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Displaying items by tag: Sydney Hobart

People have been unobtrusively getting on with sailing in many places during the pandemic, determinedly maintaining social distance afloat and ashore, reducing their interaction with outsiders to such a minimum it's almost non-existent, and doing it all thoughtfully, with properly-located face coverings.

Where racing has been held, it has been kept low key, and the traditional après sailing became so restrained that many folk, having got in their evening race or mini-cruise or whatever, simply decided to go straight home rather than use the carefully-planned compliant catering which the clubs have worked determinedly and with vision to provide.

Amongst club officials meanwhile, the central thinking is that each club should keep to itself, each boat should keep to itself, and each sailing family should stay within family limits. It's the complete opposite, in other words, of the Hockey Union, which seems to have been penalising clubs because some team members have refused for health reasons to travel to matches at other clubs.

Michael McCann's Etchells 22 on her way to winning the Royal Cork's evening raceThe sense of well-being and feelings of good health induced by evening racing like this is beyond measure. Michael McCann's Etchells 22 on her way to winning the Royal Cork's evening race of Thursday, July 9th 2020. Photo: Robert Bateman

Who got Covid-19 through sailing?

Fortunately, the nature of our sailing is such that a comparable situation doesn't arise. The result is that the sailing community has managed to maintain such a high level of good health that incidences of COVID-19 within it seem very rare indeed, often to the point of non-existence. But instead of making such sweeping assessments based on personal observation and hearsay, would like to put the record on a more substantial footing, so if you know of anyone in sailing who currently has, or has experienced, COVID-19, then please let us know.

Of course, we don't want names – that would be a gross intrusion on privacy, and probably illegal. But if we could get some sort of ballpark figure (if it exists), it would give substance to the arguments of many club officers, who feel that the National Authority has gone too far in declaring that even the humblest club racing is now verboten, and who feel instead that our beloved and exceptionally healthy sport – of which club sailors are the backbone – deserves much the same treatment as that meted out to golf.

The problem, of course, is that while sailing is a peaceful and often solitary pursuit without paying spectators, it is a high visibility activity. Even the smallest boats popping out for a quick race in the bay will be seen – albeit with scant genuine attention – by very many people. And if one sector of the population is finding its activities restricted in the severest possible way, it's only human to strike out and make sure that everyone else has to endure the same restrictions, and preferably worse.

Dun Laoghaire Water Wags on Lough ReeDun Laoghaire Water Wags on Lough Ree. Casual observers will not be aware of the details of sailing, but they'll certainly know it's going on. Photo: Cathy Mac Aleavey

Despite all this, we've had a truncated but interesting sailing season in Ireland in 2020, and at the time of writing this it's still developing, with Pam Lee and Cat Hunt in the process of setting a new women's two-handed round Ireland record (Record established in a time of 3 days 3d 20h 29m 28s subject to ratification - Web editor). Looking ahead, if allowed there are also prospects of late Autumn and early Winter leagues among people who have come to a fresh realisation of just how much sailing means to them.

It's all controllable within a very defined club bubble, but special challenges arise when a major international event comes up on the agenda, and those involved think they can just about run it provided the countdown and the participants have all been careful beyond diligent in preparing themselves and their crews.

Middle Sea Race's impressive turnout

Today's Royal Malta Rolex Middle Sea Race really has bent over backwards to be pandemic-fit. But even in Malta, there are Middle Sea-proven boats and crews who wouldn't dream of taking part. Despite that, the entry of 71 boats with crews from 21 countries is an impressive turnout, and there seems to be a basic underlying feeling that the race must take place as scheduled at 11 o'clock local time today (Saturday), not least for the morale of Malta and the good of world sailing.

This may all sound a bit high-flown for a specialised sporting event, but the Middle Sea Race can happen with no detrimental effect on preventing the spread of COVID-19, it will further improve the health of those taking part, and it will do us all no end of good simply to know it's taking place.

The Podesta family's First 45 Elusive 2The Podesta family's First 45 Elusive 2 on her way to winning the Rolex Middle Sea Race 2019. Photo Rolex/Kurt Arrigo

So we find every bit of Irish interest that's going. Even the defending champion. the Podesta family's First 45 Elusive 2, has a tenuous connection to us. The late Arthur Podesta, the father of the remarkable Podesta siblings Maya, Christoph and Aaron, took a best result of third overall in the Middle Sea Race with the first Elusive, which was an earlier First 45 – a sister-ship of Cormac Twomey's Sarah J which won the Dingle Race in 1997 and 1999 – which had originally been taken out to the Mediterranean by John Sisk of Dun Laoghaire.

Thus we need to claim a bit of Elusive 2, as our key offshore sailors in Malta - Barry Hurley and Brian Flahive who have many outstanding offshore achievements between them - are sitting this one out, though they have been getting in a spot of sailing by both being at the sharp end of SB20 racing in Malta.

Another serious contender that rings a bell is the hugely individualistic Lombard 45 Pata Negra, the vehicle of dreams for many Irish offshore successes. She's chartered this time round by Andrew Hall of Pwllheli and the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association.

Jean-Pierre Dick's JP 54 The Kid took line honours in the Malta Coastal Race on Wednesday, and placed third overall Jean-Pierre Dick's JP 54 The Kid took line honours in the Malta Coastal Race on Wednesday and placed third overall

And though Honorary Irish Sailor Jean-Pierre Dick (he was up at The Park, don't y'know) put down a marker for line honours with his JP54 The Kid in Wednesday's 30-mile Malta Coastal Race, the formidable talents of Nin O'Leary of Crosshaven have been shipped aboard the Dutch-owned Maxi 72 Aragon, a Reichel-Pugh design. And there's nothing Nin enjoys more than making a luxury performance cruiser sail much faster than anyone thought possible.

So there's an Irish lineup of sorts, and doubtless once the fleet finally crosses the start line, we'll find that there are others of us among the crews, for there's also representation in the multi-hulls with northerner Mikey Ferguson crewing on the MOD 70 Mana

Nin O'Leary's Middle Sea contender AragonNin O'Leary's Middle Sea contender Aragon - her CV already includes winning the RORC Transatlantic race.

Vendee Globe in November

The pace is then ratcheted with the Vendee Globe getting underway in November. Theoretically, it’s the perfect lockdown event, as it's all about isolation. But there is the problem that if anything happens to one of the contenders, they might have to put into some remote little island which would be just rife for infection from all sorts of novel viruses and bacteria. But that’s an unlikely enough scenario, and either way we can be sure that Marcus Hutchinson, much involved in recent days with the Magenta Project Female Two-Handed Round Ireland Record, will be right in the thick of things in Les Sables d’Olonne, even if they are going to try and run the legendary village oo socially distanced lines.

 The hundred footers make their start in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Until the pandemic struck, three of them had hoped to be racing in European waters this summer. Photo: Rolex/Carlo BorlenghiThe hundred footers make their start in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. Until the pandemic struck, three of them had hoped to be racing in European waters this summer. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Sydney Hobart holds out

Beyond that, the focus will swing to the southern hemisphere, where the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia are determinedly holding out on being able to stage the annual Sydney-Hobart race on December 26th. If it does happen, defending overall ace is our own Gordon Maguire, and the likelihood of top navigator-tactician Adrienne Cahalane – originally of Offaly – being in some key role in the fleet can be taken as read.

America's Cup selection stages

Meanwhile, December will see the first selection stages of next year's America's Cup being raced in New Zealand. New Zealand has of course been the poster-girl for national avoidance of COVID-19, so the anti-viral tests which boats and crews being shipped out to Auckland have had to pass are of the most demanding and rigorous type.

New Zealand has been under almost total outsider-exclusion for quite some time now. Thus the chink of light which may be allowed in by the America's Cup is surely welcome, as the prolonged period of virtually total isolation seems to have resulted in the distinctive Kiwi accent becoming even more different from English as she is spoken elsewhere than it was already. Unless some outsiders get in there quite soon, it's only a matter of time before there won't be anybody who can understand a word they say……..

Auckland, the City of a Thousand SailsAuckland, the City of a Thousand Sails, where the total pandemic isolation of New Zealand is resulting in the development of a strange new dialect of English

Published in Vendee Globe

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race organisers at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) are continuing their planning for the 2020 edition this December.

Two weeks remain for entries to the 76th edition of the Australian summer bluewater classic, which starts the day after Christmas each year.

The CYCA says it is committed to conducting a COVID-safe race for competitors, spectators, volunteers, officials and staff alike.

To this end, the club says it has been working for many months with authorities including the New South Wales and Tasmanian governments in the shared goal of conducting a great race.

“Our aim is to bring Australia and those watching around the world the amazing spectacle that is our annual blue water classic safely,” the CYCA said in a statement. “Fans should expect a number of changes to be made to the shore-side aspect of the race.”

As previously reported on, entries will close on Thursday 29 October for this year’s race, which not only will mark 75 years of women in the great race but will also be the first to include a two-handed division.

Irish sailing has figured strongly in previous editions, with last year’s overall winners Ichi Ban featuring Howth’s Gordon Maguire as sailing master.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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A new two-handed division has been included in the 2020 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, encouraging new entrants in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s famous blue-ribbon event.

Entries are now open for 2020’s 628-nautical-mile challenge, with the just-launched documentation encouraging the usual brigade of sailors – plus a whole new pool of talent – to join the adventure.

A fresh fleet of adventurers look set to sail to Hobart, too, following the introduction of a two-handed division in the race for the first time. Interest will also be high in the ever-increasing number of women participants, supporters and fans, with the 2020 race marking 75 years of female participation in the race.

First conducted in 1945 from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, the annual bluewater classic, which starts on Boxing Day each year, has evolved into a pinnacle sailing event, drawing interest and entries from around the globe.

“The 2020 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, following our incredibly successful 75th Sydney Hobart in 2019, should be one for the history books once again,” CYCA Commodore Paul Billingham said.

“With the introduction of two-handed sailing, ahead of its inclusion in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and the celebration of 75 years of female participation in the race, there’s plenty to look forward to and plenty of reasons why this will be a huge event.”

The 2020 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet looks set to intrigue. While reigning overall winners, the Tattersall Cup-winning Ichi Ban (with Howth's Gordon Maguire as sailing master), is likely to return, the line-honours title winners Comanche, led by Irish ex-pat Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant, has been sold. Who will claim some of world sailing’s most sought-after silverware in 2020 is anyone’s guess.

The Notice of Race and online entry is now available under the ‘For Competitors’ tab on the official website. Entries close at 1700 hours on 29 October.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban, with Howth Yacht Club's Gordon Maguire very much on the strength of a crew of all the talents, is currently leading IRC overall in the 75th Rolex Sydney Hobart Race as the fleet emerges from the torrid fluctuations of a relatively windless patch off southeast Australia in the approaches to the Bass Straits.

While there is now no way any of the fleet leaders can hope to approach the record course time set by Jim Cooney & Samantha Grant’s hundred-foot Comanche in 2017, a reasonably enthusiastic northeaster is developing off the east coast of Tasmania, and as she begins to get the full benefit of it with 202 miles to the finish, Comanche is leading on the water and recording 25.6 knots.

But in the IRC handicap racing for the all-important Tattersall Cup, the consistent Matt Allen-Gordon Maguire combo on the Botin 52 Ichi Ban are currently leading. Ichi Ban led her class out of Sydney Harbour in convincing style, and in some of the flatter patches on down the coast she was at times embarrassingly close to the five hundred footers in the SuperMaxi division.

Yet even Ichi Ban had to take her punishment in getting through the flattest patches, and at one stage the computer analysis had her briefly back in 81st overall. Those fluctuating computer snapshots can be moments of torture – or wild over-encouragement - which experienced crews learn to take in their stride. But for the Sydney-Hobart virgins on Darren Wright’s First 40 HYC Breakthrough, it was real roller-coaster stuff, hero to zero and all that, as they went from being in single figures in both Division 6 and overall yesterday evening into the relative full stop in the soft patch which at one stage had them looking at 100th overall and 15th in class.

Now they’re getting back on track with a return to 9th in class, though there’s still a mountain to climb as they’re at 77th overall, but in a very fluid situation.

Meanwhile, in the clarifying overall leadership battle, Ichi Ban currently finds herself in close competition in the numbers game for the overall lead with the French Milius 50 Daguet (Frederic Puzet) and Quentin Stewart’s experimental 46ft Maverick 49 - entered as home-porting in Guernsey in the Channels Islands - which sports both canting keel and DSS foils. Ireland’s Sean McCarter was involved in the test pilot periods of her development from being new in 2013-2014, and while she has recorded an eclectic listing of successes, a podium place in the 75th RSHR really would hit the button.

Race Tracker here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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After rapid initial progress southward from Sydney in the 75th Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, the big boat leaders on the water are being slowed by a large area of light airs off Australia’s southeast corner, and the smaller craft are making hay as they continue to carry the fair wind which sent the fleet on their way in classic style from Sydney Heads.

The mighty hundred footer Comanche (Jim Cooney & Samantha Grant) did well to take over the line honours lead by choosing a course to the eastward of other fleet pace-setters, but this evening at 1800 hrs Irish time a carefully selected route down the middle or even slightly to the west seems to be paying off.

Breakthrough First 40HYC Breakthrough chasing other First 40s as the run southward begins. As of this evening, she had overtaken three of them

It’s certainly working big time for the sole Irish entry, the First 40 HYC Breakthrough (Darren Wright, Howth YC). For much of the day, HYC Breakthrough was placed at 14th in Division 6 and 25th overall. But the tactics of the Howth crew in seeking the best breezes have paid off with the boat making a breakthrough and currently ranking as 11th overall in IRC in the 157-strong fleet, and 7th in Division 6 in the midst of some very tightly-packed times, having overtaken three other First 40s during the past four hours.

But with 495 miles still to race and several different wind permutations being suggested by forecasters, this is developing as a Hobart Race for those who are tops with patience, persistence – and good luck.

Race tracker here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Irish fortunes in the Sydney Hobart race are led by the super maxi co-owned by Jim Cooney (whose family hails from County Meath) who is the fleet leader while Irish hopes are also high on Darren Wright's Howth Yacht Club First 40 Breakthrough that started well among the First 40s to be currently placed 16th in class 6, 17nm SE of Kiama. Also from Howth, sailing master Gordon Maguire, is a race favourite on the TP52 Ichi Ban and second on IRC and the current IRC 1 division leader. Yet another Howth sailor on the JV62 Chinese Whisper Shane Diviney is eighth overall in IRC. Navigator onboard Chinese Whisper is Sydney local with Irish roots Adrienne Cahalan.  Afloat's WM Nixon previewed the race here

Early Lead for Commanche

Comanche, the 2017 line honours winner and race record holder, fought back brilliantly from a slow start in this year’s 75th running of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s race by taking the lead soon after exiting Sydney Heads.

Sydney hobart startThe front runners dash to be the first to exit Sydney Harbour and make a jump on the rest of the fleet. Photo - Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

The super maxi, co-owned by Cooney (who hails from County Meath) and Samantha Grant, seemingly laboured for speed from the start compared to her four rivals, but once offshore, her downwind superiority came into play.

Comanche, third on line honours last year, was fifth out of the heads. First was InfoTrack, and then Wild Oats XI, SHK Scallywag, and Black Jack respectively.

However, by the time Comanche was sailing abeam of Cronulla, she was the furthest out to sea and leading ahead from InfoTrack, SHK Scallywag, Black Jack and then Wild Oats XI.

InfoTrack's navigator, Brad Kellett, reported at 1445 hrs, saying: “Comanche has come into her own; she is leading and holding us off.

ComancheComanche with the other 100-foot super maxis in her sight which she quickly reeled in and nudged past. Photo: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

“Wild Oats XI and Black Jack have different plans and we are into our own routine. We’re sailing tight downwind at 20 knots of boat speed. We can’t do anything about Comanche. We will just sail to the best of our ability. The race is anyone’s…”

Howth Yacht ClubBreakthrough FlagHowth Yacht Club fly the flag for Ireland on Darren Wright's Breakthrough entry before the Sydney Hobart start

The start was spectacular. The fleet of 157 set off from four lines on Sydney Harbour in a building 10-15 knot north to nor-easterly breeze. The harbour was awash with spectator boats.

Meanwhile, as the front runners charged away through lumpy waters and their first night at sea, last out of the Heads was the American 52-footer, Cailin Lomhara. Owned by Larry and Charlene Green, the pair is on a cruise of the world and thought it was an ideal opportunity to join in the 75th race.

The 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart start was officially declared clear, with no boats breaking their various start lines. There was an early concern though, when the Sydney 47, St Jude, reported she had lost steering.

However, soon after, Geoff Cropley reported from the Noel Cornish (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Vice Commodore) owned yacht, that the problem had been resolved.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Sydney to Hobart officials are scrambling to formulate a plan for the 'worst-case scenario' as bushfires threaten to cause the postponement of the St.Stephen's Day race start reports the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Following the cancellation of the Big Boat Challenge on Tuesday due to smoke haze that cut visibility on Sydney Harbour to 0.1 nautical miles, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Paul Billingham admitted rescheduling the bluewater classic was now on the table in the event of a repeat of Tuesday's conditions.

"Have we planned for what would happen if we have a smokebound harbour? No, we haven't. So we're working on that," he said. "With 160-odd boats we are expecting on the start line, we have a full exclusion zone on Boxing Day.

"That said, safety will be the priority and it's certainly in the race instructions and the sailing instruction that we can postpone if we need to."

Billingham said that while they "hope not to" postpone the race, the possibility was being given thought following the unprecedented abandonment of the Big Boat Challenge.

"We don't yet have the long-term weather that's reliable enough to sort of make a decision or even expect what it might be on Boxing Day, but that's part of our planning of the next week or two, to see what we need to do," Billingham said. 

More here

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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In offshore yacht racing the margins are fine, permutations seemingly infinite and influence of unpredictable factors like the weather significant. Concentration, resilience and a deft ability to react to unforeseen change and adversity are a prerequisite for any successful crew. Read how the Irish boats fared in W M Nixon's review located here.

The 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, contested by a hugely diverse and competitive 85-strong fleet, crewed by experienced and talented sailors, provided a reminder of the race’s relentless and changeable manner. For the two winners of the 74th edition’s main prizes, achievements rewarded with Rolex timepieces, calculated tactical decisions made in high pressure, ‘no turning back’, situations proved crucial.

In claiming overall victory on IRC handicap, Phillip Turner and his crew on Alive brought the Tattersall Cup back to Tasmania after a 39-year absence. For the Oatley family-owned Wild Oats XI, the first finisher, it represents an 11th success at the event, nine line honours titles together with the overall victories secured in the record-breaking years of 2005 and 2012. From the spectacular, sun-kissed Sydney Harbour start, it was a race which offered a range of conditions and situations from parking lots to punishing winds.

The 628-nautical mile race, organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) with the support of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, has been partnered by Rolex since 2002. A memorable edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart concludes a year in which Rolex marked the 60th anniversary of its relationship with the sport of yachting.

Overall Victory: Returning to Tasmania

The first Tasmanian success at the race since 1979, Alive’s historic triumph was well received by an enthusiastic local crowd in Hobart. A victory which was the product of an epic duel with Wild Oats X, an all-professional female crewed rival Reichel/Pugh 66, another yacht owned by the Oatley family.

“The race was both a navigator’s nightmare and dream,” reflected Alive’s Wouter Verbraak. “It was about finding the right position at each transition. You don’t always get it right. At a lot of these races it is a question of timing and having the right size boat to face the weather.” When then in position it is a matter of making shrewd and brave tactical decisions based on experience, on intuition, and in Alive’s case, on collaboration.

Formed of professional and Corinthian sailors, the Alive crew is moulded to Turner’s desire to foster a team which encourages the development of young sailors. Wild Oats X provided them with a formidable opponent, comprised as she is of experienced sailors who have completed a vast number of offshore sailing miles, many single-handed or as skippers. “They pushed us and forced us to get the best out of each other. We were within sight of each other for most of the race,” confirmed Verbraak.

They were only separated late in the race. “On the tight reach from Tasman Island it was questionable whether we could hoist a bigger Code Zero sail or not. We talked between each other ‘shall we do it or not – yes or no?’. We decided to go for it and then got the extra speed to pass Wild Oats X,” explained Verbraak. Perhaps equally decisive, Wild Oats X had torn her A2 spinnaker on the first night, a sail which would have been a welcome option coming up the Derwent to Hobart. Alive was the fifth yacht to finish this year’s race, Wild Oats X the sixth.

These factors, together with tireless crew work, excellent navigation and determination in keeping the boat moving even in light airs, helped secure Alive a fourth Tasmanian success since the inaugural race in 1945. It follows the back-to-back victories of Westward, 1947 and 1948, and Screw Loose’s triumph in 1979.

Alive is not unaccustomed to success at Rolex offshore races. In 2016 she won line honours at the 565-nm Rolex China Sea Race setting a new race record in the process.

Stacey Jackson, skipper of Wild Oats X, who finished just 13 minutes behind Alive on the water and second on corrected time, was proud of her crew and hoping to go one better at next year’s 75th edition. “It will be an epic anniversary for the race. I think we’ll see a huge number of boats enter, similar to the 50th. Hopefully you’ll see us return as the same team we are this year.”

Line honours: Redemption and relief

Unlike the previous two editions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart, no race record was set this year. However, the nature of the contest between the frontrunners provided numerous anecdotes for future literature on the race. In claiming line honours Wild Oats XI extended her own record of triumphs to nine. This after a contest which saw five 100-footers on the start line and an unprecedented four-way contest up the Derwent River.

For Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, at the helm for each of her successes, this was a victory of ‘redemption’ following three years of disappointments, marking her longest run without success at the event. “This must be the most spectacular race in 74 years,” exclaimed Richards on arrival in Hobart. “It was an amazing contest all the way to the end. All the Maxi crews pushed each other and did a fantastic job.”

Richards pinpointed a significant tactical decision off Tasman Island before the final leg to Hobart as a key juncture. Here Wild Oats XI, in a significant weather transition, was able to sail around the race leader Comanche and when the breeze filled in, found herself in the right spot to take advantage. From that moment on, she assumed control over the race and extended her lead all the way to the finish.

The five 100-footers – also comprising Scallywag (one of six race retirements) and InfoTrack (fourth finisher) all have different characteristics, conditions which suit their individual designs, hull forms and sail plans. Tom Addis, navigator on Black Jack, who has sailed on three of the 100-ft Maxis, admitted that “Wild Oats XI is a great all round boat, built for this kind of race.”

The contest to finish second on the water between Black Jack and Comanche was one of the race’s many fascinating duels, one which was decided in the Derwent when Peter Harburg’s crew found the breeze to move past the two-time line honours winner, prevailing by 63 seconds. It evoked memories of the epic 1982 finish when Condor of Bermuda pipped Apollo by just seven seconds.

The quest for line honours offered a unique, memorable contest between five committed and determined owners and skippers who all optimised their boats for the race and recruited leading professional sailing talent. Every sacrifice was made in pursuit of glory. “This isn’t happening anywhere else in the world, the stakes are really high,” explained Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford. “The five 100-footers in current racing trim with the who’s who of offshore sailing onboard.”

Wild Oats XI’s finish time of one day, 19 hours, seven minutes and 21 seconds was almost ten hours outside the race record set by LDV Comanche in 2017.

Every finish an achievement

Success is not only measured by trophies and accolades but by collective and individual achievements which reward personal sacrifices and those who overcome the race's many obstacles. By the final prizegiving on 31 December, all remaining yachts including the smallest in the fleet, the 30-ft Gun Runner, had long crossed the finish line. Some were able to toast class victories, others personal milestones, united by a sense of enjoyment and camaraderie.

One of the race’s great characters Tony Ellis equalled Tony Cable’s record of 51 races, one he confirmed he will remember for the ‘great guys on the boat’. On Dreki Sunnan, Ken Holmes was sailing his first race as owner. “I’m lost for words,” he explained on arrival in Hobart. “Apart from big seas, the race had everything. It was awe-inspiring to be on the water with the other boats. We’re very lucky to have this race in Australia, it is the race for amateurs.”

Marking anniversaries

This year’s race also provided a poignant moment for reflection, marking 20 years since the 1998 edition of the race when six sailors tragically lost their lives following a severe storm, similar in strength to a low-class hurricane, in the Bass Strait.

As a tribute to those who lost their lives, David Kellett who sailed in that edition of the race, and now leads the team on the race radio relay vessel, addressed the fleet on 27 December with the words spoken by the CYCA Commodore, Hugo Van Kretschmar, at the post-race memorial service held at Constitution Dock in 1998.

Rolex’s affinity with the human achievement embodied at races like the Rolex Sydney Hobart stems from the origins of the company and a desire to support those whose bravery and determination inspired them to transcend perceived limits. Its relationship with offshore racing began in the 1960s, a golden era of accomplishment in yachting, and the exploits of three extraordinary individuals stood out. Francis Chichester, Bernard Moitessier and Robin Knox-Johnston were all guided by Rolex timepieces on their legendary solo exploits. Today this relationship is represented by its long-standing support for demanding 600-nm offshore races.

Next year’s anniversary will hold an even greater allure for those targeting success. In the adrenaline and emotion of victory, this year’s triumphant crew admitted it will be hard to ever replicate this feeling. “These races are so hard to win,” confirmed Verbraak. “So many pieces have to fall into place.” “It is a moment in my life which will never be rivalled,” Alive skipper Duncan Hine’s succinct reflection.

The 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart will start on Thursday, 26 December 2019.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Hobart in Tasmania is a characterful port with a certain style to it, picturesquely located in handsome scenery on the estuary of the River Derwent writes W M Nixon. It’s home to a goodly fleet of sailcraft and motorboats of all types and sizes. And with very many square miles of sheltered island-studded sea within easy reach, it’s a dream place to sail if all you want to do is potter around, or take part in a local club race if there happens to be a reasonable breeze present.

But if you want to use the port of Hobart as the finish point for a major offshore race with finishing times spread over a day and more, then for some competitors the final miles can become exquisite torture. Yet since 1945 the annual Sydney Hobart Race has started in the outer reaches of Sydney Harbour – sometimes a flukey enough bit of sailing water in itself – and then the fleet has been expected to sail every inch of the 628 miles, more or less right into the heart of downtown Hobart.

comanche at speed2With a decent breeze, Comanche led on the water

Now in summertime, this can be okay if your boats is of the size group which is approaching the final miles as the day develops, and the warming sun strengthens the sea breeze blowing up the harbour to bring finishers in at a respectable speed.

But if the peak of the day’s heat has passed, then it’s often downhill all the way as far as favourable winds are concerned. There may be zephyrs off the land from dead ahead, or there may be no wind at all. In this final approaches to Hobart, there’s an historic navigational marker known as The Iron Pot where many a boat has come to a halt, and some Sydney-Hobart regulars will be found - after they die - to have Iron Pot inscribed across their hearts……..

iron pot 3Calm at the Iron Pot Lighthouse in the approaches to Hobart

All of which is a roundabout way of accustoming ourselves to the feeling - the reality indeed – that the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race 2018 looked for 80% of its distance like being a good old-fashioned clean sweep for Irish ex-Pats, but in the end it wasn’t.

Just a week ago right here, we featured Jim Cooney (of Ballivor) and Samantha Grant’s extraordinary 100ft supermaxi Comanche making enormous knots, and looking everything like being the line honours winner if the forecast north to northeast breeze held up.

cooney maguire4Jim Cooney (left) and Gordon Maguire – for 80% of the current Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, the former held the lead on the water while the latter had a substantial IRC Overall lead

Well, for a while it did. And in a favourable puff of only 20 knots or so, Comanche was having mighty speed bursts of 30 knots as she stayed in front ahead of fellow giants Black Jack, Wild Oats XI and InfoTrack.

The Supmaxi tally was down to four, as the Hong Kong entry Scallywag had retired with a broken bowsprit. These machines sail so fast that the wind almost always seems forward of the beam, and the bowsprit is essential for the winning sail configuration, which in Comanche’s case sometimes saw a total of four sails in use at once.

How they got those sails to work together is one of the sacred mysteries, but it kept her in the lead despite the occasional soft patch until they were approaching Tasmania, where the wind lost its sense of purpose, and showed tendencies to come from the south or even the southwest.

Sydney hobart race route5Once you get out of Sydney Harbour, the race to Hobart is fairly straightforward until you get into the final fifty miles on the Tasmanian coast

In such conditions, the hyer-skinny Wild Oats XI skippered by the wily Mark Richards is as slippery as an eel. She took over the lead after the entire quartet of super-maxis had spent the race within five miles and usually less of each other, and then lengthened away to come into Hobart in relatively solitary glory, as she was all of 28 minutes clear ahead of Peter Harburg’s Black Jack, which was in a much closer finish just one minute and three seconds ahead of Comanche, which in turn had twelve and a half minutes on InfoTrack.

Even though it was happening in benign summer weather in relatively slow motion, a finish as close as this among four Supermaxis is headline stuff, and the pressure is being kept up by the news that the Race Committee itself is protesting Wild Oats XI on the grounds that the Oatley family’s big boat did not activate the onboard AIS, a requirement of the race which put a dampener on things until on Saturday the Jury decided that the protest – originally made by Black Jack – was invalid.

But meanwhile no sooner had the simple wonder of the Supermaxi finish been filed than attention could then turn to the overall IRC win. There, Matt Allen’s Botin 52 Ichi Ban - with Howth’s own favourite ex-Pat Gordon Maguire very much on the strength - was for most of the race looking good to take the prized Tattersalls Cup for the second year running. In fact, looking very good indeed – at times Ichi Ban was putting it all together so perfectly on the long and difficult run down from Sydney that she was showing all of three hours clear ahead of the next boat, and was consistently sailing in company with bigger boats around the 60ft mark.

ichi ban silhouette6Summer sailing at its best – and in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race too. Ichi Ban at the perfect moment, when she also was leading IRC overall by a substantial margin. Photo: Rolex/Borlenghi

ichi ban crew7Quiet concentration to keep Ichi Ban at optimum performance – Gordon Maguire is not on the helm, but is at the stern like a conductor guiding a very special music group. Photo Rolex/BorlenghiBut once again those pesky approaches to Hobart were the undoing of Irish hopes. In fact, so contrary are those final miles that some Australia commentators have suggested that, to be a real race, it should all finish at a point about 40 miles from Hobart itself. Be that as it may, the nearer Ichi Ban got to Hobart, the more it became clear that the time of day and the underlying wind pattern were increasingly stacked against her.

But that was of little interest to the good people of Hobart, for they were looking at a developing scenario where it looked as if the race finish for 2018 was being shaped with the benefit of 66 footers in mind, and at the head of those 66 footers was the Reichel Pugh designed Alive, owned by Phillip Turner of the Derwent Sailing Squadron of Tasmania.

alive racing8Local boy makes good. Tasmania’s own Phillip Turner with the Reichel Pugh 66 Alive is the new winner of the Tattersallls Cup for the Overall IRC win in the Hobart Race. Photo: Rolex/BorlenghiIn other words, it was shaping up to be a classic case of Local Boy Makes Good. In such circumstances, you could expect little interest or sympathy for Ichi Ban’s rapidly-declining fortunes. In fact, all the drama was in Alive maintaining her lead over another RP 66, the Oatley family’s Wild Oats X. But Alive did it so well that she was fifth on line honours. Only the four Supermaxis bested her on the water. Yet as is the way with this race, although Hobart will celebrate Alive’s home win for some time, the fact that Wild Oats X was next in, and raced by an all-woman crew skippered by Stacey Jackson who was doing her 12th Sydney-Hobart, will make a more lasting impression internationally.

And as the clock ticked away and the night wind trickled away with it, Ichi Ban fell down the rankings while the Tasmanian boat was confirmed in first on IRC Overall, and Wild Oats X was confirmed in second, with the RP 63 Voodoo (Hugh Ellis) third, the Carkeek 60 Winning Appliances (John Winning) fourth and Ichi Ban trickling across the finish line at less than one knot to take fifth on CT. That was far and away the best of the 50 footers, but it’s small consolation for a crew who’d had the world at their feet when the breeze allowed them to sail.

So the story is that the people’s favourite Wild Oats XI has taken line honours as Nature intended, but there’s a protest against her which give it all a certain sense of déjà vu. As for the winner of the Tattersall’s Cup for overall success, that’s local boy made good Phillip Turner with Alive, and the joint is jumping at the Derwent Sailing Squadron. But before we get carried away by that, let’s hear it for the woman of Wild Oats X sailing under the Ocean Respect Racing banner towards a fine second place overall.

wild oats x9With an all-woman crew, the RP 66 Wild Oats X was second overall on IRC. Photo Rolex/Borlenghi

The skipper was Stacey Jackson, while the navigator was Elizabeth Greenhalgh, and the rest of the lineup includes some names you’ll recognize, as they’re Bianca Cook, Carolijn Brouwer, Dee Caffari, Faraday Rosenberg, Jade Cole, Katie Pellew, Katie Pettibone, Keryn McMaster, Sarah Crawford, Sophie Ciszek and Vanessa Dudley, the veteran of the crew – she was doing her 23rd race to Hobart.

Just next door in third place was Voodoo navigated by Irish-born Adrienne Cahalane doing her 27th Hobart Race, so gender equality afloat is very much part of the Sydney-Hobart ethos and experience.

But so too - inevitably – is disappointment and frustration. The way that the chips fell, it was not a good race at for boats around 45ft, but that’s exactly where Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee found himself aboard the Sydney 47CR Wots Next, which is not only plumb in the middle of this year’s unfavoured size range, but is comfortably equipped as a cruiser-racer, so Wots Next is down the line in a group around 50th place.

However, at least the likelihood of the former Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race winner getting to Hobart is very high, whereas two high-powered challenges from Europe won’t even have that as consolation. Hungary’s sailing reputation may be rising by leaps and bounds, yet it tripped up soon after the start of the Hobart Race 2018 when their chartered TP 52 M3 Team Hungary was dismasted.

team hungary10Everything to hope for, but she fell at the first fence. Hungary’s TP 52 was dismasted soon after this photo was taken. Rolex/Borlgenghi

But at least they’d got across the starting line, something which was denied to 29 keen sailors out from Poland to do the race on the veteran Volvo 70 Monster Project. They’ve campaigned before with this big chartered machine, when she becomes known as Kosatka Monster Project. But unfortunately in Sydney the authorities weren’t satisfied with the insurance arrangements in place to allow the big boat to race. In fact, so dissatisfied were they that they welded the boat to the dock (no, I don’t know either, what with one being plastic while the other is wood), and now it’s being contested in the Federal Court.

kosatka crew11Bursting with hope. The Polish crew of Kosatka in Sydney before they were told their boat did not comply with the regulations to race to Hobart
All of which is a timely reminder that while many Irish and European sailor would like to be part of the extraordinary scenes in Hobart when the great race from Sydney is drawing to its festive conclusion, in order to qualify properly you need an awful lot of things to be just right before you get there.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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Val Oatley described Wild Oats XI’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours victory perfectly alongside the dock in Hobart this morning: “Three years of misery to this moment,” and you could not wipe the smile from her face or that of her sons, Sandy and Ian, as they waited for their super maxi to moor alongside Kings Pier.

Three years of trauma for the Wild Oats family when the yacht retired from the 2015 race with a torn main followed by Bob Oatley’s death in January 2016. Another retirement in 2016, this time with hydraulic ram issues. Then came last year’s much-publicised finish when Wild Oats XI was penalised one hour after an incident with Comanche and lost her line honours crown and a new race record to Jim Cooney’s ‘aircraft carrier’.

This year’s victory makes it a new record of nine line honours for Wild Oats XI, which broke the seven years of line honours stranglehold of Kurrewa/Morna in 2014 with her eighth line honours crown.

Perennial skipper Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards generously handed the helm over to the Late Bob Oatley’s grandson, Daniel (Ian Oatley’s son), on his third Sydney Hobart on the family yacht, before they crossed the finish line after gybing all the way up the River under Code Zero.

Wild Oats XI won the hard-fought battle between four of the five super maxis entered in the race. Until 6.30am this morning, the four were still locked in a tight fight for honours - just 4 nautical miles separating them before Wild Oats XI came into her own.

Peter Harburg’s Black Jack from Queensland was second over the line at 8.35.06am, followed by Comanche at 8.36.09am, after the two went gybe for gybe to the finish after rounding the Iron Pot. Christian Beck’s InfoTrack finished at 08.51.17am.

Never before in the history of the race have we witnessed four yachts fight for supremacy throughout the entire race. It kept us all on tenterhooks the most exciting Sydney Hobart line honours stoush since Bob Bell’s Condor of Bermuda beat Jack Rooklyn’s Apollo over the finish line by seven seconds in 1982.

Published in Sydney to Hobart
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