Mixed fleet of 86 yachts gear up for Rolex Sydney Hobart on Boxing Day

A fleet of 86 boats ranging in size from 98ft maxi yachts to Mumm 30s will be on the start line of Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day.

The recently-launched super maxis, Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats XI, will certainly be hoping for a fast downwind passage. The last thing they would want is a repeat of the evil winds from the south that, along with a vicious seaway, took a severe toll on the maxis in the 2004 event.

If anything, big upwind conditions might suit the smaller yachts in the 40 to 50-foot range. That is what Ray Roberts, owner of DK46 Quantum Racing(see photo), is hoping for. Following his win at the recent King’s Cup in Malaysia and a dominant performance at the Rolex Trophy, Roberts must rank as a favourite for handicap honours in the race to Hobart. Commenting Roberts said: “I think we’ll need the conditions on the nose. If the big maxis get light to moderate conditions then the big boats with their canting keels can really stretch away. But if we get 30 hours of really hard-on-the-nose stuff, we’ll have to see if they can hold the boats together. I certainly hope they do, but if the conditions are tough then I think it will certainly suit the smaller boats.”

Theoretically, every one of the 86 yachts has a chance of winning the Tattersalls Cup, the trophy awarded to the handicap winner of the 628-mile race. However, the reality is that many are entered simply to complete the passage to Hobart, as that is sufficient reward in itself. But there are some teams hell-bent on winning handicap honours. Along with Quantum Racing, other favourites include Geoff Ross’s Yendys, a Judel/Vrolijk 52-footer, Stephen Ainsworth’s canting-keeled 60-footer Loki and Michael Hiatt’s Living Doll, a Farr-designed Cookson 50 also boasting a canting keel.

Many other yachts have different reasons for taking part in this most challenging of ocean passages. One of the most remarkable stories is that of Berrimilla, a 1977-built sturdy little 33-footer. If Alex Whitworth and Peter Crozier can complete the race, it will mark the end of a remarkable 12-month odyssey around the world. They competed in last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart and then departed for the UK, via the Falkland Islands, in order to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race. There they were runners-up in the double-handed division, but they had little time to celebrate, as they are now racing to return to Sydney in time for the beginning of the next race to Hobart. Whitworth and Crozier are set to arrive in Rushcutters Bay some time on Tuesday morning, when they can expect a heroes’ welcome.

Notable overseas entries include Gerard O’Rourke’s Cookson 50, Chieftain from Ireland, Dirk Wiegmann’s Beale 45, Conergy from Germany, and Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss from Great Britain. Experienced ocean racer and holder of the singlehanded 24-hour distance record, Thomson has put together a strong team that includes Australian offshore legend Nick Moloney, Olympic medalist skiff sailor Simon Hiscocks and Jeremy Robinson, helmsman of last year’s Tattersalls Cup winner, Aera.