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Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Preview

The fourth-largest fleet in the history of the race will take part in the 75th running of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day; owners and crews coming from far and wide to compete in one of the world’s greatest sailing events. Entries closed with 163 yachts entered from Australia and overseas, making it the largest fleet to compete since 1994.

Among this year’s boats are five super maxis; Peter Harburg’s Black Jack (Qld), Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant’s record holder Comanche (NSW); Christian Beck’s InfoTrack (NSW); the Oatley family’s reigning line-honours champion, Wild Oats XI (NSW) and Seng Huang Lee’s SHK Scallywag from Hong Kong.

International boats are also well represented with entries from Great Britain, Ireland, France, China, Hungary, Poland, Hong Kong and USA. Predictably, NSW has yielded the largest Australian numbers with 96, while the other states are also well represented.

In 75 years, technology, design and materials used for hulls, rigging and sails have advanced dramatically. It is most obvious in the super maxis and the TP52s; the latest in one-design boats. While the general public will always have a fascination in seeing the biggest and most expensive yachts battle it out for line honours glory, for the individual boat owners that return year-after-year, the Class Divisions and the Overall Classification represent the holy grail. The reality of course, is that with so many boats of varying lengths, weights, designs and construction it is virtually impossible to create a mathematical formula that can fairly match yachts with such huge speed differences across all weather conditions. That is part of the allure of ocean racing. In the right conditions at the right time in the right spot nearly anyone can win!

One of the main reasons I made the difficult decision to move from Auckland to Sydney in February was to take advantage of more opportunities; both in match racing and big boat sailing. One of my major goals for the year was to try and get a ride in an overnight ocean race on a TP52. Ambitious to say the least, given my lack of big boat experience at the time, but certainly high on my wish list. To achieve not just one ocean race but several, including Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach Race Weeks on Zen was certainly a dream come true and far ahead of even my lofty goals.

Another item on my bucket list was, of course, to compete in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day. To be given the opportunity to compete on Goat, the Sydney 38OD I raced on in the Sydney Gold Coast Race in July, when spots are so hard to come by, is a fantastic opportunity and one which I was grateful to accept.

The beauty of One Design racing and the reason I was so happy to start my ocean racing career on a Sydney 38OD is that the boats are essentially identical. The class rules are quite strict with every boat built by the same builder so ultimately, it is less of a question of who has the largest cheque book but rather, it’s a battle between the skippers, their crews and the elements. In the end, the first boat across the finish line is declared the winner.

This year, there are seven Sydney 38's competing in the One-Design class, making it one of the largest divisions in the race. Goat last headed south as ‘The Goat’ in 2014 and finished 10th overall, after placing 24th in 2011. Beforehand, it won the 2011 Sydney 38 Nationals, the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart One-Design class and the 2008 Sydney Gold Coast race, plus numerous other wins. With over 60 previous Hobart Races shared between my fellow crew members, there is plenty of sailing talent and experience on-board and I feel both excited and exhilarated to be part of this year's race with such a great team.

However, as all experienced Rolex Sydney Hobart sailors will tell you, there is a combination of things that you need to win the race; the right crew, a boat that makes it to the finish line, the weather pattern to suit – and a bit of luck. Only time will tell…

I would like to wish you all a safe and happy Christmas and a wonderful year ahead in 2020. I look forward to updating you on my progress from Constitution Dock in Hobart.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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