I'm pleased and proud to let you all know that I successfully finished my first Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race last night after 3 days, 5 hours and 44 minutes at sea; my longest ocean race ever. Even more satisfying; we managed to win the Sydney 38 Division after a titanic struggle with Cinquante throughout the whole race. Ultimately we claimed victory by a mere 2 minutes and 16 seconds after 3.5 days of racing.
The start was spectacular. The fleet of 157 boats set off from four start lines on Sydney Harbour in a building 10-15 knot north to nor-easterly breeze under clear blue skies. The harbour was awash with spectator boats, helicopters hovered overhead and the nervous tension on the docks before heading out was electrifying. It is without doubt one of the most unique sailing experiences in the world and I loved every moment.
The race started in a fresh northerly with a weak southerly change forecast to reach the fleet overnight. It was apparent early on that navigating the transitions (holes or changing pressures between weather systems) would be the key to success in the race. As we made our way further down the coast and past Bateman's Bay, the stronger breezes from earlier in the day subsided and the fleet slowed dramatically. Before that, however, we had our own dramas with a spectacular broach an hour out from the Heads where we seriously thought about withdrawing as we were unsure about potential rudder damage. I'm glad we decided to push on.
Day Two saw many changes and significant movement throughout the fleet. The majority of yachts were battling their way through light and variable winds and it became a game of snakes and ladders as the respective navigators worked to connect gusts of wind and keep their boats moving south. In our own battle within the Sydney 38 Division, the key question was whether to basically follow to the East of the rhumb line as many of the fleet elected to do; take an inshore approach and hope for coastal advantage; or head offshore, following Comanche, and look for a faster approach angle later in the race. TSA Management (Sydney 38) adopted an offshore strategy early in the race, which saw them in the lead throughout much of Day 2, but ultimately cost them on the approach to Tasman Rock, needing to cover more miles to return to the rhumb line, and in less pressure. Mille Sabords (Sydney 38) fell behind early in the race but managed to stage a late comeback, passing TSA Management and closing the margin significantly on the front runners in the last few hours.
About a third of the way across Bass Strait the breeze returned about the same time that our instruments failed, making it extremely difficult to steer downwind with gusts around 30 knots and steep seas overnight. It also didn't help with making the best sail selection, where we rely significantly on the data we receive from our instruments in deciding when to change over.
Ultimately the battle between Cinquante and ourselves raged on throughout the race. Over the whole course we were inseparable; the lead changing back and forth many times. It was like an arm wrestle that lasted for 3 1/2 days. Neither boat prepared to give an inch; every mistake punished by a lead change. It felt like the world's longest match race at times and we knew that ultimately, the boat and crew that blinked first would end up on the losing end of the fight. The intensity crossing Storm Bay and up the Derwent served only to take it up to a new level. Having spent most of my sailing life competing in dinghies, who would have thought that a 630 mile ocean race could be so captivating.
Finally we crossed the finish line at 6:44 pm on Sunday 29th December 2019; ahead of our main rival Cinquante, and the ultimate victor in the Sydney 38 Division. Unfortunately, we were not really ever in contention for the ultimate prize, overall winner of the Tattersalls Cup, but as I mentioned in my last post, to win the whole thing requires the right weather pattern for the specific type of boat - and a whole lot of luck! Nevertheless, from the outset, our primary goal and the reason I love racing in one design boats is that it all comes down to the first boat to cross the finishing line!
While I feel somewhat lucky that my first initiation in to the Hobart Race was a smooth one, with relatively mild conditions throughout most of the race, I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment and look forward to competing again when next given the opportunity. I cannot finish without thanking my amazing crew, every one who remained committed and focused throughout, and I would like to give a special shout out to Mitch, Tony and Gibbo for inviting me and my fellow bowman and housemate George. We crushed it!
Time for me to take advantage of all that is Constitution Dock at the end of a Hobart, with a plethora of restaurants, bars and music. The atmosphere is pumping and everyone is in a festive mood with a continuous stream of boats finishing every hour. It's been an amazing event and certainly lived up to it's reputation as one of the iconic ocean races in the world today.
I hope everyone had a great Christmas. I'm taking a few weeks off to recharge the batteries but will post my 2019 year in review shortly.
Thanks again for your support. Wishing everyone a safe and prosperous New Year in 2020.