Boxing Day marks the start of one of the much awaited events of the yachting world – the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. A classic ocean race, it belongs to the elite three, the other two being the Fastnet Race in the UK and the Bermuda Race in the USA.
With the commencement of the race, the eastern coastline of Australia grabs all attention in the holidays. Racing yachts across the blue waters is every adventurer’s dream. And many yachtsmen have participated for years; though the record for the most races is held by Tony Cable of NSW who entered this race 49 times!
From an impromptu beginning, the race has come a long way. Now, it has an official sponsor, Rolex, and is a widely popular and well-loved event among yachters. But the spirit of adventure still lies at the core of the race.
A Glimpse of the Glorious Past
Leisure activities were barred during World War II; cruising and casual racing were within this suspension order too. But the spirit was alive; the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia was created by the active participation of the sailors on Sydney Harbour. Later, Bert Walker, Jack Earl, and Peter Luke – three members of the club planned a cruise to Hobart in 1945.
Afterwards, Peter Luke suggested that Captain John Illingworth RN may also join them on the cruise that was to begin after Christmas. He agreed, but on the condition that they make it a race instead of a cruise. Thus the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race was born.
Illingworth was not only a competitor in the race; he was also at the head of the plans and arrangements. His experience of ocean racing in England and the USA made him an expert at how to measure the boat, identify probable and possible, handicap the event, and other aspects. He, therefore, helped the club create an event out of just a cruise.
On Boxing Day, 1945, nine yachts set sail for Hobart in the first race. Illingworth also set sail onboard Rani, a Barber 35′ cutter he bought for the purpose. He had prepared the yacht and its crew well, and they were at their competitive best.
Illingworth had a serious approach to the race, but the other sailors were more casual. Once they hit the waters though, they came face to face with a strong southerly gale. One yacht retired, some heaved on the rough seas, and many others sought shelter. But Rani moved on, under the able leadership of her captain.
When the weather cleared, RAAF planes were sent up to locate the fleet. Rani was so far ahead, that they missed her, and thought that disaster had struck. It became sensational news when Rani reappeared off Tasman Islands. She was the winner of the first race.
The Thrilling Time
Success of the first Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the media interest it generated implied a long and secure future for it. By 1946, it was declared to be an annual event to be held every Boxing Day. The rules and regulations were also tightened, based on the guidelines of the Royal Ocean Racing Club of Britain, to ensure fair competition.
Racing on the open blue waters, with no control over the winds and waves, and any signposts, lines, or markings to show the track, winning solely depends on the skills, experience and luck of the yachtsmen and the capability of their vessel.
Records offer a good idea about how the conditions can affect the race. In 1975, Kialoa III, a maxi yacht from the USA, shot to fame under the guidance of its owner and Captain Jim Kilroy who completed the race well within 3 days. It held its position for 21 years, until Morning Glory snatched it away by an improvement of mere 30 minutes in 1996.
Today, the record for the fastest race is held by Wild Oats XI, an Australian yacht that covered the distance in 1 day, 18 hours, and 23 minutes in 2012. It was the winner of the 2005 race, and the 2014 Line Honours winner, as well.
On the other hand, the slowest race is attributed to Wayfarer, which took 11 days, 6 hours, and 20 minutes for the task in the first race of 1945. A nail-biting finish was recorded in 1982, when Condor, a yacht from Bermuda, beat Apollo by 7 seconds! Again, in 2001, the first 6 yachts of the race came to harbour within a span of just 47 minutes.
A Hint of Febulous Future
The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has come a long way; from the time when the sailors had to depend on their knowledge of the sun, moon, and stars to navigate the open waters, to the GPS-enabled system that guide them today.
From the disaster that stuck in 1998, when opposing winds and currents created a perilous sea for the yachts, the spirit of the race emerged as the winner, when the heroic efforts of the civilian and the service rescue helicopter crews saved the sailors, and prevented tragedy. It led to the revision of the equipment and experience necessary for the race.
Yachtsmen have participated in the race, some once, and some again and again, but the thirst for adventure is never to be satiated. And it is this craving that draws the competitors to the challenging conditions of the race year after year.
The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is a celebration of Australia’s maritime heritage, and exemplary of the love people have for the open blue seas. Marked by revelry at the start and finish points, the race is a unique experience, where people from every strata of life join in and enjoy the thrill of the competition.
Plans for the 2015 gala are afoot. The entries for the yachts to participate are open. All of Australia, and the entire yachting world, are gearing up for the famous open ocean racing event of the year. Are you going to be there too?