Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the shores of Sydney Harbour to send off an impressive fleet of 108 yachts as they commenced the 71st edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
It is already proving to be a tight battle among the yachts as they race down the New South Wales coast into the “southerly buster” gale force winds this evening.
The conditions are testing the most experienced sailors as they reach the next weather system, which sees the wind shift 180 degrees and the onset of thunderstorms. What started off as a Formula One race, will soon seem more like the Paris-Dakar.
Out of the gate, the pure carbon fibre maxi racing machines were moving at pace, with Perpetual Loyal leading the majestic fleet out of the harbour. Crossing in front of South Head’s Hornby Lighthouse, the American maxi Comanche unfurled one of her impressive asymmetric foresails at the Rolex turning mark to take a commanding lead of the fleet.
Reaching downwind, the frontrunners have been hitting speeds well over 25 knots as they chase the dream of collecting the Illingsworth trophy and Rolex timepiece which will be awarded for line honours. They will want to put as many miles as possible between themselves and the rest of the fleet in the first 24 hours, with their navigators currently predicting an arrival in Hobart on Monday afternoon.
“We will get up and go if the wind is just right. Any light air is our enemy, that will be the governing factor,” said Jim Clark, owner of the 100 maxi Comanchewith Ken Read at the helm.
Sailing is quite possibly the only sport in the world where a yacht’s age and size may not always be the deciding factor. The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be won overall based on a handicap system which, in these conditions, may well favour the more seasoned yachts in the vast fleet. Wild Rose, the Farr 43 owned by Roger Hickman is the perfect example, having won the 2014 edition of the race.
Tonight will be telling said Roger Hickman: “I’m not as apprehensive as most, I’ve done 38 Sydney Hobart Races. But tonight it will be fresh. It will be frightening, cold and wet. I guarantee by when the sun comes up no one will really want to be there. But as the sun comes out, it will get warmer, the seas will abate and we might be enjoying our first warm coffee and hot meal. But there will be a lot on. We will have to be careful and follow the seamanship rules. From then on it will be fine sailing. Another classic edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart.”
Just ten hours into the race, ten yachts have retired including record holding eight time Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours victor, Wild Oats XI, after reporting a torn mainsail. The Mark Richards skippered crew is returning to Sydney. The powerful front also dismasted CEX Dolce. Meanwhile, Comanche is trying to repair a broken rudder in order to continue racing.
ROLEX IN YACHTING
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has been partnered with Rolex since 2002. The event is a proud part of the brand’s association with yachting and offshore racing in particular. The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was preceded by two other important 600 nautical mile races in 2015: the Rolex Fastnet Race in August and the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October.
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