What started out as a cruise in company to Tasmania the day after Christmas for nine boats quickly turned into a competitive race. A strong SSW gale on the second day out from Sydney scattered the fleet – all except John Illingworth’s Rani (the eventual line honours and handicap winner) hove to or sought shelter at some stage. The epic stories recounted afterwards launched the event as a must do.
The race started in light winds. On the second morning the fleet experienced westerly winds of 20 knots. In the afternoon it turned to SE 30-40 knots gusting, with a tough sea. Some yachts experienced winds of up to 50 knots for varying periods. By the evening, 18 boats had retired. Two days into the race an additional 15 boats had retired. The wind was SE 20 knots later on, increasing to 30-40 knots, with rough seas. At night it clocked to SW 25-35 knots. On the 29th, the wind speed eased to S-SE 12 knots backing to a light NE. Calm to light conditions plagued the back of the fleet, although some boats encountered a brief 85 knot squall on 1st January.
The start was in light easterly winds that remained throughout the first afternoon. The influence of spectator craft outside Sydney Heads was the worst in years. Easterlies stayed light all the first night but slowly freshened the second day to 15-18 knots to give a fast reach down the New South Wales coast in overcast conditions. The wind slowly backed to the NE and freshened to 25 knots during the second night to give a fast ride across Bass Strait. Down the Tasmanian coast on the third day the wind stayed NE at 20 knots and a new record appeared imminent for the leaders. The wind, and hopes for a record, faded on the third night with light and variable winds and heavy rain. On the morning of the fourth day the wind slowly freshened from the south to 20-30 knots, which pushed the leaders home. The breeze slowly faded and left the smaller boats in light and variable conditions down the Tasmanian coast and across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River.
High winds, fast reaching, exhausting windward work, and controversy on the dock – the 46th Sydney Hobart Yacht Race had everything but a new record. A respectable fleet of 106 yachts set sail in a good south-easterly breeze that made a fast start down the Harbour under spinnaker. The first casualties came within hours of the start, and the dropouts continued the next day as the fleet powered downwind under spinnaker, as the wind swung to the northeast, freshening to more than 30 knots, with some yachts reporting gusts of 50 knots. In Bass Strait, the maxi Rothmans ran into a vicious low. However, in the lee of the Tasmanian east coast the winds eased away and Rothman’s chance of a race record disappeared. She finally crossed the finish line with an elapsed time of 2 days, 19 hours, 7 minutes and 2 seconds, the third fastest time in 46 years. However, Neither Rothman’s line honours position, nor her provisional overall second place on corrected time, was to stand. The Race Committee penalised the British yacht 10% on corrected time and stripped her of the line honours award for breaching Rule 26 by flying a spinnaker with an illegal advertising logo on it. As a result Ragamuffin was awarded line honours, and first place overall went to Sagacious V.
The 50th Sydney Hobart attracted a massive fleet of 371 starters from around the world to mark the Golden Jubilee of the inaugural race. Among the fleet were two yachts, Archina and Winston Churchill, which had competed in the first race, along with several original crewmembers. The wind gods looked kindly on Boxing Day, providing the 50th anniversary fleet with a spinnaker run down Sydney Harbour, without doubt the most spectacular sight ever seen for the start of a major ocean race anywhere in the world. From there, however, it was a hard slog almost all the way to Hobart. Once clear of the Heads, the fleet had to beat to windward down the NSW south coast in a freshening southeast. By the next day, the breeze had backed to the east and northeast giving the maxis and the bulk of the fleet a fast spinnaker run to and, for the leaders, across Bass Strait at potentially record-breaking speeds. However, the second half of the fleet was battered by a gale force south-westerly front, giving many crews a dramatic warning in the form of a “Bass Strait Roller”, a rolling band of cloud from horizon to horizon. It was the second front with winds up to 50 knots that did most of the damage. The front put paid to a race record, with the maxis forced to reef as they made landfall on the Tasmanian east coast. Some 40 yachts sailed for shelter back to Eden. The SW gale continued as the leading maxis battled their way across Storm Bay, getting respite only in the Derwent, in the lee of Mt Wellington. The rest of the fleet continued to be battered by the southwester but there were only a couple more retirements in the latter stages. Of the 371 starters, 308 boats made it to Hobart, filling Constitution Dock and Sullivan’s Cove to capacity for a grand celebration of the 50th Sydney Hobart.
Tragedy struck the 1998 Sydney Hobart when the worst storm in the 54 year history of the race hit the fleet as most of the 115 yachts entered, or were already in, Bass Strait after a record-breaking dash south down the Australian east coast. The race began with a favourable current running south at 4 knots, with strengthening northerly winds of generally 25-35 knots prevailing off the coast. By early morning on December 27, an upper level jet stream and a substantial cold air mass had moved rapidly northwards over Victoria producing unseasonable snow falls on the Australian Alps in the wake of the surface cold front. In association with injection of a deep layer of cold air over Victoria, a new small-scale low begun to form and intensify over Bass Strait to the south of Wilson’s Promontory. The central pressures in the rapidly intensifying low dropped rapidly to near 980 hPa. The low initially moved north eastwards but shifted to a more easterly path at a speed of 25 knots by late morning on December 27. At midday, the low passed to the south of Gabo Island, maintaining its intensity. In association with the low pressure system, west to southwest winds with mean speeds reaching storm force developed and extended over eastern Bass Strait and southern NSW coastal waters maintaining much of its intensity for 36 hours. At least 12 competing yachts reported west and south-westerly winds of up to 80 knots and seas of 15 metres, frequently to 20 metres and more, as this so-called “Bass Strait Bomb” exploded. A third of the fleet reported the average wind speed as greater than 60 knots. As one crewmember described conditions, “the sea was sheet white from the wind with white-outs coming through the gusts.” Several yachts reported being rolled 180 degrees and more. Several were rolled more than once.
Of the 115 boats that started, 71 retired, 44 finishing after battling across Bass Strait under storm trysails and storm jibs, sometimes down to just the storm jib or even bare poles. In a remarkable search and rescue operation, 56 crew members were rescued by helicopters and surface vessels from nine stricken yachts or liferafts, with one man-overboard (MOB) situation. In total, 16 yachts requested some form of assistance. Seven boats were abandoned and five sank during the storm, most of them after having been rolled by the huge seas, as were most of the other yachts in difficulty. Sadly, six crew members perished at sea in the worst tragedy in the long history of the Sydney Hobart. In Hobart, those who finished the race, along with many who had been rescued and race officials, stood beside Constitution Dock for an emotional “Yachties Farewell” to those who perished at sea in the 1998 Sydney Hobart Race: Glyn Charles (Sword of Orion), Bruce Guy and Phil Skeggs (Business Post Naiad), Jim Lawler, Mike Bannister and John Dean (Winston Churchill).
A change in rules in 2005 eliminated any upper speed limit, enabling boats to sail without a handicap restriction. This opened the door to a competitive fleet of canting-keeled super-maxis, and they were on hand at the start line in Sydney to challenge the course. In the end, after a bold and tactical move inshore, it was Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI – a Reichel Pugh 98-footer that pulled off the “treble”: line honours, IRC handicap overall, and a new course record of 1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds for the 628-mile course. They shattered the Volvo 60 Nokia’s longstanding record by more than an hour. Wild Oats XI was only the 6th boat in the 61-year history of the race to win both line honours and handicap overall.
First Race Winner (1945)
Rani Captain: John Illingworth RN (UK)|Design: Barber 35’ cutter|Line honours & handicap winner
Last Year’s Winner (2006) – IRC Overall
Love & War Skipper: Lindsay May, (NSW) |Type: S&S 47
Double Winners Line & Handicap
Rani (GBR) –1945
American Eagle (USA) – 1972
Kialoa III (USA) –1977
New Zealand (NZL) –1980
Sovereign (NSW) – 1987
Wild Oats XI (NSW) – 2005
Multiple Winners Line Honours
Morna / Kurrewa IV (NSW) – 7 races
Bumblebee IV / Ragamuffin (NSW) – 3 races
Astor (NSW) – 3 races
Margaret Rintoul (NSW) – 2 races
Solo (NSW) – 2 races
Kialoa III (USA) – 2 races
Sayonara (USA) – 2 races
Wild Oats XI (NSW) – 2 races
Multiple Winners Handicap (Overall)
Freya (NSW) – 3 successive races
Love & War (NSW) – 3 races
Westward (TAS) – 2 races
Siandra (NSW) – 2 races
Solo (NSW) – 2 races
Ausmaid (SA/VIC) – 2 races
Fastest Race (2005)
Wild Oats XI (AUS) Bob Oatley/Mark Richards (NSW)
1 day 18 hours 40 minutes 10 seconds
(Kialoa III (USA) held the record for 21 years, Morning Glory (GER) for three and Nokia (AUS/DEN) for five years)
Slowest Race (1945)
Wayfarer – Peter Luke (NSW)
11 days 6 hours 20 minutes
1982 – Condor of Bermuda beat Apollo by just seven seconds
2001 – 47 minutes separated the first 7 boats
Most races by any yachts
Philip’s Foote Witchdoctor – 26 races
Mark Twain – 25 races
Impeccable – 23 races
Bacardi – 22 races
Polaris of Belmont – 22 races
Margaret Rintoul II – 21 races
Most races by any yachtsman
John Bennetto (TAS) – 44 races
Lou Abrahams (VIC) – 44 races
Tony Cable (NSW) – 43 races
Richard ‘Sightie’ Hammond (NSW) – 40 races
Bernie Case (QLD) – 40 races
Tony Ellis – 40 races
Most races by any yachtswoman
Adrienne Cahalan (AUS) – 16 races
371 starters in 1994 – the 50th race
179 starters in 1985
151 starters in 1984
Last Year’s Fleet (2006)