Alive was only the fourth for the Tattersall Cup by a Tasmanian entry, and only the third by a Tasmanian boat – the last was Bob Cumming’s Screw Loose in 1979. The previous two were G.D. Gibson’s Westward in 1947 and 1948. Westward was moored in Constitution Dock for the duration of the race – a very different looking boat to Alive.
A YEAR FOR WOMEN
More than 80 women raced, and they left an indelible mark.
The campaign run by the professional all-female crew on Wild Oats X was a huge success. It also featured former Foreign Affairs Minister Hon Julie Bishop MP as an ambassador for their campaign in support of ocean sustainability. She was on board for the start and jumped off near Bondi Beach – and she was dockside for their arrival in Hobart
The Oatley family boat – the sistership to Wild Oats XI - finished second overall, but she gave the eventual Tattersall Cup winning boat Alive a real run for her money. The close contest between the two brought the best out of the two boats and crews.
It led to Wild Oats X skipper, Stacey Jackson, being awarded the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy as the first female skipper to finish the race.
However, the presence and influence of women on the race was evident in many a crew. The following are examples.
Adrienne Cahalan navigated Voodoo to eighth on line honours and third overall to win Division 1 and notch up her 27th Sydney Hobart.
Zoe Taylor’s Cookson 12, Grace O’Malley, won Division 3 and placed ninth on IRC with a crew including Clipper Round the World winning Wendy Tuck in her 12th Sydney Hobart and on bow, Emma May in her fifth. In Division 3 they beat their main threats – Enterprise, the modified Farr 40 skippered by Anthony Kirke (think Star Trek) and Sail Exchange, Carl Crafoord’s Cookson 12.
Wax Lyrical, with a crew that included four women, impressed by winning PHS overall. They were third in the Corinthian division won by Gun Runner, the smallest boat in the fleet at 30ft and second last of 79 boats to finish - just after midnight on December 31 – with Chancellor the last to do so at 1am.
On Audere, a Beneteau 45 representing Royal Brighton Yacht Club in Victoria that finished 67th overall, the John Cain skippered crew of 10 included his wife Jenny Wright and their two daughters Beth and Milly Cain. For the mother-and-sister-trio it was their first Hobart.
BENCHMARKS AND REMEMBRANCE
This year’s Sydney Hobart was one of benchmark participation for a number of seasoned sailors in the race. We saw Tony ‘Ace’ Ellis on Triton equal Tony Cable’s 51 Sydney Hobarts. Thanks to a late call up to crew on Relish IV two days before the start, Bill Ratcliff got to reach his bucket list dream of 50 starts despite his battle with cancer and age of 82.
Iain Murray (Wild Oats XI), Jim Nixon (Komatsu Azzurro), John Whitfield (Cinquante), Sam Hunt (Gweilo) and Michael Formosa (Reve), as well as 50 race medallions to Bill Ratcliff and Colin Wildman, who has done the last 14 on the Radio Relay Vessel.
This year’s race was also one of heavy reflection for the 1998 Sydney Hobart in which six lives were lost at sea in horrific conditions. The tragedy was formally commemorated at 1700 hours on December 27.
During the scheduled fleet radio report, David Kellett AM, who also sailed the 1998 race and has done duty on the various Radio Relay Vessels for the last 19 races, read out to the fleet by radio the words originally spoken by then CYCA Commodore, Hugo Van Kretschmar, at the 1998 memorial service at Constitution Dock. Referring to the lost six sailors, the message read:
Mike Bannister, John Dean, Jim Lawler, Glyn Charles, Bruce Guy, Phil Skeggs …
May the everlasting voyage you have now embarked on be blessed with calm seas and gentle breezes.
May you never have to reef or change a headsail at night.
May your bunk be always warm and dry.
The tragedy was commemorated and remembered in various ways.
John Dean was aboard Winston Churchill whose crew abandoned for life rafts in 1998 and his body never recovered. His younger son Peter was 15 at the time and sailed his first Sydney Hobart on Winning Appliances this year, specifically entered by family friends, the Winnings, in remembrance of the tragedy.
Sailing this year provided Dean some closure. “The monkey is off my back,” said Dean whose mother Penny, wife Kate and children were there to see him off in Sydney and in Hobart to see him arrive.
Ed Psaltis, a veteran of 37 Sydney Hobarts and overall winner in 1998, was disappointed for not making real his dream of marking the 20th anniversary with another win in the race in which his father Bill Psaltis, a 22 race veteran, fired the 10-minute warning gun. On his Sydney 36 Midnight Rambler, he had to settle for third in Division 4.
The list of memories in this year’s race, no doubt, could go on. And no doubt it will through the reflections, chat and banter of all those involved over the coming days, weeks and months … perhaps longer.
And so it should for such an iconic Australian sport event.
By Rupert Guinness and Di Pearson, RSHYR media