Sailing from Sydney to Hobart: The race and the journey

Rough waves, cold waters, high winds, and one winner. The Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is a one-of-a-kind event that is amazing to watch. If you’re considering taking the journey yourself, keep reading to learn more about it.

Rules of the Waves

The rules for this magnificent race have changed throughout the years. Rather than simply judging based on which boat makes it to the end of the race first, times are adjusted based on the size and other characteristics. In short, your boat needs to have a good power-to-weight ratio and, likely, larger sails.

The George Adams Tattersall Cup is one of the most desirable sailing prizes worldwide, and is offered to the handicap winner. These handicaps are complicated, but in short, the elapsed time between start and finish is multiplied by the yacht’s IRC rating. Any yacht sailed well, regardless if it’s a family heirloom boat or the most expensive yacht just purchased for the race, can win the IRC division of the race.

Of course, there is still a price for the first to cross the finish line. The J K Illingworth Challenge Cup is given to the crew who crosses first. How you and your team decide to tackle the race is entirely up to you.

It’s not just about having a fast boat and great sails, though. The waters are extremely treacherous, and your crew needs to be able to navigate its unpredictability. Oftentimes the winds can change unexpectedly, and your team’s reaction to these changes could make or break your race.

Cost of the Race

The race will likely cost you a pretty penny to participate. Generally speaking, major contenders who find themselves in line for honors spend millions to equip themselves for the race.

Don’t go into the race expecting prize money, though, as this race offers none. The race’s major sponsor, Rolex, gives out a Rolex watch to the fastest and handicap winning yacht captains. The real prize is the honor of winning.

Though, of course, the IRC winner is presented with the Tettersails Trophy, a bragging right in of itself.

The Fearsome Bass Strait

The Bass Strait is a critical path on the way from Sydney to Hobart. It’s known for its strong currents and harsh wind conditions. it was also known for Australia’s largest-ever peacetime search and rescue operation.

The 1998 Disaster

115 yachts departed from the harbor in Sydney, though only 44 made it to Hobart. A massive supercell storm stirred up in the Bass Strait, catching racers off guard. Wind blowing roughly 100 kph, the equivalent of a category two cyclone. The type of storm was unusual for the area, and not one many racers found themselves familiar with.

Waves were steep, currents strong. Some waves were reported to be 25m tall. The yachts were small in comparison, and coupled with low visibility from the thunderstorm, it was a dangerous, life-threatening situation.

Seven yachts were abandoned at sea. 55 sailors were rescued by civil and military aircraft. Six sailors lost their lives.

The storm and resulting destruction, in part, led to some changes in race operation. Now, there are stronger and better-defined communication pathways between the Bureau of Meteorology and race organizers. The technology available now to predict this serious weather is also much more advanced limiting some of the safety risk associated with the race.

Many racers found themselves retiring from the race in Eden. 16 sailors found respite with Kari Esplin, where she welcomed sailors into her home for food and shelter. Some stayed for weeks.

“We couldn’t help with the rescue, but we knew people would need warm drinks, dry clothes and a bed to sleep in,” she said.

Celebrating the Finish Line

Completing the race is a feat in itself, but from the 27th of December onward, Hobart’s seaside landscape turns into a racing festival. As the race finishers continue to cross, their friends and family celebrate with them at the finish line with the Taste of Tasmania food and wine festival.

And, of course, what would the end of December be without fireworks? Celebrating the race’s end with the year-end fireworks is a celebration not to  be missed.

Fast Facts

  • The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is one of the most difficult yacht races in the world
  • The first all-women crew sailed in 1975 on the Barbarian 
  • Two yachts have won handicap three races each: Freya and Love & War 
  • Racer Rony Cable from New South Wales has raced 49 times
  • The fastest race was completed in 2017 with a time of one day, nine hours, fifteen minutes and 24 seconds
  • 5,509 yachts have competed in the race, with an average of 80.01 yachts per race
  • The smallest yacht to have competed was 35ft long in the very first race
  • The largest yacht competed from 2009-2018 and was 100ft long, nearly three times the length of the smallest ship

Visit Corleone Marinas

No matter if you’re a boating enthusiast or a charter yacht service, NSW offers a wide range of destinations that are sure to please. Corleone Marinas offer four stunning locations around Sydney. Whether a resident or visitor, we provide berths, moorings, and slipways to provide excellent care of your boat.

We also have a Shipwright and Marine Mechanic to keep your boat in top shape. If you experience an issue on the water or in the slip, our mechanics diagnose, repair, and maintain your boat while you’re on shore enjoying the sights and sounds. Contact us today, and let’s have some fun on the water.

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