Considered to be one of the most difficult and challenging yacht races in the world, the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has become a Boxing Day tradition since the first race was launched in 1945. The race, with its Sydney, NSW starting point on December 26th, attracts wild media attention from the start to the eventual finish in Hobart, Tasmania. The race ends in plenty of time for participants to take part in New Year’s Eve festivities and post-race celebrations. Excitement for the 2014 race has begun to build, allowing race aficionados plenty of time to stock up on past race memorabilia, one-of-a-kind collector’s items, and just about anything that tickles the pre-race devotee’s fancy.
Who Wins and How
To assume the first yacht to cross finish line in Hobart is the declared race winner would be incorrect. The winner of the approximately 630 nautical miles Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is based on various criteria set out in the race rules. Because of race handicaps, the finish-line time of a yacht is adjusted with these handicaps and current rules taken into consideration. An overall winner is selected, and that winner hasn’t always been the fastest boat or the first boat with “line honours.” Though, to be accurate, the winner usually is the fastest, newest, biggest, and most sophisticated yacht in the fleet.
Who Can Enter the Race
According to the official Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race website, this long ocean race is “open to anyone who owns a yacht that qualifies for this challenging event and which meets all the safety requirements of a Category 1 safety race.” Yachts vary in shape, size, and type, but the fleet of entries is mostly made up of single-mast sloops. Some yachts are as small as 30-feet while other monstrous “maxi” yachts boast lengths of 100 feet or more. Participants run the gamut from weekend sailing warriors to professional race circuit members and hail from around the globe and all walks of life. Each yacht must carry a minimum of six crew members and a maximum of 24. The minimum age for competitors is 18, and no limits exist at the other end of the age spectrum. The oldest competitor and yacht skipper was 86-year-old John Walker, who retired from racing in 2008 after having taken part in 25 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Races.
Because of the race’s fame and the strong desire on the part of the entrants to win, many clever innovations to yacht design have been developed over the years, enhancing the overall performance of yachts in general.
Winning Yachts Over the Years
The sleekest, largest and most expensive yachts do have a distinct advantage over smaller, older yachts, but past race winners weren’t always the favourite and the biggest didn’t always take finishing line honours. Here are a few of the race’s past winners and some interesting record-holders:
- In 2012, the super-maxi yacht, Wild Oats XI, won its 6th race and broke its previous record when it finished at 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, and 12 seconds.
- In 2005, Wild Oats XI,was the first – since 1945 – to win Line Honours, Overall Winner, and achieve a new Race Record.
- In 1999, the Nokiawas the first yacht to break the long-standing Sydney-Hobart Race Record when it sailed the course in 1 day, 19 hours, 48 minutes, and 2 seconds, besting the 2-day mark for racing the course.
- In 1952, the smallest yacht to win line honours was the 35-footer, Nocturne, from NSW.
Most serious race participants would love to break the 40-hour mark, a seemingly impossible time in which to complete the Sydney-Hobart course.
Arriving in Hobart
Once the boats make it into the Derwent River and then on to the finishing line at Battery Point, they receive a rousing welcome from excited race watchers and onlookers. From then on, the summer festivities achieve full bloom with dancing, spectacular fireworks displays, and Tasmanian wine-tasting. The Great Race concludes with the official prize-giving ceremony, held on New Year’s Day.