Going cruising was never about a “Bucket List” – those things you want to do before you kick it. I’ve never kept a list of things like that. Outside of being slightly morbid, it seems to set an unreasonable set of expectations and is WAY more goal oriented than an aging slacker like myself is capable of.
In the cruising lifestyle though, you do come across the opportunity to do some things that would be on a Bucket List, if one was directed enough to create one. Things like going to the Galápagos, going through the Panama Canal, sailing to French Polynesia – these are all items that I’d put in the “Retroactively Add to the Bucket List if I Ever Get Around to Making One.”
Australia has a few of those. Two, in particular we knocked off in one week in December.
Watch the Start of a Sydney Hobart
The Sydney-Hobart race is a premier world sailing event. Outside the United States, there are some countries where sailing is simply huge. Hundreds of French people turn out to watch the start and finish of the Vendée Globe around the world race. In Australia, the start of the annual Sydney-Hobart attracts somewhere around 100,000 people. In the U.S., with about thirteen times the population of Australia, that’s equivalent to 1.3 Million people turning out to watch a single sporting event live. The race starts on Boxing Day – December 26th – and takes two to four days or so, depending on the size of your boat.
What’s Cool About It?
The Sydney-Hobart race
runs from Sydney to Hobart, Tasmania. It’s about 635 nautical miles distance, and crossed the Bass Strait. The Bass Strait can be a nasty stretch of water with conditions that can change rapidly from placid to deadly.
Every year over 100 boats join this race, from old historical boats to state of the art 100 foot maxi yachts. These are some of the draw,since they are some of the fastest mono-hull sailboats in the world. But the small boats draw too, since anyone can win the race.
There are two types of winners – Line Honors, and Overall Handicap. The line honors is pretty limited to he big boys; no forty-five footer is going to beat a one hundred foot maxi-yacht with a professional crew to Hobart. But with a handicap for the speed of the boat the playing field is a bit more leveled.
The On-Water Madness
Those 100,000 people – many of them are on shore, on the cliffs at the “Heads” at the entrance to Sydney Harbor. But a lot of them are spread out among about 1,000 spectator boats.
The spectator fleet ranged from several harbor ferries that sold special tickets to the occasion, to huge motor yachts, more modest sail boats and power boats, all the way down to a few madmen in kayaks and inflatable boats.
When the fleet was in the distance it was calm but crowded. We spent the early part of the start slowly milling around with the spectator boats.
In the above image you can see the “heads” – North Head and South Head, and the two rounding marks Victor and X-ray. We were milling around with several hundred other boats just a little to the west of Victor Mark, out of the buoyed off race course.
As the racing fleet approached, things got more exciting. The spectator boats started to line up and move along the outside of the course to follow the fleet through the heads. We moved with them.
A big maxi yacht can average fifteen knots over the course of a race like this. Compared to the six knot harbor speed limit on race day for spectators and the seven knots or so that we can make under power, these things are fast. They move by very quickly. And not everyone follows the speed limit.
That makes for some exciting boat handling as all these dis-similar power and sail boats all try to watch the race while not colliding with one another. Fortunately for me, I come from a racing background and am reasonably used to maneuvering in close quarters with others boat so it didn’t freak me out too much. But I’d also be lying if I said I got much more than quick glimpses of the boats until the crowds thinned out.
Once the maxis had blown by much of the spectator fleet thinned out. Especially since the wind outside the heads had picked up and the spectator fleet was pounding into six+ foot seas to keep up. We’re used to that and Evenstar handles it well. But it’s no place to be in a small power boat! We waited until the end, watching and cheering every last boat as we made our way back in. Some of the faster boats could keep up with the maxis after they headed out, but that wasn’t in the cards for us.
The link above for the race has the official result. It was a fast race with favorable winds most of the way. The big buzz before the race was the Line Honors record, held by Wild Oats XI, a multiple winner of past Sydney-Hobart races and if it would be brokn. Will was fortunate enough to get a tour of Wild Oats XI before the race, and we were pulling for her. But it wasn’t to be – she developed a mechanical problem in her canting keel and had to retire from the race. Perpetual Loyal won Line Honors and smashed Wild Oats XII’s record by hours. So did a handful of other, smaller boats (still big boats…seventy feet or bigger) because the ideal conditions.
In hindsight, it was very, very cool watch the start and I’m glad we did it. If we do it again though, I think the high-speed ferries look like a good option! Let someone else drive, crack open a beer, and sit back and watch them chase the big boats onto the horizon.
All Photos by Danielle Porter!