The Great Race

Reprinted from PN April 2008

Often described as the most grueling ocean race in the world, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is a challenge to all participants—especially a crew of sailors with disabilities.

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Mention the world's leading ocean races, and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is certainly in the top three. This 628-nautical-mile offshore race, organized by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) with cooperation of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, provides a tough test for skippers, tacticians, and crews alike.

The yacht Sailors with disABILITIES catches the wind off Tasman Island.
The event has taken place every year since 1945. What started as a nine-boat cruise to Tasmania the day after Christmas 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, a Barber 35-foot cutter, hove to or sought shelter at some stage. The epic stories recounted afterward launched the event as a "must do."

Over the past 62 years, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has become an icon of Australia's summer sport, ranking in public interest with such national events as the Melbourne Cup horse race, Davis Cup tennis, and cricket competitions between Australia and England. No yachting event in the world reportedly has such huge media coverage—except the America's Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race every four years or so—as the start in Sydney Harbor on December 26 every year.

What and Who

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race attracts yachts as small as 30-footers and as large as 98-footers, sailed by crews that range from weekend club sailors to professionals from the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race circuits. The fleet consists mainly of sloops—mainsail and one foresail—but several maxi yachts with a big fore triangle are successfully using two headsails on close-reaching races, theoretically making them cutters. The most recent race, December 26, 2007-January 1, 2008, was open to anyone who owns a yacht that qualifies for this challenging event and meets all the safety requirements of a Category 1 race.

This year's fleet included entry applications from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom—and, for the first time, Mexico. Several skippers who had past overall wins came back to try their luck once more. Two-time winner Lou Abrahams, an 80-year-old skipper from Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, prepared for his 44th race, as did Tony Cable, crewman on the Davidson 42 Phillip's Foote Witchdoctor. Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI went after (and got) a historic third consecutive line-honors win.

And David Pescud again competed with a crew that included several sailors with disabilities.

Read more about the 628-nautical-mile race from Sydney on mainland Australia to the port city of Hobart on Tasman Island and how severe storms forced many of the entrants out of the competition.


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The Great Race


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