Stadium sailing. Extreme sailing. Live TV. Watched by millions. Human interest. History & Tradition.
If the article heading hadn’t given the subject away, you might have been convinced by various sailing spin doctors that these things have only recently been invented, but the Sydney Hobart has been delivering all these things, year after year.
This marketing phrase has been adopted by everyone from the America’s Cup to the Olympics since being brought back into fashion by the Extreme Sailing Series. It basically means sailing close enough to shore that you don’t have to get in a boat to see what is going on.
This year, Plymouth showed that is a great place to watch sailing. It joins other stadium sailing venues like Marstrand in Sweden as places where an audience can look down on the action and giving a different perspective. Of course those who have watched any kind of racing in Sydney harbor know that there are almost endless vantage points to look down on the fleet as they start the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
In 1998, Larry Ellison competed in one of the most ‘extreme’ sailing races ever. Not extreme in the sense that the boat might pitch-pole and the support rib might not get to it for 30 seconds, but extreme in the sense that people died.
It’s a little strange then to see Ellison describe the new America’s Cup World Series as “extreme sailing” – when compared to his ordeal from Sydney to Hobart in 1998 aboard Sayonara, lying on the back of an AC45 in a flat San Diego bay must be quite tame.
The sport of sailing is desperately chasing a wide television audience. To someone who has grown up with the Sydney Hobart yacht race being a staple part of Boxing Day sport on television, the dumbing down of sailing to try and attract a new audience seems a little desperate.
The Sydney Hobart has thousands of stories. 94 boats on the start-line means at least 94 different angles. Not just the big professional and semi-professional teams going for line honors, but the myriad of human interest stories; the oldest, the youngest, the battle for handicap honors and the list goes on.
History and Tradition.
Yacht clubs get a lot of bad press these days. In some cases, yacht clubs have perpetuated a sterotype about sailing which some believe is a barrier to participation, but keeping the sport’s traditions in tact is essential to the long term stability of the sport.
For the time being at least, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) doesn’t need to have arguments about how many hulls a boat has. It doesn’t need to force feed a new generation of fans filler content via social media. It doesn’t need to convert boatspeed into kilometres per hour or swap port and starboard for right and left.
Like all great events, calendar consistency over decades is the thing that drives loyalty and fan interest. Year after year, on the same day, there is the Boxing Day Test Match in Melbourne and the start of the ‘Hobart’ race in Sydney.
There is also consistency in the names of the boats – there have been 11 boats with the name Ragamuffin campaigned by 84 year old Syd Fisher over 43 editions of the race. Even casual sailing fans recognise names like ‘Wild Thing’, ‘Wild Oats’, ‘Alfa Romeo’, ‘Brindabella‘. ‘Condor’ and ‘Kialoa’.
While the America’s Cup might have the ‘best sailors’, the Sydney Hobart will have the most popular. Russell Coutts 5,700 or so Facebook likes are no match for Jessica Watson’s 29,600 and the participation of Watson in this year’s race will bring a different audience to the race.
The 5th or 6th man might be a relatively new concept in in-shore racing, but celebrity VIPs have been along for ‘the ride’ in the Sydney Hobart race for decades. Indeed Rupert Murdoch was aboard Sayonara in 1998 with Larry Ellison.
This year, Investec Loyal will once again carry a crew made up of some of the world’s best sailors and sports celebrities, including the likes of rugby greats and repeat performers, Phil Waugh and Phil Kearns, who have developed a real taste for the sport.
Joining the Investec Loyal crew again this year is world champion boxer Danny Green. He said:
“I’m mad and I’m a glutton for punishment. I’ve always been scared about being out in the middle of the ocean on a boat – so I went the first time to overcome that fear. When I was out there, I couldn’t wait to get off the boat, but once I got off the boat, I couldn’t wait to get back on it. There’s a great camaraderie on Investec Loyal and I’ve missed that.”
Official Launch of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
96 boats are anticipated to start the Sydney Harbour start line on Boxing Day, 26 December. Most of the boats will be Australian, but there will be boats from around the world competing.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) Commodore Garry Linacre said:
“Once again there is extraordinary diversity among the fleet, which is what makes this event so unique.
“Nine metre yachts up against 30 metre super maxis to become only the 67th overall winner from the many thousands who have tried is a significant feature of the race’s appeal. The lure of the anticipation and ultimate crossing of the notorious eastern Bass Strait and the camaraderie of the Hobart arrival is appealing in itself for most sailors.”
Both Bob Oatley’s 100 foot Wild Oats XI and Anthony Bell’s same sized Investec Loyal have been under the surgeon’s knife this year, undergoing age defying modifications that have made Wild Oats XI more slippery than ever warns skipper and launch panellist Mark Richards.
Wild Oats XI will be aiming for its sixth line honours win from seven starts. The boat is the current course record holder with a time of 1 day 18 hours 40 minutes 10 seconds, set in 2005.