The great race is underway. The 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, featuring an international fleet of 88 yachts, commenced at 13:00 local time on a perfect Sydney summer’s day.
The combination of excellent weather conditions, the sight of the competing yachts sailing full force under spinnaker on the passage through Sydney Heads, and shorelines packed with spectators, set the scene for one of the more memorable race starts in recent times. The fleet comprises four 100-ft Maxis – CQS, Perpetual LOYAL, Scallywag and Wild Oats XI – all harbouring the ambition of arriving first in Hobart and claiming line honours as fastest finisher. Their hopes have been boosted by the promise of strong conditions. “We are excited by the forecast and that records may be challenged,” revealed John Markos, Commodore of organisers the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA).
Of the Maxis, Perpetual LOYAL was first to clear Sydney Heads and gain an early psychological advantage over her rivals. In close pursuit was the 80-ft Beau Geste and Seng Huang Lee’s 100-ft Hong Kong entry Scallywag. Fourth to pass the Heads was eight-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI who recovered impressively after an uncharacteristically sluggish start. Given the heavy conditions forecast and need for extra weight on board, Wild Oats XI is carrying a record crew of 22 sailors. “All four Maxis are going to have their moments,” explained Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards. “We don’t know the history of CQS as she is new with a radical design. The Scallywag team have done a lot of yachting this year, their teamwork is good, and they are a different animal to what we have raced against in the last few editions. Perpetual LOYAL are a great team with more talent onboard this year.”
Anthony Bell, owner/skipper of Perpetual LOYAL, was in a confident frame of mind as he prepared for the start. “I think one of the Maxis will break the race record. A lot will come down to what happens when we reach the Tasman coast but a time just inside the current race record is likely.” Ludde Ingvall has twice won Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours, the last time some twelve years ago on the original version of his current yacht. His much revamped CQS has provided great intrigue. Of the Maxis, CQS suffered the most difficult start and she now finds herself playing catch up as the fleet travel down the New South Wales coast of the Tasman Sea.
While the focus during the early hours of the race is on line honours, the contest for the race’s most significant prize, overall victory on race handicap, is the principle target for the competing yachts. Andrew Saies, owner of the 40-ft Two True, won the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 2009 and is returning this year after following the last few editions from the comfort of dry land. “The weather forecast points to a great sail, but perhaps not ideal for our size of boat. To win this race you need a set of particular conditions to come together for your boat to win. It’s extremely hard to win this race.”
The fleet is rich and diverse, featuring yachts as small as 30-ft, seasoned campaigners setting personal records and those like the predominantly Swedish-crewed Matador, taking part for the first time. “It has taken a year of preparation and a great challenge getting everything sorted,” revealed owner Jonas Grander. “This is a legendary race and one we’ve read about so many times. It’s my dream to take part.”
The final number of starters was confirmed as 88 following the late withdrawal of Jason Bond’s Beneteau 47.7, Enigma.
The current race record stands at the 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in 2012.