Sydney, 26 December 2017 – Grey skies could not diminish Sydney’s enthusiasm for the start of its seminal ocean race. Crowds flocked to the foreshore and the Heads, while an assortment of vessels filled the harbour as the 102-boat Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet set off on the great adventure south. Peter Harburg’s 100-foot Black Jack led the length of the harbour and out into the open sea, hotly pursued by LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI.
Starting at 13.00 local time in 5-7 knots of easterly breeze it was a slow glide out of the harbour rather than the furious pace of recent years. Once out into the Tasman Sea the wind built slightly to 8-10 knots and backed a little to the north opening the angle and allowing yachts to hoist reaching headsails.
The sedate start caught fire as the leading yachts approached the ocean turning mark. Wild Oats XI, on port, appeared to tack on top of LDV Comanche, on starboard, in a move more reminiscent of an inshore regatta rather than a 628nm bluewater race. The message was clear. No quarter will be given in the clash of the titans engaged in the dash to be first to finish. Comanche protested the manoeuvre of Wild Oats XI; the outcome will not be known until after the finish.
Leaving aside this altercation, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, John Markos, reflected that: “we’re thrilled the fleet got away and that the spectacle lingered longer than usual because of the light airs. The leaders were engaged from the off, which was exciting to watch, and the rest of the fleet came through pretty well. It will be really interesting to see how this race unfolds down the coast.”
The forecast is for the winds to build steadily as the afternoon draws on and turn further to the north east. An increase in the wind speed will be a relief to the crews who had to endure a sloppy, uncomfortable sea state as they began their march to Hobart.
Ahead of the off, excitement was palpable right through the fleet. Tom Addis, the navigator of Black Jack, was looking forward to the start buoyed by a forecast which would favour his yacht in the early stages: “It looks like another fast race, although more downwind with more pressure, so big spinnakers and having to gybe. It’s a real boat speed race; tactically we don’t have any real major transitions to get through, any ridges to cross or a front to set up for. It’s going to come down to the crew that can move the fastest."
Joseph Mele, skipper of the Cookson 50 Triple Lindy from the USA, is taking part in his second race, although this time on a new boat: “I think this is the most exciting day in yachting in the world. Personally, I’m balancing excitement of the known with the uncertainty of the unknown. Overall, though, we are feeling pretty good. We’ve added some experienced hands to last year’s crew. Knowledge of the race with Brad Kellett with 25 races to his name and knowledge of the boat with Ed Cesare, the navigator of Privateer, the Cookson 50, which finished second in this year’s Rolex Fastnet.”
Taking part in one’s first Rolex Sydney Hobart can be daunting even for the most experienced of sailors. Italian Flavio Favini, a multiple world champion, has made the journey to be with Mascalzone Latino: “The Rolex Sydney Hobart is a mythical race, one of the most important in the world. We are very happy to be here and able to take part. For me, it is great to add this race to my career. The weather forecast looks good for our boat, but we’ll have to see how it really is!”
For Conrad Humphreys from the United Kingdom, sailing on Hollywood Boulevard, 2017 marks his third race, but with a hiatus of several years since the last: “It’s fantastic to be back. To have a forecast as good as this is a dream. To do well, we need to sail well. What’s going to make the difference is really good crew work, really good helming. Sailing low, fast and in a good mode will be key. It’s going to be about two days, so not much sleep!”
As the fleet power south into the first night, any pre-race nerves will have soon given way to the thrill of participating in one of the world’s great ocean races. Crews will be settling into the rhythm that best suits their boat, the conditions and their ambitions. From front to back tactical decisions will need to be taken and pressure maintained, especially if the effort and determination exerted over the next few days is to be converted into success.
Rolex has been Title Sponsor of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race since 2002. Video highlights will be available throughout the competition on the Rolex Yachting YouTube channel.