Sydney Hobart Rolex Yacht Race


The Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is one of the most iconic races in the yachting calendar. This race is a rite of passage that every offshore sailor aspires to, although few take up the challenge. The Boxing Day highlight of the year for all Australian yachtsmen, the 628-mile course takes competitors down the Tasman Sea across one of the most unpredictable stretches of water in the world: Bass Strait. The long, rolling waves of the Southern Ocean roll around the bottom of the world until confronted by the shallow Straits that divide Tasmania from mainland Australia. Then, like surf breaking on a beach, the waves become shorter and steeper, creating conditions that only the toughest sailing yachts and the most experienced sailors can withstand.

The course of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Sailing from Sydney to Hobart is a rite for offshore sailors.
The course of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Sailing from Sydney to Hobart is a rite for offshore sailors. ©Rolex/Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The Sydney Hobart Race attracts sailors from many backgrounds. They range from paid professionals to Corinthian enthusiasts, taking time away from their jobs and families for the adventure of a lifetime.

Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Sailing from Sydney to Hobart is a rite for offshore sailors.
The start of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. ©Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

 There are two winners of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The ‘Line Honours’ winner is the first boat to reach the Hobart, usually won by one of the large 100ft Maxi sailing yachts. The prestigious Tattersalls Cup is awarded to the boat with the best corrected time under the IRC handicap system, although scoring is also carried out under ORCi and PHS.

Safety regulations for the race are among the most stringent in the world, and at least half of every yacht’s crew must have completed a Safety and Sea Survival Course.

 History of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

The inaugural race took place in 1945, and attracted just nine sailboats. Peter Luke initially planned the passage from Sydney to Hobart as a cruise – albeit across one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world. However it was a visit from British Royal Navy Officer, Captain John Illingworth, who suggested it be turned into a race, that caused this iconic yachting regatta to be born. Luke, who took part in many Sydney Hobarts, also helped to form the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), which organises the race in conjunction with the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania to this day.

The winner of the first Sydney Hobart race was Rani, which took 6 days, 14 hours and 22 minutes to complete the passage to Hobart. Over the years as technology and sailing yacht design has developed, so the race record has tumbled, with 100-foot Maxi yachts such as multiple winner Wild Oats XI finishing the 2005 race in a time of just 1 day 18h 40m. The closest finish for line honours was the battle of the Maxis in 1982, when Condor of Bermuda beat Apollo to Hobart to the line by just 7 seconds.

Politicians and media moguls have enjoyed success in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, considered by many to be pinnacle not just of the Australian yachting calendar, but of offshore racing across the Southern hemisphere. British prime minister Edward Health won in 1969. Founder of CNN, Ted Turner, won three years later, and another media magnate Rupert Murdoch was part of the crew of Larry Ellison’s Sayonara when the American Maxi won in 1995.

Risk and Reward

With the Bass Strait as fierce and unrelenting as it is – with huge waves and fast-moving weather systems barrelling around the bottom of the planet – danger is never far away. In 1998, tragedy struck when a particularly strong low-pressure system developed over southeast Australia. This generated strong storm force winds of up to 70 knots, which shattered the 115 boat fleet that had set out from Sydney. Only 44 of the original starters of this Sydney Hobart edition completed the race, and five boats sank, with the loss of six lives. The Australian authorities mounted an enormous search and rescue mission which involved 35 aircraft and 27 vessels from the Royal Australian Navy. It was the nation’s largest rescue operation in peacetime.

Sailing round Tasmania's iconic Organ Pipes
Sailing round Tasmania’s iconic Organ Pipes. ©Rolex/Daniel Forster

Since then the race’s safety regulations have been increased and they are now among the most stringent anywhere in the yacht racing world. As a result, numbers of participants have dropped because the barriers to entry are higher. However, Australian yachtsmen’s passion for ‘The Hobart’ remains undiminished and indeed, the number of overseas participants suggests the tragedies of past years have not affected the race’s good standing in the sailing world. Sailors are reminded that when the race starts, the responsibility lies with them to make the decision as to whether or not to cross the Bass Strait.

Sydney Hobart. Storm is coming
Conditions can go wild on the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Here is a storm coming. ©Rolex/Daniel Forster

When the weather is looking particularly nasty, skippers often make the reluctant but sensible decision to retire from the race and seek shelter in the beautiful fishing port of Eden, on the southeast corner of New South Wales, retiring to safety rather than jeopardise boat and crew in the Strait. There is no disgrace for withdrawing from the Sydney Hobart, only respect for having dared to undertake it in the first place.

Some Australian yachtsmen have competed in almost every Sydney Hobart Race of their adult lives, with the most prolific having taken part in nearly 50 editions, such is their obsession with this annual challenge. One thing that experience teaches is that going fast is not always the key to winning. In the boat-breaking seas of the Bass Strait, simply keeping your boat in one piece is a skill in itself. As 2004 line honours winning skipper of the 90ft Maxi Nicorette, Ludde Ingvall, puts it: “To win the race, first you have to finish.” Ingvall imposed an 8-knot speed limit on his young Nicorette crew, for fear that sending the 90-footer any faster through those steep-backed waves would destroy his boat. His conservative tactics paid off, when bad landings off monster waves in a raging Tasman Sea forced his two larger Maxi rivals out of the race. Ingvall’s ‘slow is fast’ approach – ultimately proved correct. It’s a lesson that others have since adopted.

Rough sailing in the Sydney Hobart yacht race
When conditions are tough, skippers have to think about preserving the yachts. ©Rolex/Daniel Forster

But after that battle through hell and high water, the final twist in this race is that the final 20 miles up the majestic Derwent River is often a light wind affair. A welcome respite from the elements for some perhaps, but for others a frustrating, final obstacle that stands in the way of the finish, a few hundred metres off Hobart’s seafront. Completing the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is rarely straightforward, but the reward of finishing is all the sweeter for that.

Twice winner of the Sydney Hobart, Roger Hickman, explains why he can’t get enough of this race…

To finish a Sydney Hobart Yacht Race earns you instant respect in the sailing world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to win it or simply to sail through 628 miles of hell and high water to reach Hobart – completing this race is a major milestone in anyone’s book.

Sailors call it the ultimate challenge, because not only are you pitting yourself against your fellow man, but you’re going head to head with the elements. The conditions in the Bass Strait are consistently among the fiercest anywhere in the world. True, you can get a safe run south to Tasmania – but it doesn’t happen very often. You’re sailing south from a large, hot, arid continent called Australia down to this little island out in the freezing wastes of the Southern Ocean. Next stop Antarctica.

Syndey Hobart offshore sailing
On the way to Hobart ©Rolex/Daniel Forster

These big temperature differences are just what a weather system needs to whip itself up into a frenzy, and quite often you’ll find a storm in your way, daring you to pass. Take that weather, mix it with the strong East Australian Current and some shallow waters, and the Bass Strait is ready to cook up some really short, steep nasty waves.

The conditions in the Sydney Hobart punish boats – and they punish people.

So the secret to winning this race is not always about going as fast as possible. You’ve got to know when to push hard, when to back off; when to ask for 110 per cent from your crew, when to give them a rest, to preserve their energy for the moments that really matter.

Storm Sydney Hobart
Be prepared for a wild experience ! This sequence was shot by Carlo Borlenghi ©Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Ploughing along in the middle of a stormy Bass Strait, cold, wet and miserable in the dead of night, it’s hard to believe that just a day or two earlier you were surrounded by thousands of people crowding the shores of a warm and sunny Sydney Harbour. No matter how many times you start a Sydney Hobart, the adrenalin kick is unbelievable, with hundreds of spectator boats cheering you on your way as you charge out through Sydney Heads and head south along the stunning coastline of New South Wales.

Of course if you thought the next 628 miles were going to be like that, you’d be in for a rude shock! The middle part of the race is where you can expect it to get rough, that’s when the hard work really begins. But as you close down the final few miles to Hobart, the Tassie coastline really is a sight for sore eyes.

It’s a pretty place at the best of times, but it’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen – after what you’ve just been through. Winning the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is one of the greatest things any sailor will do in his career, but for more than 60 years the people of Hobart have been cheering every boat that makes it there – even if you’re last! The Aussies love a battler, and that’s what you are if you make it to Hobart: A battler.

Have fun Sailing…well this time, Have fun Battling !

 Andy for Aureus Yachts

How to participate to the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race ?

To engage your boat in the ‘Sydney Hobart‘:

  • You must register a sailing monohull, between 9,00m and 30,48m, that meet the safety regulation of the Race (righting and stability).
  • The minimum crew number in the ORC and IRC divisions is 6 (the minimum age of all crew on the boat is 18).
  • At least half of your crew must have completed a Safety and Sea Survival Course.
  • At least two crew members on the boat should hold a current senior first help certificate, or equivalent qualification, or be a practising medical practitioner.
  • At least two crew members shall hold a Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP).
  • At least half of the crew shall have completed a category 1 yacht race or an equivalent passage. What is a category 1 yacht race you might ask ? Well categroy 1 yacht races are: Races of long distance and well offshore, where yachts must be completely self-sufficient for extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance.
  • You should hold a marine legal liability insurance with respect to the boat current when racing, with the boat insured for not less than AUS$5 million (or its equivalent in an other currency). The insurance policy shall state that the boat is covered for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and it is covered for yacht races of a length greater than 630 Nautical Miles.
  • You should have a valid IRC or ORC certificate for the current year.
  • Your boat should have been weighed on scales by an UNCL or RORC approved measurer.
  • You should have completed a qualifying race of not less than 150 Nautical Miles not more than 6 months before the start of the race. (contact the organization to have the list of the qualifying races).
  • It is recommended that the skipper or sailing master have a recognised Yachting Australia certificate (or equivalent) of at least an Offshore Skipper certificate.
  • Count approximatively AUS$ 1000 for entry fees, with a crew of 6, in one category.

Once you have all this, just “Express your interest in competing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race“, on the online entry page of the Race’s website: Here is a link to this page: Online Entry for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

One thought on “Sydney Hobart Rolex Yacht Race”

  1. Having completed 4 Sydney Hobarts in the late 70’s. I can attest to how well written this article is. Spot on mate. Rails Down, 2 Reefs & Shes a blown.


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