The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is the ultimate offshore quest for any sailor. Known as ‘The Great Race’, the 71st edition of this iconic offshore classic lived up to its name with the most dramatic weather and racing conditions the race has seen in over a decade. Attracting a record number of international entries (28), including the first ever Chinese yachts.
On 26 December, the fleet of 108 yachts raced out of Sydney’s majestic harbour under an ominous grey sky amidst a plethora of spectator boats, saluted by hundreds of thousands of well-wishers lining the shore. But as night fell, the race began to show its true colours and take its toll on the competitors.
The onset of the renowned ‘southerly buster’ brought gale force headwinds and in a matter of minutes the crews were scrambling to react to the 180 degree shift in wind direction and literally battened down the hatches for what would be testing 18 hours.
Over the course of the next two days, 31 yachts would retire with issues ranging from broken steering systems, torn sails and even structural damage as a result of the constant pummelling through the rough ocean waves.
Corinthian and professional sailors alike were quick to declare this a ‘true’ Hobart, while saying that these were some of the toughest conditions they had ever faced. Relying solely on each other as they raced down the New South Wales coast, safety and seamanship was always top of mind for the determined fleet of more than 1,500 participants.
Hometown favourites, the 100 foot maxis Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal, were among the casualties of the first night, dashing their hopes of a line honours win. Bob Oatley’s team limped backed to Sydney after thrashing their mainsail, devastated not to have been able to add another line honours win to Wild Oats XI’s historic collection of eight titles.
This would bode well for Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze-Clark’s Comanche, the 100 foot maxi which debuted at the 2014 edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
Never say never
Having competed around the globe since then, breaking records and collecting silverware at the most prestigious offshore races, including the Rolex Fastnet Race – and setting a record for greatest distance (618 NM) covered by a monohull in a 24 hour period –Comanche is deemed as the fastest monohull in the world. Yet the Rolex Sydney Hobart title eluded the team in 2014. So when Kristy Hinze-Clark heard that Rambler 88 would be on the start line, she asked her husband if they could live with their American rivals possibly breaking the race record or winning line honours.
“No way,” said Jim Clark and they set the wheels in motion to ship the boat from Genoa (Italy) and secure their crew of 20, which includes the best of the best sailors, led by American skipper Ken Read. Two-time America’s Cup winning helmsman and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2014 Australian Jimmy Spithill only had to cross town, while the likes of navigator Stan Honey, bowman Justin ‘Juggy’ Clougher and trimmers Dirk De Ridder and Richard Clarke, to name but a few, flew in from all over the world to take part.
One of the wildcards on board was Kristy Hinze-Clark, co-owner of Comanche, who had not previously competed in an offshore race. Not one to shy away from a challenge, the Australian-born supermodel took up the gauntlet and sailed the 628 nautical mile race, steering the 100 foot maxi over the finish line to an enthusiastic crowd of Comanche fans.
Despite the pure talent on board, it was never easy sailing for Ken Read and his crew. Within nine hours of the start, the team incurred severe damage to their port dagger board and it began flailing under the boat. At that point, they ran the risk that the thrashing board could puncture the racing machine’s pure carbon fibre hull, so the crew rushed to cut it free. But once the dagger board broke away, it took out one of the rudders, which severely impacted the steering system.
The deflated skipper Ken Read placed a call to the Cruising Club of Australia’s Race Director to report their misfortune; but Comanche’s race was not over yet.
“That’s when we said ‘we’re done’. We stopped and took all the sails down. We actually started drifting back towards Sydney. Then I see the tools come out, and when I see the tools come out with these guys, that’s usually a good sign that they have an idea. All of a sudden you hear cutters and grinders,” said Read.
Making the call
With the repair undertaken, Read discussed the situation with the watch captains and they decided unanimously, to finish this race.
“This racing crew would not stop unless they couldn’t,” added owner Jim Clark.
The team fought back, persevered and demonstrated great teamwork, and soon pulled past George David’s Rambler 88 which had moved into the lead overnight.
Sailed incredibly well, with veteran Australian navigator Andrew Cape on board calling the shots with tactician Brad Butterworth (NZL), Rambler 88 was in it to win following on from their line honours win at the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October. Their chances were also looking good, but Comanche, having affected their midnight race course repair, were to be the clear leaders.
Dockside at Constitution Wharf in Hobart, Jim Clark and Kristy Hinze-Clark celebrated, lifting the Illingworth Cup high. “It was really grueling. Pure terror at one stage. Excitement and now just total joy. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said Hinze-Clark admiring her well-earned, engraved Rolex Yacht Master II timepiece for taking line honours.
Safety and seamanship
This edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart offered up a full range of conditions to challenge all competitors who exercised true seamanship. As the southerly weather system moved through, the wind abated. But the resulting light air patches dashed Rambler 88’s hopes of a line honours win. As well, the American maxi lost out to Syd Fisher’s Ragamuffin 100, when a great tactical call just metres from the finish line, left George David’s team in third place. A pleasant surprise for 88-year old owner, Syd Fisher, who was competing in his 48th Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
But the race was far from over. With 74 boats still offshore, it was game on for the likes of Frenchmen Eric de Turckheim with Teasing Machine and overall Rolex Fastnet Race winner, Courrier Leon, skippered by Gery Trentesaux. Having travelled all the way from Europe, Trentesaux was one of the smallest but mightiest in the fleet.
In a race that is decided on handicap, given certain weather conditions, there is good chance that the overall winner will come from the mid-sized boats in the fleet; this year was no exception.
With the frontrunners tied up in Hobart, most of the fleet were still battling their way across the Bass Strait and around Tasman Island in hopes of a finish in Hobart where their corrected time finish would put them in contention for the Tattersall’s Cup.
By Wednesday afternoon, Paul Clitheroe’s TP52 Balance, finished and became the leading contender. But there was still a chance that Shane Kearns’ Sparkman and Stephens 34 Quikpoint Azzurro, speeding downwind at nine knots off the Tasman coast, could reach the finish line in time to upset Balance.
Clitheroe was adamant; “They kept me up all night! In what sport are you going to get a modern, carbon 52-footer up against a vintage 34- footer bought on a credit card. Either of us could have won it within five minutes. It’s crackerjack!”
It was soon clear that the overall winner would be Australia’s most famous financial guru and his crew on board Balance. Despite having flown back to Sydney, on hearing the news the crew returned to Hobart to be presented with the coveted Tattersall’s Cup and the engraved Rolex Yacht Master timepiece for Clitheroe.
“I started sailing at eight years old in a sabot, on a lake. But it’s stuff like this that makes you think this is an amazing sport. It makes kids jump in a little boat and take on a healthy sport. In what other sport do you know that if you are in trouble in the middle of the night, your competitor is going to stop and come to help. I’m proud to be a part of our sport. I am proud of my team and the people in this community. I’m honoured to win this trophy and sail with these folks, my crew. It’s an absolute privilege,” said Paul Clitheroe.
Arriving just in time for the prizegiving was the last yacht to finish, Myuna III, completing the race in just over five days and 20 hours, at 0909 AEDT on New Year’s Day.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is testament to the fact that every detail counts. After months of preparation, sailing more than 600 nautical miles and facing the most challenging conditions, once again it came down to a matter of minutes.
As the 71st edition drew to a close, there was a tremendous sense of achievement shared among the participants, with their sights and hopes already set on for a return to Rolex Sydney Hobart on Boxing Day 2016.