To mark the Rolex Sydney Hobart's 60th birthday more than 30 veteran yachts from past races will stage a Parade of Sail

The hundreds of thousands of spectators expected to occupy the shores of Sydney Harbour to watch the start of the 60th anniversary Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race should take up their vantage points a little earlier this year.

Their reward will be a journey through Australian yachting history and not a little nostalgia for an era in ocean racing long gone.

To mark the Rolex Sydney Hobart’s 60th birthday more than 30 veteran yachts from past races will stage a Parade of Sail that will take spectators all the way back to the very first race of 1945.

The parade will begin at the Race start line off Nielsen Park at 11:45am and end an hour later at Sydney Heads.

For those who grew up in the fifties and sixties there will be names to conjure with: Fidelis, Astor, Margaret Rintoul, Pacha, Koomooloo; all dressed in bunting and flying the battle flags of past glories.

Pride of place will be held by Archina and Kathleen Gillett, two of the five boats that sailed the very first race in 1945.

Built in 1939, in many ways Kathleen Gillett epitomises the distance that ocean racing has come in those fifty years. It is hard to imagine the owner of a modern ocean racer moving aboard with the wife and kids but that is exactly what marine artist Jack Earl did for the duration of the War.

In 1947 they sailed her around the world, only the second Australian yacht to do so. And after Jack eventually sold her Kathleen Gillett, she earned her keep trading in the Torres Strait and housing croc hunting expeditions. Now Kathleen Gillett leads a more stately life at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, having been purchased by the Norwegian government, restored and donated to the nation as a bicentennial gift.

Cooroyba, another yacht from the same era, was built in 1937 and came second in the 1955 Sydney Hobart Race. Her present owner, Stewart Reed, who plans to enter her in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race to mark the 50th anniversary of her achievement, has lovingly restored her.

Landfall, built of Huon Pine in 1936 has quite a place in world yachting history. She was the first boat outside the United States built to the design of a promising young design team called Sparkman and Stephens. S&S was to become a euphemism for fast, graceful yachts that somehow seemed to possess an aesthetic beauty that transcended their performance on the racetrack.

Keep an eye open for the little Aurora, which sailed in the 1947 and 1948 races under the name of Aloha. She is just 34 feet 6 inches long, including her bowsprit, and can’t have been the most comfortable ride. She certainly wasn’t the fastest. In 1947 she took 8 days 3 hours and 11 minutes to reach Hobart, setting a race record no-one wants to break.

The varnished mahogany hull of Koomooloo will also stand out. In 1968 she won the Sydney Hobart on handicap and after a seven year restoration is heading south again with the rest of the race fleet at the 1.10pm start, sailing as Ray White Unlimited Koomooloo.

Each boat has its own story, of glory and despair, epic storms and exotic anchorages. Fidelis, the 61 footer that won line honours in 1966 by a record margin and then went on to victories around the Pacific. Lahara all but had the race won in 1951 until becalmed close to the Tasmanian coast.

Boats from every decade will be there. Metung, Margaret Rintoul, Lolita from the 50s. Astor, Pacha (see photo above), Moonbird from the 60s, Nike and Suraya from the 70s and Carnaval and UBS Wild Thing from the 80s and 90s.

In a way UBS Wild Thing sums up how much the Hobart has evolved, from a cruise in company to a hi-tech, high cost grand prix event complete with sponsors. From the days when boats routinely took shelter when the weather turned foul to professional crews who push their boats hard, sometimes until they break. You just can’t see Captain John Illingworth, who won the first Hobart in the sturdy Rani, or any of his contemporaries, calling a boat ‘Wild Thing’.

It has been a long voyage, and the Parade of Sail will be a wonderful chance for spectators to view the design and philosophical landmarks along the way.