The 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, organized by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), with the support of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (RYCT), starts at 13:00 AEDT on Monday 26 December. 628-nautical miles of challenge and endeavour, steeped in nautical heritage and defined by great feats lie ahead.
Identifying who from the 89-strong international fleet will prevail is no small undertaking. The democratic nature of offshore racing, its handicapping system, and multitude of meteorological permutations, ensure victory is a valid target for any yacht in the fleet. This is part of what makes offshore racing so compelling. Success is within the grasp of any crew capable of displaying tactical nous, courageous teamwork and conviction in their decision-making. These fundamental qualities are wholeheartedly embraced by title sponsor Rolex and are underlined throughout the history of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
The current weather forecast suggests this will be a fast race, not excluding the possibility of a record breaking line honours time.
A national treasure
For the 72nd consecutive year, the festive season in Australia plays host to the great race. At 13:00 on 26 December, a nation comes to a standstill for the start. The shorelines and vantage points of Sydney are packed with onlookers and Sydney Harbour is a hotbed of activity with the international fleet jostling for the best starting position.
It is a special moment, the one time that the entire fleet, from 100-ft state-of-the-art Maxis through to 30-ft yachts share the same expanse of water, and, notably in front of one of the world’s most recognizable backdrops. “It’s an iconic race, every race is different, every race has got its challenges,” explains Matt Allen, owner of the TP52 Ichi Ban and 26-time race veteran. “There are a lot of races but this is the one race which captures the imagination of all sailors around the world and the public in Australia.”
As the starting signal is sounded, the Maxis will lead the charge for Sydney Heads trying to gain an early tactical, and more significantly, psychological advantage over their rivals. Their quest is to arrive in the port city of Hobart, Tasmania first and as fast as possible. For the rest of the fleet, the race is a greater test on resources and energy. They play a longer game, engaging in ‘competitions within the competition’, and try to gain the incremental advantages which may lead them to handicap victory.
The racecourse dispatches the fleet south along the New South Wales coast of the Tasman Sea. There follows a passage across the eastern edge of the infamous Bass Strait towards the east coast of Tasmania ahead of the final leg up the Derwent River to Hobart.
Eager to extend her record of Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours successes is Wild Oats XI. Fastest to Hobart in eight of the last 11 races, her status as one of the race’s great names has long been guaranteed. Twice she has claimed the triple crown of line honours, overall victory and race record. She holds the current fastest time set in 2012 of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds. Each and every year she faces new boats, pretenders, challenges.
There is a significant lineage in overseas yachts winning line honours at the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Comanche’s success last year was far from an isolated experience. In the 72 editions of the race, 27 line honours crowns have been taken by non-Australian yachts.
One of the owners chasing line honours glory in 2016 is CQS’s Ludde Ingvall. Ingvall is originally from Finland. A long-time Sydney resident his recently revamped 100-ft yacht, CQS, is the great unknown in the race and represents significant intrigue.
Ingvall first won line honours with Nicorette in 2000, and later in 2004, on the original version of his current yacht. If he triumphs at the 2016 race, the 13-year period between line honours victories would represent the event’s largest ever gap between successes for an owner. The CQS crew includes 2013 Rolex World Sailor of the Year Jo Aleh.
Other challengers for line honours are Perpetual LOYAL, owned by Anthony Bell and co-skippered by local favourite Tom Slingsby, winner of a close-fought line honours contest with Wild Oats XI in 2011. The Hong Kong 100-ft Scallywag, a revised version of race legend Syd Fischer’s one-time Ragamuffin completes the line up of 100-ft challengers.
Favoured by the forecast
Paul Clitheroe’s TP52 Balance is the defending champion. It is over fifty years since a yacht claimed back to back victories and Clitheroe remains cautious about overturning this trend despite an optimistic forecast for his boat. “The weather pattern looks like favouring a middle size boat. The big challenge is can we come home first among the TP52s? Of the nine TP52s, I think the leading one has a great chance of winning the race.”
A significant portion of the 2016 fleet are yachts, like Balance, in the 50-ft range. They include the event’s first ever entry from Korea in Sonic – one of 12 overseas yachts from ten different countries to take part – and Ragamuffin whose crew includes legendary navigator Adrienne Cahalan who will become the first female sailor to compete in 25 Rolex Sydney Hobart races. “I’m very excited, very proud,” explained Cahalan. “Just like there are milestones in your life there are many milestones in yachting, and this definitely has to be one of the biggest ones. A lot of things have to come together to get to 25, so it’s a very special time.”
The Rolex Sydney Hobart is not simply about winning or breaking records. Each and every crew wins their own race in reaching Hobart. Each edition of the race throws up unique challenges and meteorological conditions. A measure of the race’s difficulty is provided by the statistic that nearly 20% of the 5,828 yachts to have started the race since 1945 have failed to make it to Hobart.
The perils are constant – overconfidence, poor management of resources, fatigue, the misfortune of structural or mechanical failure and occasionally, very simply, the punishing conditions. These challenges make the rewards for victory even sweeter.