Sydney Hobart: Remembering the Race

Published on December 31st, 2017

The 73rd Rolex Sydney Hobart will be remembered for many things: an astonishingly quick pace, a new record and a reversal of fortune in the contest for line honors. The 2017 race has served up a myriad of narratives that testify to the passion, commitment and pursuit of excellence typifying the participants.

The overall victory of Matt Allen and the crew of Ichi Ban, is just one of those stories. In a masterful performance by the 52-footer, she finished the 628 nm course in one day, 19 hours to beat her closest rival by 30 minutes on corrected time. In so doing, owner Matt Allen completed a lifelong quest.

When the 102-boat fleet set out from Sydney on 26 December, cheered on its way by tens of thousands of well-wishers stationed at vantage points along the shore and in hundreds of boats on Sydney’s famous harbour, the consensus was that this would be fast race offering everyone a quick ride south. The weather delivered on its promise.

The first 30 boats finished the race in a little over two days, the next 50 during the following 24 hours – 30 within a frenetic hour of each other on the afternoon of the 29 December. Six yachts retired and only one is left on the water, expecting to finish early on New Year’s Day.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart was founded in 1945 by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which continues to organize it to this day with the support of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and, since 2002, in partnership with title sponsor, Rolex. It is a race that rewards preparation and tenacity. It encourages innovation. It requires careful planning and skill.

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In keeping with that ethos, Allen launched a new boat this year. The decision was taken virtually the day after finishing the 2016 race when, despite leading at Tasman Island, five hours of drifting on the Derwent River ended once again the long-held dream of winning this blue water classic: “About 364 days ago, I tapped Gordon [Maguire] to discuss my idea to build a new, fast TP52 hull and strengthen it for the rigors of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.” That was just the start of this year’s campaign.

For Allen, this victory is the culmination of many things: “This has been a lifetime effort. I first saw the race in 1976 and have been down here almost every year since. It is incredibly satisfying to come up with the plan, to put it all together and for it to come off. It reminds me of my first experience of winning with Lou Abrahams in 1983; to do so now as skipper is an incredible feeling. It’s every sailor’s dream to win this race.”

Like other 600 mile offshore classics, such as the Rolex Fastnet and Rolex Middle Sea Race, winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart is a serious challenge. Allen believes you have to win it three times: “on the east coast of New South Wales; coming down Bass Strait and off eastern Tasmania; and, then, across Storm Bay and up the Derwent. It’s so difficult, so challenging; you need a bit of luck to get through all those points.”

Two-time winner Bob Steel goes further: “The Rolex Sydney Hobart used to be a marathon, and now it’s a sprint race …there’s a gate every 50 miles and to win you have to get to each gate first.”

Faced with such intensity, the race can be brutal on both mind and body. Even this race, which saw some of the most spectacular downwind sailing conditions in memory. Allen’s sailing master and one of the helmsmen on Ichi Ban, Gordon Maguire, explained: “On this boat, in those conditions, the helmsman is a front man. All the crew sit behind. In a two to three metre sea state you can have more than half a ton of water coming at you at 20 knots every five or six seconds. Every single wave that hits you is a couple of hundred kilos of weight.

As you plough into one, the wave comes down the deck and hits you straight in the face. You are basically driving blind and, at all the critical moments, you are being taken out. My ribs are bruised, my arms are hurting. It was the hardest driving I’ve ever done.”

It demands the question, ‘is it worth it?’ The answer is simple: “None of it matters if you are trying to win the Hobart.”

There is little doubt that, had he not won this year, Allen would have been back the next to try again. Like so many others, the race is in his DNA. A former Commodore of the CYCA, Allen has invested considerable time in making sure the legacy and traditions of the first race are maintained.

His win reflects the spirit of comradeship and adventure that marks its origins: “It’s an amazing achievement. We were being pushed to the limit by some great sailing. It meant we had to push hard too, and the crew rose to the occasion. I’ve never seen a group work so hard for the boat and so hard for each other. They had so much trust in one another and their judgment.” The founding fathers would be proud.

Needless to say, the exceptional weather forecast led to talk of the race record being broken for the second time in two years. With four of the fastest 100-foot yachts in the world on the start line, each one capable of sustaining the average speed of 16.75 knots required to beat the existing benchmark of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes given the right conditions, the fresh north-easterly predicted to stay over the course for around 48 hours could not have been better. By the morning of the second day, all four were ahead of the record pace, with LDV Comanche, in the hands of new owner Jim Cooney, leading.

With her powerful stern section, Comanche was expected to eat up the miles during the downwind sleigh ride and build a substantial lead over the three other pretenders. They, in turn, needed to press as hard as they could, looking to limit the damage. The Derwent River was widely predicted as the critical moment in the race. Which boat would master its vagaries?

As the sun set and Wild Oats XI, a few miles behind at Tasman Island, caught and crept past LDV Comanche, it seemed that the prediction would come true. After being in front for the best part of 600nm, Cooney looked to have lost an extraordinary battle at the death.

Then came the twist. An incident between these two goliaths before leaving Sydney Harbour had led to a claim that Wild Oats XI had infringed her rival. The International Jury adjudged the protest to be justified. Wild Oats XI was penalized an hour of added time, relegating her to second place on the water and handing Cooney and his all-star crew on LDV Comanche not only line honors for being first to finish, but a new race record of one day, 9 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds.

To outsiders the reversal of fortune may appear harsh. An epic duel on the water had been decided by single moment early in the race. The Rolex Sydney Hobart, though, is elite level sport. Regulations, intended to maintain fairness, are the bedrock of all competition and for the good of all participants.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart is about more than simply the winners and the record-breakers. It is a contest of human spirit. For over 70 years, it has been part of the fabric of the Christmas season in Australia. Sydney revels in the departure, Hobart in the arrival. For both cities, the race is an emblem. For the race, both cities are part of the mystique. For many participants, it is compelling.

The winner, Matt Allen, was competing in his 28th race. He has some way to go to catch the leaders in this ranking. Bill Ratcliff is 81 years old. He did his first race in the early 1960s and, this year, racing on James Whittle’s Takani, he completed his 49th. “I’ve done every heavy Hobart since 1963. They don’t put me off,” he advised.

“I’d like to do my 50th race and then hopefully the 75th anniversary in my own boat.” Recognizing his increasing physical frailty, Ratcliff’s philosophy is simple: “The race can be hard on me now. I have a few bumps and bruises from this one. I’ll keep going though and we’ll see what comes.”

The race is evidently in the Ratcliff family’s blood. This year, Bill sailed with his daughter, Katrina, and has previously raced with his two sons, Paul and Luke. If one could bottle his accumulated knowledge, it would be a valuable tonic for first-time owners and crew. Getting to the start line of a 600-mile race is an achievement in itself, whatever the result: “Racing your own boat requires a lot of dedication to complete the paperwork, comply with the safety and equipment regulations. Most owners have day jobs and it can be tiring getting everything ready.”

Tony Ellis has been racing south since 1963. This year, on Triton, he marked his 50th race at 73 years old. He is only the second sailor to reach this milestone following Tony Cable; he shows little sign of stopping: “I just love Tasmania. The welcome we get is fantastic. The races can be hard and you never know what you are going to get when you enter. The forecast only matters in so far as the boat you are sailing on. I wouldn’t dream of coming here at this time of year any other way than by boat!”

Exemplifying the spirit that turned a cruise into a race, Ellis remains as competitive as ever. An overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1992, he has also won the Rolex Fastnet: “I want to do well every time. I’m always looking to win. You don’t go out there for a jolly. Look at this year, we had a brilliant start, right at the committee boat on the gun. That’s how you should look at a race like this from start to finish.”

At the final prize giving held in Hobart, Matt Allen eloquently summed up the standing of the race in the sailing world at large: “My first race was in 1980. It was a great race then, and it’s a greater race today.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2017 came to an end on December 31 at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Hobart, where the Official Prize Giving took place. Her Excellency, the Governor of Tasmania, Professor Kate Warner, presented the following awards.

* For Yacht Travelling from the Furthest Port to Compete, the Polish Trophy to Weddell (Afanasy Isaev).
* First Boat under 9.5m LOA across the Finish line – the Plum Crazy Trophy to Maluka of Kermandie (Sean Langman).
* For most meritorious performance as judged by the race committee, the Rani Trophy to, Conall Morrison.
* First Yacht Out of Sydney Heads, the Jack Rooklyn Memorial Trophy and Replica to Black Jack (Peter Harburg).
* First Yacht Due South of Tasman Island, the F and J Livingstone and Replica to LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney).
* Third over the Line, Black Jack (Peter Harburg).
* Second over the Line, Wild Oats XI (The Oatley Family).
* Line Honours and race record for the J.H Illingworth Trophy and Replica to LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant).
* Rolex Yacht Master Timepiece to LDV Comanche (Jim Cooney).
* Commodore Matthew Johnston presented the following trophies:
* Third Clipper 70 Division, Garmin (Gaetan Thomas).
* First female skipper for the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy and second Clipper 70 Division, Sanya Serenity Coast (Wendy Tuck).
* First Clipper 70 Division, (Conall Morrison).
* First Cruising Division, Charlie’s Dream (Peter Lewis).
* First Corinthian Division for the York Family Trophy, Snowdome Occasional Coarse Language Too (Warwick Sherman).
* Chief Executive Officer of TasPorts Paul Weedon presented the following trophies.
* First Tasmanian boat on IRC for the TasPorts Trophy, Oskana (Michael Pritchard).
* Navigator of the first Tasmanian Yacht on corrected time for the City of Hobart Trophy, Oskana (Jason Wilkie).
* Third PHS Division 2, Takani (James Whittle).
* Third Corinthian Division and second PHS Division 2, She’s the Culprit (The Culprit Syndicate).
* First PHS Division 2, Flying Fish Arctos (Flying Fish Online).
* Third PHS Division 1, Wax Lyrical (Les Goodridge).
* Second PHS Division 1, Abracadabra (James Murchison).
* First PHS Division 1 for the RANSA Trophy, Helsal 3 (The Helsal 3 Syndicate).
* First ORCi Division 4, Mister Lucky (Mark Hipgrave).
* Third ORCi Division 3 and second Corinthian Division, Eve, (Steven Capell).
* Second ORCi Division 3, Black Sheep (Derek & Martin Sheppard).
* First ORCi Division 3 for the TasPorts Trophy, Calibre (Richard Williams).

The honourable Will Hodgman MHA, Premier of Tasmania presented medallions for 25 races to Jeremy Rae, Ian Davis, James Permezel and David Blanchfield. He also presented Tony ‘Ace’ Ellis with his 50 race medallion.

The Premier, who is a passionate fan of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and its competitors said: “It’s a race that once again has defied all expectations on so many levels. It’s added another fascinating chapter this year to the story that we are so proud to have its conclusion here… but it’s the remarkable characters that truly make it.” He then presented the following trophies to the winners:

* Third ORCi Division 4 and third IRC Division 4, China Easyway (Travis Read and Tim Wilson).
* Second ORCi Division 4 and second IRC Division 2, Dorade (Matt Brooks).
* First small boat across the line for the Battery Point Trophy and first IRC Division 4 for the Sir Arthur Warner Trophy, Banque de Nouvelle-Caledonie (Michel Quintin).
* Third IRC Division 3, TSA Management (Tony Levett).
* Second IRC Division 3, Mayfair (James Irvine).
* First IRC Division 3 for the RORC Trophy, Ariel (Ron Forster and Phil Damp).
* Alderman Sue Hickey, Lord Mayor of Hobart presented the following trophies:
* Third IRC Division 2, Chutzpah (Bruce Tayor).
* Second IRC Division 2 and third ORCi Division 2, Concubine (Jason Ward).
* Third IRC Division 0, Beau Geste (Karl Kwok).
* Third ORCi Division 1 and second IRC Division 0, Mascalzone Latine 32 (Vincenzo Onorato).
* First IRC Division 0 for the Rushcutter Trophy, Wizard (David and Peter Askew).

Before presenting the trophies, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Commodore John Markos, said,”The viewers might be forgiven for thinking that this is an easy race. I think just the fact that so many can finish, and so quickly, that people actually forget the real pressure on a crew to maximise performance… to get to this point.” He recalled the man overboard incident that occurred on board Invictus Games 2018 Down Under, and praised the performance of in their recovery procedure.

* First Armed Services Yacht on corrected time for the Oggin Cup to Invictus Games 2018 Game On (Clipper Ventures).
* Second ORCi Division 2, first IRC Division 2 (Peter Allsop Memorial Trophy) and third IRC Overall (RYCT Trophy and Storm Bay Cup) Patrice (Tony Kirby).
* First ORCi Division 1 (Charleston Trophy), second IRC Division 1 and second IRC Overall (City of Hobart Trophy, Bass Strait Cup and Solo Trophy) Quest (Bob Steel).
* Designer of Winning Yacht for the Alana Payne Memorial Trophy, Marcelino Botin.
* Navigator of the winning yacht for the Bill Owen Memorial Trophy to Will Oxley.

General Manager of Rolex Australia, Patrick Boutellier, presented Matt Allen of Ichi Ban his array of trophies for second ORCi Division 1, first IRC Division 1 (George Barton Trophy), first IRC Division 1, and first yacht under 18.5m LOA across the finish line (Apollo Trophy).

Patrick “It’s an absolute pleasure and honour to be standing here… I was not here last year, and I have missed this race, and now I know why I have missed it. I would like to thank everybody involved in this fantastic race, it wouldn’t be what it is today without you, the crews.” Patrick then presented Matt for first IRC Overall the Tattersall Cup, RORC Plaque, Government of Tasmania and the Rolex Yacht Master Timepiece.

“I first came down to Hobart to watch the finish actually in 1976, 41 years ago and I immediately got a passion for the race. Thank you to my crew, they did an incredible job. We were being pushed to the limit by a number of boats, I’ve never seen a bunch of people work so hard for the boat, and so hard for each other. Please put your hands together for the boat owners of this race, because without any boat owners, there would be no race. The Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is in my DNA, and we’re going to keep coming back, don’t you worry about that!” he ended.

The 74th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will start from Sydney Harbour at 13.00 local time, on December 26, 2018.

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Source: RSHYR media

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