Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Out of the Heads

Loyal tests the conditions, Sydney to Hobart 2011

The Sydney to Hobart yacht race has been run for 67 years straight. It is currently sponsored by Rolex and is run by the CYC: the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. The event is known for high nautical racing safety standards, and for the necessity for them - lives have been lost in the past in the dangerous run down the East Coast of Australia, across the open waters of Bass Strait and on down the East Coast of Tasmania and into Constitution Dock in Hobart.

The fleet lines up for the start

IMHO, you’d have to be completely passionate about yachts and sailing to have anything to do with the sport. The boats are expensive and complicated, the seas unpredictable and dangerous, and ocean racing possibly the most uncomfortable sport imaginable - even compared with mountain climbing, where all being well at least you might have a tent. But even when things are going exactly as planned on an ocean racer, it still means sleeping in only four hour shifts (if you’re lucky) in hideously cramped conditions aboard a slight little barque crowded with about a dozen other people, often at the mercy of wild seas, and having to work strenuously until your next four hour kip.

Wild Oats heads for the Heads.

But there seem to be plenty of enthusiasts - one yachtsman who set out on Boxing Day this year, Tony Cable, is competing in his 46th race. There are around 92 boats in the race. Yep, the craziness is still with us. Here’s how the official website describes the genesis of the very first race in 1945:

In about April 1945 an early CYCA member, Sydney artist Jack Earl, was anchored at Quarantine not far from where the Tasmanian yacht Saltair was also anchored. Earl and his family were planning a cruise to Hobart at Christmas time, and Jack rowed over to  Saltair, owned by two other  early CYCA members, the experienced Tasmanian yachtsmen Bert and Russ Walker, to look at their charts. The Walkers asked if they might join the cruise. Later, Peter Luke got wind of it and said he’d like to go along, too. In May 1945 Luke invited the well-known British ocean-racing yachtsman, Commander John Illingworth, who was stationed at Garden Island, to address a meeting of the CYCA. That evening Luke told Illingworth that three of them were planning a cruise to Hobart, and would he care to join them. Illingworth is alleged to have said, “why don’t we make a race of it?”
And the rest is history, as they say.

Spectator craft maneuvering for a view.

The race always begins on Boxing Day at 1 pm. Traditionally, the Harbour becomes crowded with spectator craft of all shapes and sizes, from kayaks to ferries and everything in between, jostling for the best viewing positions. These are generally near the start line and further up the Harbour near the “turning point”, beyond which are the heads of Sydney Harbour and the open sea. The visually spectacular moment when the fleet sets its spinnakers usually occurs soon after the turning point. The shoreline is also crowded with spectators, perched on the best viewpoints on both sides of the largest harbour in the world.

The contenders.

And then they’re away...and we all make our leisurely way home, sparing a thought now and then for the crazy sailors heading into a stiff Southerly change and the possibility of high seas. Later we might turn on the television or read the newspaper to see how they’re all getting on. The favourites, or the maxi-yachts, or the yachts crewed by celebrities or young people or disabled sailors will make some news stories. After a few days, the “line honours” for the finish will be announced; and then the overall winner on the handicap system will be complicatedly calculated. Boats in different categories will awarded different prizes. All this will take place at the other end of the race: Constitution Dock in Hobart, where the Tasmanian CYC hosts the weary yachtsmen. Stories of broken gear, lost masts, and maybe even men overboard will be recounted. And then the return crews will come in and sail the darned things all the way back to Sydney. We never hear about that bit, which can be just as gruelling and way less fun.

Track the progress of this years’ fleet here.
Check the stats here.
And the history here.

Bon voyage, 2011 fleet.

Photos taken from on board the MV AQA spectator vessel, Sydney Harbour, 26th December 2011.

Spectators aboard a spectator craft. Spectating (and drinking).

1 comment:

  1. Thursday 29th December update: Loyal wins line honours just minutes ahead of Wild Oats - they battled up the Derwent River in Tasmania. But now there has been a protest lodged against Loyal - something about 'outside assistance'...the hearing is this morning in Hobart.