Hobart, 1 January 2017 – When British Navy Captain John Illingworth uttered the now immortal phrase: ‘I will, if you make a race of it,’ when presented with the opportunity to take part in a Christmas cruise from Sydney to Hobart in 1945, few would have imagined how vigorously his words resonate over seven decades later.
That casual idea of a cruise has, over time, evolved into one of the most respected and revered challenges in the sport of yachting. The annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is a fearsome test of seamanship, human endeavour, skill and determination. ‘Make a race of it,’ remains embedded in the mindset of all those who compete in the 628-nautical mile race, whatever the challenges or obstacles they may encounter. The 72nd edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart proved this in emphatic style. This was the year in which persistence prevailed, embodied both in those whose excellence was rewarded with trophies and coveted Rolex timepieces, and those who conquered their own personal challenges.
LOYAL breaks record
On 27 December, 2015, Anthony Bell and his Perpetual LOYAL crew should have been making progress down the New South Wales coast towards the Bass Strait in their quest for line honours at the 71st Rolex Sydney Hobart. Instead, the crew found themselves debriefing in a Sydney hotel after a broken rudder had forced their retirement from the race. It was the second year in succession that Bell’s 100-ft Maxi had failed to make it to Hobart. The team were distraught. It was likely to be the crew’s last race together. Making sense of the situation, there was only one option for a defiant Bell: “We thought we should come back and put it together again.”
In preparation for the 2016 race, Bell strengthened his crew, introducing a number of the team fresh from claiming line honours with the American Maxi Comanche. He also called on the decorated Australian sailor, and former Rolex World Sailor of the Year, Tom Slingsby. The determination of the crew was clear from the outset of the race. Perpetual LOYAL was the first of the 88-strong international fleet to reach Sydney Heads, often a first psychological marker. She then duelled with Wild Oats XI, one of the race’s great names, down the New South Wales coast. It looked like a two-way contest for line honours. Then nearly 21 hours into the race, a hydraulic ram fault forced Wild Oats XI to retire. For Mark Richards and his crew, misfortune for a second year in a row.
In consistent reaching conditions, Perpetual LOYAL assumed control of the race. The pace remained relentless and in the early hours of Wednesday 28 December, she arrived in Hobart not only to frenzied media and spectator activity but also the confirmation she had accomplished a remarkable feat. Perpetual LOYAL had broken the race record set by Wild Oats XI in 2012 by nearly five hours. Her time, 1 day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds.
“Calmness and coolness on our boat was the thing that got us through. The most important part was that we had nothing to lose. It defies a lot of the worries we had. It is one for the true believers,” said Bell.
It is the 12th time the race record has been broken since Illingworth and his crew on the 30-ft British Rani set a time of just under a week in 1945.
A study in resilience
Overcoming adversity is the central narrative in the story behind the 70-ft yacht which finished second to Perpetual LOYAL on the water. Giacomo is owned by Jim Delegat, an Auckland-based wine producer. This was the crew’s third Rolex Sydney Hobart. “We had a wonderful 2013 and a heartbreaking 2014, when we lost our mast off the Tasmanian coast. It was soul-destroying and a personal loss for the crew. It was difficult to get over in the next months.” Despite that setback, Delegat and his predominantly New Zealand team set on plotting to plan the perfect race. In 2015, Giacomo, a Volvo 70 designed for the rigours of offshore racing, was repaired and then in preparation for this year’s race, the crew focused on sailing hours together and honing teamwork.
To win the Rolex Sydney Hobart, you need a lot of qualities. You also need an element of luck. This year’s weather pattern favoured the leading boats. In finishing second, two hours behind the new race record holder, Giacomo set the second fastest time in the history of the race. She had sailed across Storm Bay and along the notoriously cruel 11-nm stretch of the Derwent River in good breeze. And this at night, when the river often shuts down. A few hours later, the Derwent did what it often has, crush the ambitions of those who dream to believe. The breeze faded with cruel disdain and consequently no yacht would be able to surpass Giacomo’s handicap time. On Thursday 29 December, she was confirmed as the overall winner of the race. The Tattersall’s Cup and Rolex timepiece were hers.
“It’s reward for a long learning experience. We are not the same people today that we were in 2013. It is about a mindset and it’s a learning experience,” explained Delegat. This, like so many Rolex Sydney Hobart stories, was partly a family affair. Delegat sailed with his two sons – Nikolas and James – the latter at 18 the youngest sailor in the fleet. Winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart, organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), in your first attempt is a feat achieved by very few.
“It really comes down to high quality execution, timeliness, keeping the boat moving. This is the most physically demanding race,” reflected Delegat on a grueling 39 and a half hours at sea. “We weren’t really able to put a proper watch system into place, constantly bringing people back on deck for sail changes.”
“Winning – it’s what dreams are made of,” added Delegat. “The legendary nature of the race and the remoteness of us achieving the win... it’s rewarding and exciting.”
Winning prizes at the Rolex Sydney Hobart is the target of all those who enter. The race’s handicapping system ensures this dream is achievable. First though comes completing the race. “For most of us it’s about finishing,” explains Sean Langman, who was born on a boat in Sydney and has sailed the race 26 times on all kinds of yacht. “Anyone who finishes this race is a winner. It’s about the journey, the preparation, the camaraderie, having Christmas Dinner but your thoughts drifting to where you really want to be, which is on the sea the next day for the start of the race.” Eighty-three of the 88 crews who commenced the 72nd Rolex Sydney Hobart finished – a testament to the meticulous planning and flawless preparation of those involved.
Langman, who still harbours dreams of winning the major prizes, was the person who first introduced Anthony Bell to the race. One friend in the smallest boat in the fleet – Langman’s 30-ft, 1932-built Maluka of Kermandie, the other – Bell – in what proved to be the race’s fastest. “The race makes you real, it centres you. It’s at sea where you realise what it means to be part of our environment and our universe. It makes you think about a lot of things and creates a bond with the people who you do it with. This you never lose.”
This year the race welcomed 12 overseas entries from ten countries. This included the predominantly Swedish team on the 44-ft Matador. Owner Jonas Grander only stepped foot on his boat for the first time ten days before the race and his knowledge of the Rolex Sydney Hobart was drawn from articles and video clips. “It’s such a legendary race. To take part is a matter of expanding yourself and getting to know yourself a little bit more. To plan something like this from the other side of the planet takes a lot of preparation. Is it impossible? No, it isn’t. And if it’s possible, you can make it.”
Not every edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart heralds a new race record or witnesses such a high proportion of crews make it to Hobart. Each year the narrative is different, the weather pattern unique, the nature of the race unfolds in its own way. This is part of what draws both first-timers and veterans to the race each year. “It’s so humbling,” explained Delegat. “We have to have a regard for the challenge it is and the people who have gone before us.” As Title Sponsor of the race since 2002, Rolex identifies with the race’s very essence, the commitment and dedication of those who take part, the notion of passion, friendship and an unrelenting desire to overcome all challenges.
Proceedings closed with the official prizegiving organized by the CYCA and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. A final opportunity to celebrate this year’s achievements. Preparations for the 73rd edition – which starts on Tuesday 26 December, 2017 – begin now.
ROLEX AND YACHTING
Rolex has always sought to associate with activities that, like itself, were motivated by passion, excellence, precision and team spirit. Naturally, Rolex gravitated toward the elite world of sailing, forming an alliance that dates back to the late 1950s. Today, Rolex is Title Sponsor of some 15 major international events.
From leading offshore races, such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race, through to the highest-level one-design competition at the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, spectacular gatherings at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and the Rolex Swan Cup, as well as the brand’s support of World Sailing, the international governing body of the sport, and its close relationships with the most prestigious yacht clubs around the world, including the New York Yacht Club (US) and the Royal Yacht Squadron (Cowes, UK), Rolex is driven by a passion for excellence and a great appreciation for yachting that furthers the strong ties that bind these two worlds in their shared pursuit of perfection.
Leading brand of the Swiss watch industry, Rolex, headquartered in Geneva, enjoys an unrivalled reputation for quality and expertise the world over. Its Oyster watches, all certified as chronometers for their precision, are symbols of excellence, performance and prestige. Pioneer in the development of the wristwatch as early as 1905, the brand is at the origin of numerous major watchmaking innovations, such as the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926, and the Perpetual rotor self-winding mechanism, introduced in 1931. Rolex has registered over 400 patents in the course of its history. A truly integrated and independent manufacturing company, Rolex designs, develops and produces in-house all the essential components of its watches, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining, crafting, assembly and finishing of the movement, case, dial and bracelet. Rolex is also actively involved in supporting the arts, sports, exploration, the spirit of enterprise, and the environment through a broad palette of sponsoring activities, as well as philanthropic programmes.
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