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Will Sydney-Hobart’s Sunshine Return to Brighten Ireland’s Mid-Winter Mood?

25th December 2021
A Classic. The Rolex Sydney-Hobart fleet leaders sweep seaward in perfect style shortly after the traditional in-harbour start.
A Classic. The Rolex Sydney-Hobart fleet leaders sweep seaward in perfect style shortly after the traditional in-harbour start. Credit: Borlenghi

For many years now, the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race on 26th December has played a special role in reviving the mid-winter spirits of the dark and gloomy Northern Hemisphere, with the glitzy sunlit start out of one of the world’s most spectacular natural harbours providing a real tonic. And nowhere is this cheering-up more so than in Ireland where – ever since the Irish team’s victory in the 1991 Southern Cross Series, completed by our lead boat Atara’s overall win in the Hobart Race itself – we’ve looked on it with a certain proprietorial pride, as Atara’s win was achieved with Harold Cudmore of Cork and Gordon Maguire of Howth in the key roles.

Thus it was thirty years ago that Gordon Maguire’s very fulfilling Australia-based professional sailing career was finally properly launched, and since then he has done another 29 Hobart Races - in addition to may other top international events worldwide - such that for 2021’s race, he’s already looking at a scorecard of four overall wins, all of which were a source of enormous satisfaction for his recently-deceased father, the great Neville Maguire

Gordon Maguire in Hobart in December 2019 as it became increasingly clear that Ichi Ban was going to retain her second Sydney-Hobart overall win. Photo: Judith MalcolmGordon Maguire in Hobart in December 2019 as it became increasingly clear that Ichi Ban was going to retain her second Sydney-Hobart overall win. Photo: Judith Malcolm

And if Gordon’s 2021 mount, Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban, does the business this time round, it will be three times in a row for the Allen-Maguire team, an extraordinary achievement in a race in which all the very finest resources of Australia’s top offshore boats and crews are focused in a no-expenses-spared blitz of sailing over a tricky 628-mile course.

Even by these high standards, 2021 will be extra-special, as the 2020 race couldn’t be sailed because of the pandemic. And as it is, the pandemic compliance requirements have involved rigorous implementation, as the total ban on travel to Tasmania was lifted only as recently as December 15th, with the Hobart authorities determined to keep things under control.

The Botin 52 Ichi Ban is currently one of the world’s most successful offshore racersThe Botin 52 Ichi Ban is currently one of the world’s most successful offshore racers

That said, the healthy stagings of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in June, the Fastnet Race in August and the Middle Sea Race in October have shown that, even with a big fleet, proper offshore racing is probably one of the healthiest group activities in which you could hope to be involved when there’s a pandemic ashore. In such circumstances, you’d have naturally anticipated that the Sydney Harbour weather would be its usually obligingly sunny mid-summer self for the start. But maybe not. Apparently, the situation is fluid and may be extremely fluid with thunderstorms around Sydney on Sunday and a possibility of a period of strong southerly winds.

This simply isn’t fair, as they’ve had some wonderful weather for December’s buildup towards the Hobart Race, with classic Sydney Harbour sunshine for both the Classics Regatta and the SOLAS Big Boat Race.

Sydney Harbour as it should be in the southern summer, with the Dovell 100 Scallywag leading this month’s Solas Big Boat Challenge. Photo: FrancoliniSydney Harbour as it should be in the southern summer, with the Dovell 100 Scallywag leading this month’s Solas Big Boat Challenge. Photo: Francolini

Dave Griffith’s JV 62 Whisper was overall winner of the Solas Big Boat Challenge and is another fancied entrant for the Hobart race. Photo:FrancoliniDave Griffith’s JV 62 Whisper was overall winner of the Solas Big Boat Challenge and is another fancied entrant for the Hobart race. Photo:Francolini

The 1948 Robert Clark-designed Caprice of Huon racing in this month’s Sydney Classics Regatta, part of the buildup to the Hobart RaceThe 1948 Robert Clark-designed Caprice of Huon racing in this month’s Sydney Classics Regatta, part of the buildup to the Hobart Race

Caprice of Huon slicing through Cowes Roads under the command of Australia’s Gordon Ingate in 1965, when she was the most successful boat in Cowes Week and a star of the Admirals Cup seriesCaprice of Huon slicing through Cowes Roads under the command of Australia’s Gordon Ingate in 1965, when she was the most successful boat in Cowes Week and a star of the Admirals Cup series

But Australian weather having a tendency to be OTT, their thunderstorms can be like multiples of thunderstorms elsewhere, with downpours to the power of 10. But who knows, it could well be they end up on the other side of an expected trough, which will put an entirely different light on the weather.

In that case, “light” will equally be applied to the wind, and it’s only later that a fresher easterly might arrive. If this is so, the smaller boats in the 89-boat fleet will be favoured, with some pundits plumping for the vintage Australian-version of the S&S 34 in the form of Crux (Carlos Aydos, the last S&S 34 ever built) and White Bay 6 Azzuro (Shane Kearns).

The S&S 34 has been held in special regard in Australia ever since Ted Heath’s first boat, the S&S 34 Morning Cloud, won the 1969 Sydney-Hobart Race with some absolutely brilliant strategic and tactical calls from the navigator, the late Anthony Churchill.

If light winds persist in the early stages, and the breeze builds when the big boats have already finished, the smallest lowest-rated entries like the Shane Kearns-owned S&S 34 Azzuro (one of the last S&S 34s to be built) will become favourites.If light winds persist in the early stages, and the breeze builds when the big boats have already finished, the smallest lowest-rated entries like the Shane Kearns-owned S&S 34 Azzuro (one of the last S&S 34s to be built) will become favourites.

Ted Heath’s Morning Cloud, one of the first S&S 34s to be built, was overall winner of the 1969 Sydney-Hobart RaceTed Heath’s Morning Cloud, one of the first S&S 34s to be built, was overall winner of the 1969 Sydney-Hobart Race

But owing to the fact that the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia do not permit the boats of the two-handed division - in which Crux is racing – to compete for the main trophy, the Tattersall Cup, all the S&S 34 betting money will be on Azzuro. She has now been up-graded to become the most souped-up S&S 34 ever seen, and she starts with an excellent record of previous successes.

Nevertheless one of the attractions of the great 600-plus mile offshore classics (in which the Round Ireland Race is included) is that they’re long enough to be ultimately unpredictable, with the Hobart Race in particular sometimes turned into a lottery by the vagaries of the winds in the Derwent River in the approaches to the finish.

The Matt Allen-Gordon Maguire combination on the 52ft Ichi Ban has proven remarkable consistent, and they’re past masters at pulling winning rabbits out of unpromising-looking hats. Theirs is a fascinating relationship, for although Matt Allen (who has done 30 Hobart Races) has shown himself well capable of success sailing as his own skipper, in the official listings for the 2021 Syndey-Hobart Race he is entered as Ichi Ban’s Owners/skipper, but Gordon Maguire is listed as Sailing Master ahead of a crew which includes the Irish Sean O’Rourke, and Dublin-born sailmaker Noel Drennan.

The 628-mile Sydney-Hobart Course as it has been sailed since the race’s foundation in 1945, when the winner was John Illingworth racing Rani. “It’s all perfectly straightforward until you reach the final stages up the Derwent River to Hobart”.The 628-mile Sydney-Hobart Course as it has been sailed since the race’s foundation in 1945, when the winner was John Illingworth racing Rani. “It’s all perfectly straightforward until you reach the final stages up the Derwent River to Hobart”.

In Australia, “Sailing Master” is a title that carries real meaning. Back in the days when the new colony was being established, the Royal Navy ships which maintained contact with England were at times nominally captained by inexperienced placemen, who were often from the aristocracy. They’d obtained their potentially very lucrative naval positions (for it could involve prize-money from captured vessels and their valuable cargoes) through influence at court or through corrupt government officials, and they were appointed despite being sometimes totally ignorant of the sea and sailing.

Consequently, each Naval ship carried a Sailing Master to keep things running smoothly and safely. Thus today the title has a real significance for Australians, as many of their ancestors would never have made it there at all were it not for the presence of competent Sailing Masters on the accompanying naval vessels for the long outward voyage.

Thus even the little Azzuro – winner of Class 7 in the 2019 race -has a Sailing Master. He’s called Jim Nixon, and this is his 26th Sydney-Hobart Race. Jim Nixon indeed…? It seems the brother has been leading a secret life. All that stuff about being totally involved in the Strangford Lough River Class and writing their Centenary history for 2021 appears to be a blind. The Christmas Day phone calls will be interesting…

Rolex Sydney-Hobart 2021 Race Tracker here

Meanwhile, a very Happy Christmas to all our readers.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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