Australia is the place to be for big ocean racing events right now. The Volvo Ocean Race fleet arrived in Melbourne from Christmas day for a short pit-stop before embarking on the next leg to Hong Kong. And another iconic offshore sailing event, the Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race began on boxing day in true Aussie style.
Grey skies could not diminish Sydney’s enthusiasm for the start. Crowds flocked to the foreshore and the Heads, and a big fleet of support boats filled the harbour as the 102-boat Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet set off on the great adventure south. Peter Harburg’s 100-foot Black Jack led the length of the harbour and out into the open sea, hotly pursued by LDV Comanche and Wild Oats XI
Starting at 13.00 local time in 5-7 knots of easterly breeze it was a slow glide out of the harbour rather than the furious pace of recent years. Once out into the Tasman Sea the wind built slightly to 8-10 knots and backed a little to the north opening the angle and allowing yachts to hoist reaching headsails.
Wild Oats XI, on port, appeared to tack on top of LDV Comanche, on starboard, in a move more reminiscent of an inshore regatta rather than a 628nm bluewater race.
The message was clear. No quarter will be given in the clash of the titans engaged in the dash to be first to finish. Comanche has protested Wild Oats XI for the manoevre; the outcome will not be known until after the finish.
Ahead of the start, excitement was palpable right through the fleet. Tom Addis, the navigator of Black Jack, was looking forward to the start buoyed by a forecast which would favour his yacht in the early stages: “It looks like another fast race, although more downwind with more pressure, so big spinnakers and having to gybe. It’s a real boat speed race; tactically we don’t have any real major transitions to get through, any ridges to cross or a front to set up for. It’s going to come down to the crew that can move the fastest.”
Taking part in one’s first Rolex Sydney Hobart can be daunting even for the most experienced of sailors. Italian Flavio Favini, a multiple world champion, has made the journey to be with Mascalzone Latino: “The Rolex Sydney Hobart is a mythical race, one of the most important in the world. We are very happy to be here and able to take part. For me, it is great to add this race to my career. The weather forecast looks good for our boat, but we’ll have to see how it really is!”
As the fleet powered south into the first night, any pre-race nerves would have soon given way to the thrill of participating in one of the world’s great ocean races. Crews settle into the rhythm quickly. From front to back tactical decisions will need to be taken and pressure maintained, especially if the effort and determination exerted over the next few days is to be converted into success.
Follow the race:http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com
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