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Sydney-Hobart Race’s Wind-Over-Current Sailing Too Lively For Some as Ireland’s Maguire Settles to His Work Aboard Ichi Ban

27th December 2021
Ichi Ban settling to her work in open water in the race to Hobart, with the seas built by the fresh southerly wind steepened by the south-going East Australia Current. The Botin 52’s carefully-calculated hull sections minimize wetted area at this optimal angle of heel
Ichi Ban settling to her work in open water in the race to Hobart, with the seas built by the fresh southerly wind steepened by the south-going East Australia Current. The Botin 52’s carefully-calculated hull sections minimize wetted area at this optimal angle of heel Credit: Andrea Francolini

The south-going East Australia Current off the coast of New South Wales can vary in its strength. But if there’s power in it at its strongest streams about ten miles and more offshore, even a moderate to fresh southerly wind can kick up steep enough seas to make the going decidedly rugged for boats and crew racing the annual 628-mile Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.

All this is added to the strong possibility of Yuletide over-indulgence the day before the start and that - plus the fact that COVID-10 saw the race completely cancelled in 2020 – leads us to the feeling that a slight amount of personnel rustiness resulted in the description of the first stage as being “a wild night at sea”.

By comparison with the truly hairy first night of last August’s Fastnet Race, it was only a brisk thrash to windward. But if there hadn’t been some breakages and retirals, the conclusion would have been that the fleet is significantly over-strength – and therefore over-weight - in terms of hull build and rig configuration. So in the particular circumstances of the continuing 2021 race, the rate of retirement is more or less at the level you’d reasonably expect.

As a mainly straight line course, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race may seem an uncomplicated affair……..As a mainly straight line course, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race may seem an uncomplicated affair……..

………but underlying factors like the varying East Australian Current add to its challenges………but underlying factors like the varying East Australian Current add to its challenges

That said, the going was tough enough, and the tough got going, with Ireland well represented in the quality rather than the quantity stakes. Mark Mills designs - which have emanated from the rural depths of County Wicklow - have been having their moments at the front of the fleet, and aboard Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban – a sort of turbo-charged TP52 which is the lowest-rated boat in Class 0 and defending overall champion - Sailing Master Gordon Maguire was with a crew which sought out the best that the East Australian Current could offer, as they slugged further eastward than virtually all of the rest of the fleet.

They may have overdone it slightly in the earlier stages of the race, for as the boats came together again approaching Australia’s southeast corner of Cape Howe, the slightly lower-rated TP 52 Celestial (Sam Haynes) was marginally ahead after holding slightly more closely to the Australian coast. And another TP 52 – Sebastien Bohm’s Smuggler – is also close there in the mix. But in recent hours in crossing the Bass Strait and still going very much to windward - though in lighter breezes – Ichi Ban has been showing ahead on calculated places.

Christian Beck’s Juan K-designed super-maxi Law Connect is now vying with Peter Harburg’s Blackjack for the line honours lead. Photo: Andre FrancoliniChristian Beck’s Juan K-designed super-maxi Law Connect is now vying with Peter Harburg’s Blackjack for the line honours lead. Photo: Andre Francolini

In fact, so intense is the continuing analysis of this race that the calculated leader changes almost by the minute, and though Ichi Ban has only got as far up the rankings as third overall in IRC, she has been comfortably in the lead in Class 0 for some time.

The race tracker reveals the changing situation as the slackening wind draws slightly more off the Tasmanian coast, with dawn coming up to reveal Peter Harburg’s 100ft Blackjack and Christian Beck’s super-maxi Law Connect in contention for the line honours lead, though with 200 miles still to sail. However, the combination of an offshore wind with slackening strength makes the likelihood of a lottery-style driftathon final leg up the Derwent River to the Hobart waterfront finish line all the more likely, and as it is, speeds have been right down at various stages through the Australian night.

There is still a long way to go, and plenty of time for the little boats to stake their claim as a new breeze finally settles in.

Clearing the tanks before the start…... As the defending champion, Ichi Ban received much attention before the start from the circling helicopters, and they weren’t even allowed a minute’s peace for essential business……..Clearing the tanks before the start…... As the defending champion, Ichi Ban received much attention before the start from the circling helicopters, and they weren’t even allowed a minute’s peace for essential business……..

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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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The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is an annual offshore yacht racing event with an increasingly international exposure attracting super maxi yachts and entries from around tne world. It is hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, starting in Sydney, New South Wales on Boxing Day and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km).

The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - FAQs

The number of Sydney Hobart Yacht Races held by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia since 1945 is 75

6,257 completed the Sydney Hobart Yacht race, 1036 retired or were disqualified)

About 60,061 sailors have competed in the Sydney Hobart Race between 1945 and 2019

Largest fleets: 371 starters in the 50th race in 1994 (309 finished); 154 starters in 1987 (146 finished); 179 starters in 1985 (145 finished); 151 starters in 1984 (46 finished); 173 started in 1983 (128 finished); 159 started in 1981 (143 finished); 147 started in 1979 (142 finished); 157 started in 2019 (154 finished)

116 in 2004 (59 finished); 117 in 2014 (103 finished); 157 in 2019 (154 finished)

Nine starters in the inaugural Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 1945

In 2015 and 2017 there were 27, including the 12 Clipper yachts (11 in 2017). In the record entry of 371 yachts in the 50th in 1994, there were 24 internationals

Rani, Captain John Illingworth RN (UK). Design: Barber 35’ cutter. Line and handicap winner

157 starters, 154 finishers (3 retirements)

IRC Overall: Ichi Ban, a TP52 owned by Matt Allen, NSW. Last year’s line honours winner: Comanche, Verdier Yacht Design and VPLP (FRA) owned by Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant, in 1 day 18 hours, 30 minutes, 24 seconds. Just 1hour 58min 32secs separated the five super maxis at the finish 

1 day 9 hours 15 minutes and 24 seconds, set in 2017 by LDV Comanche after Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour in port/starboard incident for a finish time of 1d 9h 48m 50s

The oldest ever sailor was Syd Fischer (88 years, 2015).

As a baby, Raud O'Brien did his first of some six Sydney Hobarts on his parent's Wraith of Odin (sic). As a veteran at three, Raud broke his arm when he fell off the companionway steps whilst feeding biscuits to the crew on watch Sophie Tasker sailed the 1978 race as a four-year-old on her father’s yacht Siska, which was not an official starter due to not meeting requirements of the CYCA. Sophie raced to Hobart in 1979, 1982 and 1983.

Quite a number of teenage boys and girls have sailed with their fathers and mothers, including Tasmanian Ken Gourlay’s 14-year-old son who sailed on Kismet in 1957. A 12-year-old boy, Travis Foley, sailed in the fatal 1998 race aboard Aspect Computing, which won PHS overall.

In 1978, the Brooker family sailed aboard their yacht Touchwood – parents Doug and Val and their children, Peter (13), Jacqueline (10), Kathryne (8) and Donald (6). Since 1999, the CYCA has set an age limit of 18 for competitors

Jane (‘Jenny’) Tate, from Hobart, sailed with her husband Horrie aboard Active in the 1946 Race, as did Dagmar O’Brien with her husband, Dr Brian (‘Mick’) O’Brien aboard Connella. Unfortunately, Connella was forced to retire in Bass Strait, but Active made it to the finish. The Jane Tate Memorial Trophy is presented each year to the first female skipper to finish the race

In 2019, Bill Barry-Cotter brought Katwinchar, built in 1904, back to the start line. She had competed with a previous owner in 1951. It is believed she is the oldest yacht to compete. According to CYCA life member and historian Alan Campbell, more than 31 yachts built before 1938 have competed in the race, including line honours winners Morna/Kurrewa IV (the same boat, renamed) and Astor, which were built in the 1920s.

Bruce Farr/Farr Yacht Design (NZL/USA) – can claim 20 overall wins from 1976 (with Piccolo) up to and including 2015 (with Balance)

Screw Loose (1979) – LOA 9.2m (30ft); Zeus II (1981) LOA 9.2m

TKlinger, NSW (1978) – LOA 8.23m (27ft)

Wild Oats XI (2012) – LOA 30.48m (100ft). Wild Oats XI had previously held the record in 2005 when she was 30m (98ft)

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