Hobart's pleasant, laid-back waterfront morphed into a high energy, frenetic port right before our eyes in preparation for welcoming the participants of the Sydney-Hobart Race and the concurrent Tasmania Taste Festival. Booths and marquees (tents) lined the wharf. Barricades were set up. Streets were closed off. Colorful flags and banners fluttered in the stiff breeze. Port-a-loos were trucked in. All that remained was the arrival of the race boats.
Last year on Boxing Day, we were on a friend's boat bouncing around on the choppy waters near the Sydney Heads with hundreds of other boats, waiting for the start of the Sydney-Hobart Race. We watched as the two lead boats, Investec Loyal and Wild Oats, sprung off the starting line and seemed to fly by the sea marker to make their turn south to Hobart. It was thrilling to watch and we found it even more exciting since three of the men aboard our yacht including the skipper had participated in 10+ races in past years and provided lots of colorful commentary.
This very prestigious race began in 1945 as a proposed “cruise” by folks who preferred cruising to racing. The 630 nm route is now considered one of three top offshore sailing races in the world. Though it's held during the Australian summer, the weather is still unpredictable and the ride across the Bass Strait can be most challenging. In 1998, a hurricane-force storm claimed five boats and six lives. The record currently for the fastest elapsed time is held by Wild Oats XI who made it in 42 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds. That's an average of about 15 knots/hour.
There were 77 boats competing in this year's race and as I write this several boats have still not arrived. The Line Honours Winner this year was Wild Oats XI which won Line Honours in six previous Sydney-Hobart races. This year's win was considered a treble: 1)They broke the record for the fastest time ever, covering the 630 nm course in 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds (the previous record was set by them in 2005); they won Line Honours (first over the line) and the Handicap Honours (overall race). Pretty fast sailors!
We decided to take the dinghy into Hobart town from our anchorage in Cornelian Bay, a few miles up the Derwent. We hadn't used our new Yamaha outboard since it arrived and because it was new, it had a careful “breaking in” regimen to follow. Why not break it in en route to town? We arrived just in time to watch Bengal 7 cross the line. The wharves were thronged with people. As we dinghied into the inner harbor where we'd berthed just a few days ago, we watched the Ambersail crew settle into their berth and start celebrating. The crew looked tired, but exhilarated.
We tied up the dinghy midst the fishing fleet and headed over to see the race boats up close. Precision, high-tech everything; not an extra ounce of comfort aboard. These boats are meant to sail … fast. Definitely not cruise … slowly.
Peter Luke, one of the skippers in the first race, died in 2007. He still holds the record for the slowest elapsed time in the race aboard Wayfarer. Obviously, our kind of guy. We think, however, we should have some claim to that title since we watched the boats leave from Sydney last year and didn't arrive in Hobart until December of this year.