Harken Derm

How victory gets measured

Published on January 21st, 2019

Katie Pettibone

When an all-female professional crew competed in the 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, among the team for the 628 nm offshore classic was Katie Pettibone (USA) who shares this report from the experience:


I am an experienced around the world yacht racer, having competed in the Whitbread Around the World Race and Volvo Ocean Race, as well as countless other offshore events. I will tell you, the only time I have been sea sick is in the Sydney Hobart! The waves can really stack up because of the current that runs south against the wind.

As 2018 was the 20-year memorial of the 1998 race where six sailors died, five yachts sank, more than 60 yachts retired and 55 participants had to be rescued by helicopter, when Stacey Jackson asked about me joining her team for this race, it was not a lighthearted decision to join.

However, when I heard the mission of her effort and the crew she was assembling, I just knew I did not want to miss the chance to be a part of something historic and so important.

Stacey had secured the Reichel Pugh 66-foot Wild Oats X (donated for the race by the Oatley family) and it was to be run by a professional all-female crew. Sponsored by 11th Hour Racing, the team was to be called Ocean Respect Racing which would carry the message of #clean seas and sustainability throughout the ocean racing community.

It proved to be a huge success, garnering both local and international coverage in a variety of mediums. The mission and team inspired former Foreign Affairs Minister Hon Julie Bishop MP to be an ambassador for the campaign in support of ocean sustainability. She was on board for the December 26 start and jumped off near Bondi Beach – and she was down in Hobart for our arrival, which was incredibly gratifying.

While we focused on getting a new team together to sail this thoroughbred, and to compete against top-notch talent, the incredible support of those competitors and the public really inspired us that this was more than racing sailboats.

Our message to the world at large that this stuff matters, and the resounding thunder of approval and clapping – both literally on the docks and from afar – that people are waking up and acknowledging that ocean health matters, was the best award we could have had.

Coming in 6th across the finish line and 2nd Overall under IRC was a phenomenal finish and one the women are proud to have achieved. Stacey also earned the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy as the first female skipper to finish the race among some other awards.

If we can, no matter how small, start to have people rethink their need and use for plastic, which ends up in the waters we live, play, and work on, then we have helped move the needle on something that is of critical importance. This was a driving force for the team as we pushed ourselves and the boat to the best of our ability.

Sailing with a top team of women was icing on the cake. There is talk about next year or other races, all of which have yet to be explored but I think it is safe to say this message is here to stay and will hopefully bring more people into, not only the dialogue, but action for change.

For more detail on the race, there were 85 boats on December 26 that started the 74th edition of Cruising Yacht Club (CYC) of Australia’s annual test. It was a champagne sailing day with a 10-15 knot north to north-easterly wind (although it was quite a bit lighter at times in Sydney Harbor) and reaching just over 25 knots outside the Heads as the yachts flew down the coast of New South Wales.

Following the sleigh ride down the coast, we encountered light downwind breeze across the Bass Strait and it was a mixed bag further down the coast. We had some great breeze build and lighten up as we got towards the tip of Tasmania before the southerly change came through. Luckily we weren’t in that long as we made our way across Storm Bay and then up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart on December 29.

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