Iconic Offshore Sporting Challenge
Published on November 29th, 2016
Each and every edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is unique, characterized by its own distinct narrative and celebrated achievements. This year marks the 72nd edition of the 628 nm Australian offshore classic with just under one hundred confirmed entrants, comprising living legends, past winners, intrepid first timers and competitors from across the globe, all determined to spearhead a new chapter in the race’s proud and fascinating history.
First held in 1945, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is organized by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) with the cooperation of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, and has run every year since that inaugural race which saw nine yachts set sail from Sydney on 26 December. Rolex has been title sponsor since 2002.
Together with the Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex Middle Sea Race, Rolex China Sea Race and RORC Caribbean 600, this iconic sporting challenge is one of five major offshore races to feature in the portfolio of yachting partnerships held by the leading brand of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
“Rolex’s involvement in yachting stretches back over fifty years,” explains Arnaud Boetsch, Director of Communication & Image at Rolex. “It is a sport with which we hold a close affinity and relationship. The Rolex Sydney Hobart is one of the world’s most renowned yacht races and a treasured part of our yachting portfolio. It is one of the toughest examinations of seamanship and a genuine test of human endeavour. It embodies what we value – rich traditions, pioneering feats and the courageous spirit of adventure among those who participate.”
The 93-boat fleet currently registered for the Boxing Day start comprises four 100-ft Maxis, nine former race winners and a host of Corinthian entrants, including the smallest and also the oldest yacht in the fleet, Sean Langman’s 30-ft, 1935 build Maluka of Kermandie.
Of the Maxis, the ever-evolving Wild Oats XI has not missed a Rolex Sydney Hobart since her launch in 2005. Her participation has been more than impressive, claiming line honours on eight occasions — itself a record — and the triple crown (line honours, race record and overall victory on handicap) on two separate occasions. Last year’s race proved to be her least fortunate, due to a torn mainsail that forced her to abandon the competition during the first night at sea. The 2016 edition represents a chance to re-exert her dominance, made poignant seeing as it is the first race since the passing of Bob Oatley, the yacht’s inspirational original owner.
Last year’s line honours were claimed by the American yacht Comanche, who will not feature this time. And, while Wild Oats XI is favourite to arrive first in the port city of Hobart, competition for this honour remains fierce.
Anthony Bell’s Perpetual LOYAL won line honours in 2011 and has frequently featured among the frontrunners ever since. Finnish sailor Ludde Ingvall, who won line honours in 2000 and 2004 with yachts named Nicorette, owns the recently launched CQS — a radical transformation of the 2004 Nicorette. Extended from 90 to 100 feet, the yacht reportedly pushes the boundaries of design technology. Among the most noticeable features are the reverse (or Dreadnought) bow, an outsized bowsprit, ‘wings’ that spread the shroud base and a wider cockpit area.
CQS also features the technically sophisticated Dynamic Stability Systems (DSS). DSS is a patent system that utilizes retractable foils to reduce heel angle and provide progressive dynamic lift, increasing power and reducing drag.
Completing the line-up of 100-footers is the Hong Kong entrant Scallywag, the former Ragamuffin. If conditions prove favourable, the frontrunners will be keen to break the existing race record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012.
The nine former winners of the event, including Wild Oats XI, will all be striving to reclaim the event’s most coveted prize, the Tattersall’s Cup and a specially engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master 40 timepiece awarded for outright victory on corrected time.
Yet the race is notoriously hard to predict. The skill and performance of the competition, as well as the prevailing weather will have a significant effect on the outcome, inevitably favouring different yacht sizes at different points. The strength and direction of the wind and the resultant state of the ocean play critical roles. How crews approach these elements and manage their resources throughout the days and nights at sea will be decisive.
In 2004 while a huge southerly buster saw many competitors seek more sheltered waters close to the NSW shore, the crew of the 55-ft British yacht Aera headed offshore in search of the perfect windshift that would drive them to the finish. This daring move would win them the overall prize and prove conclusively that courage in one’s convictions, even under extreme pressure, is a fundamental quality required to succeed in this race.
The defending champion is the 52-foot Balance, owned by Paul Clitheroe. Having triumphed under the guise of Quest in 2008, Balance is in fact a two-time race winner. Repeating last year’s triumph will be a tall order.
Claiming back-to-back victories has proved impossible for any crew in recent years, proof of the race’s unpredictability and unforgiving nature. The last boat to do so was Freya in 1965. While they may not have triumphed over consecutive years, a prestigious list of returning winners will take part. Their names include Victoire (2013), Primitive Cool (as Secret Mens Business in 2010), Two True (2009), The Banshee (as Terra Firma in 1995) and China Easyway (as She’s Apples II in 1991). And, the legendary Love & War, a three-time winner across two different eras (1974, 1978 and 2006).
The event, throughout its proud history, has attracted international entrants and sailors of note. Its first overall winner was the 30-ft British yacht Rani, skippered by Captain John Illingworth, one of the race’s co-founders. Line honours winners have included famous names from yesteryear including Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick III from France in 1967; Sir Max Aitken’s Crusade from the United Kingdom in 1969; dominant offshore yachts from the United States such as Jim Kilroy’s Kialoas in 1971, ‘75 and ’77; and Ted Turner’s American Eagle, 1972.
The last overseas winner of the race was American Roger Sturgeon’s Rosebud in 2007. Karl Kwok, owner of the 80-ft Hong Kong entry Beau Geste, is a past winner of the race, back in 1997. Others hoping to challenge that statistic include entries from China, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. For the first time, the race welcomes an entry from Korea in the shape of the TP52 Sonic.
The race is revered throughout the world. Its legend, heritage and distinctive slot in the international sporting calendar have helped it transcend the realm of yachting and captivate the attention of a much larger public. Whether characterized by fierce storms, a quest for breeze, photo finishes or dominant performances, one constant remains. Merely finishing the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is a remarkable achievement, requiring indomitable spirit, persistence, courage and determination. All qualities appreciated and embodied by longstanding Title Sponsor Rolex.
The 72nd edition starts on Monday 26 December at 13:00 (AEDT).
Source: Rolex SA