While much of the sailing world is stuck in the dead of winter, things are just now heating up down under, with the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race now just about a week away. This year’s Boxing Day classic will see a star-studded fleet of 94 yachts make the annual 628-mile pilgrimage from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania. With a fleet that is regarded by many as being the most competitive in decades, this year’s race should be a thriller from start to finish.
Consisting of five 100-ft supermaxis, three Volvo 70s, the Clipper Round-the-World fleet, and countless other maxis and mini-maxis, this year’s Hobart fleet is one of the most interesting mixed fleet of ocean racing hardware ever assembled. Perennial line-honors favorite Wild Oats XI, Bob Oatley’s 100-ft supermaxi, has been extensively modified and updated as she aims for a record-tying seventh line-honors win, but she’ll have her work cut out for her.
For the first time in years, WOXI isn’t the fastest boat in the fleet. Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal (ex-Rambler 100) was moved to Australia and has been rebuilt since her famous keel failure and subsequent capsize in the 2011 Fastnet Race. If the breeze is on the beam, the wider, more powerful Juan K-designed Loyal should be the fastest boat in the fleet — though her crew knows she’s a delicate, somewhat-fragile beast and will have to sail her accordingly.
If the breeze stays northerly and the fleet gets a run to Hobart, WOXI isn’t out of the woods as the new Botin 80 Beau Geste should be an absolute demon off the breeze. If a Southern Ocean low passes through and the breeze comes out of the south, no one can count out Ragamuffin 100 or Wild Thing. Playing the role of the spoiler are the three Volvo 70s, Giacomo, Southern Excellence II and Black Jack, all of which have been optimized for the race. Another boat to watch will be the new Carkeek 60 Ichi Ban, which should likely school all of the Clipper fleet and potentially a couple of the supermaxis.
In addition to the big boats, the little boats should offer up plenty of excitement. There are seven former winners in the fleet, including Primitive Cool (ex-Secret Men’s Business 3.5) and a couple of small but interesting one-design fleets, with the Sydney 38s and Archambault 40s registering four boats apiece (this writer will be sailing aboard the Newcastle-based A40 One for the Road). The TP52 Frantic makes her Hobart debut with 2010 Singlehanded TransPac champion Adrian Johnson as navigator. With the crew fresh off a major victory in the Gosford to Lord Howe Island Race, the boys on Frantic will be ones to watch.
We’ll be on the scene live with an update from the start, a recap from the finish in Tasmania and a full race report in the February issue.