here we go again

As far as the local media are concerned there will be two Sydney Hobart Races this year: the main event between the five 100-foot super-maxis and a supporting bout featuring the ten TP 52s who’ve entered. For newspapers, TV and radio in Australia, everyone else is just making up the numbers in the 91-strong fleet.

That’s been the unfortunate reality for one of the world’s great blue-water classics since a certain Swiss watch-making company assumed sole sponsorship of the event. They pay plenty for their naming right (thought to be at least $1m) and in return want truckloads of brand exposure. Rolex underwrites the substantial race media team who churn out daily releases as the race approaches. There’s some token acknowledgment of a few ‘also ran’ boats, but it’s the line honours battle that gets the most attention.

The thinking behind all this is that the general public can only understand a first-past-the-post race, not the handicap contest. (How many of that same general public would ever have the cash to buy a Rolex watch is another matter, but let it pass…) Yet the true, enduring champions of the Sydney-Hobart during its 74 years have always been the overall winners – the boats and crews that take out the handicap prize.

There’s no doubt that over the past decade the 50-footers have commanded the handicap ‘sweet spot’. At 628 miles the race is usually long enough for them to shake off the tail-enders but short enough not to let the supermaxis build a huge advantage. Last year’s winner, the brand new Botin TP 52 Ichi Ban (Matt Allen), sailed a near-perfect race and could well repeat that feat.

But for the Sydney-Hobart aficionados the more interesting struggle to watch this year may be among yachts in the 60-70 foot range. The US entrant Prospector (a Mills 68 skippered by Terrance Glackin) is a strong contender but will be pushed hard by local boats Voodoo (ex Limit), Alive and Naval Group (the former Reichel-Pugh Moneypenny, now campaigned by Sean Langman).

Chasing them will be the 66-foot Wild Oats X with an all-female crew, the Carkeek 60 Winning Appliances and Triton, a veteran offshore warhorse that will include among its crew the legendary Tony “Grumpy” Ellis, sailing in his 51st Sydney-Hobart.

As usual, the race can boast plenty of international visitors who’ve come Down Under to add the Hobart to their offshore ‘bucket list’. In addition to the USA there will be yachts representing China, Russia, Hungary, Poland, the UK, France, Germany and Hong Kong.

This year’s race also marks a sad anniversary. It is now 20 years since the tragic 1998 Sydney-Hobart in which five yachts were lost and six sailors died. The winner of that storm-wracked race was Midnight Rambler, a little Hick 35 skippered by Ed Psaltis. He will compete again this year in his current Midnight Rambler, which is just a foot longer. Some people just love punishment. Photo thanks to Carlo Borlenghi.

– Anarchist David

Title inspired in part thanks to Skooly D  – ed.