For Australia’s hard-core sailors, the question isn’t whether you’re going, but how many you’ve sailed (so far). Even among the most hardcore of this decidedly hardcore country, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or “The Hobart” as it’s known, represents a serious challenge. The brochure goes something like this: start on Boxing Day (December 26) on one of the world’s most brilliant starting lines, head out of Sydney Harbor, bang a right and keep going for some 600 miles. When you reach the Island of Tasmania, or “Tazzy,” hang a right, sail up the Derwent River and arrive in Hobart for the best party of your life. (Hint: most Aussies like to drink as hard as they sail). Easy, mate.
Not so quick.
First, after banging that right, you sail south through the Tasman Sea along Australia’s eastern coast, which is known for having all sorts of interesting currents and seas. After that you enter Bass Straight, a spot where the earth’s floor spikes upward from off-soundings to an average depth of roughly 165 feet. Since storms in the Southern Ocean have been traveling for thousands of open miles—think infinite fetch— seas tend to get frightfully large here. (To see the course, click here.) Stir in some large currents and things can get downright dangerous, as they did in the epic 1998 Hobart, when five boats sank and six sailors lost their lives.
Still interested? While many sailors would likely think twice before having a go at what the locals refer to as a “proper s#&t fight,” plenty of Aussies (not to mention a healthy contingent of foreign nationals) wouldn’t miss this Boxing Day bash for anything. In fact, a number of raceboats sit mothballed all season just waiting for the series of races that serves as a shakedown to this long-held classic, which dates back to 1945 when it featured nine starters.
For 2009, 100 boats have signed up, including three 100-foot super-maxis—ICAP Leopard, Alfa Romeo, and Wild Oats. A fourth super-maxi, Grant Wharington’s Etihad Stadium (formerly Wild Thing), was dismasted on the delivery to Sydney, and the crew has been racing to step a new mast ever since. There will also be a handful of “standard” maxis, TP52’s, a Volvo Open 70, and many 30 and 40 footers.
As in 2008, Hobart fans will be able to follow the boats on-line via the race’s Yacht Tracker. You can also receive live race positions on your mobile phone or watch a webcast of the start while tucking into those holiday leftovers. For details, including competitor profiles, go to http://rolexsydneyhobart.com.