Like all the most challenging offshore races, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race requires determination, courage and commitment. The 74th edition of this annual institution starts on Wednesday, 26 December 2018. Some 92 yachts, ranging from 9.2 metres to 30.48 metres (30.5 feet to 100 feet), will compete for the most sought-after prizes, including the coveted Rolex timepieces awarded for line honours and to the overall winner, determined on International Rating Certificate (IRC) handicap. Rolex has maintained a commitment to yachting that now spans six decades. Uniting the world’s finest yacht clubs, most revered regattas and demanding races, this continued association helps perpetuate the spirit of races such as Rolex Sydney Hobart. The 628-nm voyage from Sydney Harbour to Hobart, Tasmania, was first organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) in 1945 and the Rolex partnership dates back to 2002, when the Swiss watchmaker became Title Sponsor.
LINE HONOURS: ACCOMPLISHMENT AND REWARD
There is no other race of this distance or calibre that gathers so many of the world’s most powerful 100-ft monohull yachts. The rivalry between these seaborne goliaths is intense, each craft crewed by highly skilled professional sailors from around the world. To prevail in such a talented field is a major accomplishment. Five 100-ft Maxis will contest line honours in 2018. Wild Oats XI, owned by the Oatley family and skippered by Mark Richards, will aim to extend her record of successes to nine. Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant’s Comanche will hope to repeat the success of last year which led to a new race record time of one day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds. Christian Beck’s InfoTrack and Peter Harburg’s Black Jack may not appear as favoured in the pre-race title claims, but both have tasted victory under previous names and owners. Completing the line-up is Seng Huang Lee’s Scallywag from Hong Kong, one of 13 overseas entrants. While this select group has more advanced equipment and technology at its disposal than the nine entrants in the original race, the commitment required of the 2018 frontrunners remains true to John Illingworth’s founding idea to “make a race of it”.
OVERALL VICTORY: ASPIRATION AND REALIZATION
Taking on a 628-nm race demands preparation and planning, along with a willingness to confront all possible adversities. The course’s critical points include the mass start from Sydney Harbour, the eastern edge of the formidable Bass Strait and the notoriously fickle Derwent River on the approach to Hobart. Experience and skill matter, as does perseverance, but there is no single guarantee for success in such a complex race, especially when so much relies on the weather. It took 28 attempts for Matt Allen, a past Commodore of the CYCA and current president of the Australian sailing federation, to skipper a yacht to overall victory and receive the famous Tattersall Cup and Rolex timepiece. “The Rolex Sydney Hobart is the premier event. Everyone follows it and everyone knows the winners of this race,” said Allen, after winning with Ichi Ban in 2017. “This has been a lifetime effort. It‘s every sailor’s dream to win it.” Among the 92 entrants are yachts from the six Australian states, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Hong Kong, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Yachtsman Tony Ellis, from Australia, is set to equal the existing record of 51 “trips south” when he takes part on Triton.
AN ESSENTIAL CHALLENGE
Fifty years ago, in November 1968, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston crossed Bass Strait midway through his pioneering solo non-stop navigation around the globe. By the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart that year, he was well on his way to Cape Horn. Some aspects of sailing have evolved considerably since that epic voyage, when one of Knox-Johnston’s navigational aids was a Rolex timepiece. Innovation in technology and materials has transformed yacht racing, yet elements remain the same. Before taking part in his third Rolex Sydney Hobart in 2017, Knox-Johnston expressed how races like this one and the Rolex Fastnet help preserve the essential spirit of the sport: “This is how yacht racing should be – challenging for the offshore yachtsman, combining an attractive mix of professionals and Corinthians.” Whether they win or simply complete the course, every participant will uphold the traditions and values of a sport that continues to inspire and to offer opportunity for individuals to test themselves, physically and mentally. In this regard, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is more than just a yacht race. One of the greatest offshore contests, it is a perpetual guardian of the traditions and time-honoured values of the sport.