What a spectacle! Every Boxing Day (26 December) in Sydney, the foreshores are packed and the harbour is churning with boatloads of people, all there to watch the start of the biggest race in the Australian bluewater sailing calendar, the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
About 600,000 Sydneysiders venture out early to claim their favourite vantage points around the harbour. Then there are the vessels of all shapes and sizes that go out packed to the gunnels with spectators, families, friends and VIPs. On the water, there are boats in every nook and cranny on the harbour—cruisers, yachts, ferries, charter yachts, speedboats and dinghies.
The yachts in the race begin stretching their legs on the harbour a few hours before the 1pm start. For months prior, the crews have been preparing for this moment, ensuring the yacht has everything just right for the 628 nautical mile race. The hours before the race are vital, with tacticians, navigators and skippers moving around the harbour to get a feel for the wind, so they can decide which end of the start line is best and which sails to hoist.
The 10-minute gun will boom, then the five-minute gun, and yachts will need to be in the perfect position to give them a good track to the start line—or lines—there are three lines with the biggest yachts starting from the front line.
Tensions rise, skippers try to be in the right place when the starting cannon fires, the bow of the yacht close to but not over the start line, ready to pull on the sails and let fly.
This year’s race, the 73rd, has 110 yachts ranging in size from 30 to 100 ft.
A record 31 international yachts will take part, representing New Caledonia, Hong Kong, New Zealand (three), USA (seven), China, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Russia and the biggest overseas contingent is from the UK with 14 entries. Two of the most interesting yachts from overseas are the 87-year-old Dorade from the USA and Italy’s Mascalzone Latino, owned by two-time America’s Cup challengers Vincenzo Onorato.
The pace will be on for line honours with four super maxis going head to head including last year’s winner and record holder Perpetual Loyal—now known as InfoTrack under new owner Christian Beck—eight-time winner Wild Oats XI, Black Jack and the flying Comanche, with its gleaming red bow, who won the race in 2015 and has astonishing speed at times.
While the line honour’s battle is fast and furious, the more enduring race is for the time-honoured Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the overall winner. Giacomo won this race last year, and while she is now known as Wizard under her new owners from the USA, she will be well and truly in the mix, as will Quest (formerly Balance), Ichi Ban and Koa.
Once out of Sydney Heads the fleet will turn their bows to starboard and sail south, hoping the weather will be kind. Some will stay close to the coast and others will go way out, seeking the East Australia Current of “Finding Nemo” fame. All will have the Bass Strait crossing in mind—a turbulent stretch of water separating the mainland from Tasmania—known by the yachties as “the paddock”. Once safely across, it is a very scenic run down to the Derwent River before the final race up the river to Hobart.
Where to Watch the Race
North Head, South Head, Bradley’s Head, Georges Head, Dobroyd Headland or Nielson Park. To watch from the water, Captain Cook Cruises offers special cruises, as does Fantasea, Bass and Flinders, Sydney by Sail and many more.