The traditional dockside presentation of the Tattersall's Cup to the overall handicap winner and battle flags to the divisional winners of the 2008 Rolex Sydney Hobart was a moving occasion, preceded by a wreath-laying ceremony and a minute's silence to mark the tenth anniversary of the tragic 1998 race in which six sailors lost their lives.
The ceremony also remembered other sailors who have died in the race or on delivery passages associated with it, like the Hobart yacht Charleston, lost with all five crewmembers on the way to the start of the 1979 race. Members of four families of the lost sailors accompanied Matt Allen, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, and Commodore Clive Simpson from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania - the CYCA's partner club in organising the race - as they cast a floral tribute into the River Derwent.
Commodore Allen told the gathering, "ten years ago a severe and fast-developing storm resulted in the biggest ever maritime rescue conducted in Australian waters with 55 sailors rescued. This rescue operation involved some twenty-five aircraft, six rescue vessels and approximately one thousand search and rescue personnel. Five yachts sank and of 115 starters only 44 yachts made the finish in Hobart in a race that changed our sport forever."
Steadying his delivery to reflect the moving nature of the occasion, Commodore Allen continued, "as we mark this ten-year anniversary we remember the six lives lost in that race and the impact that loss of life had on the families and the yachting community. But it is also important that we remember all those who have perished during and because of the race since 1945."
Drawing positives from the tragedy, Commodore Allen went onto to explain to assembled crowd how, "the sport has seen a positive impact across the world in safety and the education and management of dealing with emergency situations. This included the design and introduction by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia of the safety sea survival course, which has been adopted worldwide through other ocean races. The abandonment and successful rescue this year of all fourteen crewmembers from Georgia has highlighted again the value of the course."
Ending the remembrance element of proceedings, Commodore Allen noted that, "following the tragic events of the '98 race we can take comfort that the lives lost were not in vain. Better safety standards and training the world over will remain as a lasting legacy to those who perished."
Turning to the celebratory part of the presentation, Bob Steel, skipper of the Tattersall's Cup winner Quest (AUS/NSW) who won the race in 2002 with a previous Quest, remarked that, "I am absolutely delighted to be standing here again, thanks to a great crew and a great opportunity. The weather was in our favour and we took full advantage of that." Steel added that even though the winds this year suited his Farr-designed TP52, it had been demanding on his crew, "being a running race you still have to be very, very focused, you have to be at it all the time and you can't make a mistake. If you make a mistake, you will not be not standing up here."
Quest, besides being overall IRC winner, won IRC Division 1 from another two TP52s, Cougar II (Alan Whiteley, AUS/VIC), also a Farr design, and Wot Now (Graeme Wood, AUS/NSW), a Judel/Vrolijk design. Ray Roberts' Farr-designed Cookson 50 Quantum Racing (AUS/NSW) won IRC Division 0 for canting-keeled boats despite breaking off half her rudder blade about 200 miles from the finish when it slammed into a sunfish or a shark. From that point, Roberts' crew had to race with reduced sail area to keep the reasonably upright. "It put an end to our chances of pulling off victory and was a big disappointment," he said. "Winning Division 0 is a good consolation prize and I was really proud of the guys who kept sailing the boat hard and on its feet so we could at least finish the race and still maintain a reasonable position in the fleet."
Chris Welsh's legendary, veteran Spencer 65 Ragtime (USA) won IRC Division 2. The slender, hard-chined plywood 'sneak box' built 43 years ago, has a very competitive IRC rating and enjoyed the hard-running conditions that lasted almost the whole race for boats bigger than 45-feet overall. The IRC Division 3 winner is the Ker 11.3 Tow Truck (AUS/NSW), owned by Anthony Paterson and sailed by the same team of young sailors from Lake Macquarie who successfully raced Paterson's previous boat, a Mumm 30 of the same name. Paterson bought the boat, by British designer Jason Ker, which had been based in Jersey (United Kingdom), via the internet. He and his crew spent three months re-organising the Ker 31 and had time to race her only in the 180 nm Cabbage Tree Island race, to qualify for the Rolex Sydney Hobart, as Paterson explained, "the boat was a bit unknown to us, but we've always had a group of about ten guys who have sailed together and know each other very, very well. We just went out and learnt the boat over the 600 odd miles and pushed the boat as hard as we possibly could."
Harry Heijst's Winsome (NED), one of the two 36-year-old Sparkman & Stephens 41's entered by Dutch owners, triumphed in Division 4. Near sister S&S 41 Pinta-M, was third, behind the S&S 48 Ray White Spirit of Koomooloo (AUS/QLD).
Overall PHS (performance handicap) winner is the Volvo 60 Telcoinabox Merit (Leo Rodriguez, AUS/QLD), the boat that expertly rescued the 14 crewmembers from the sinking Georgia (AUS/VIC) on the first night of the race. The Farr 37 Pippin (Roger Sayers, AUS/QLD) won the Cruising Division and Morris Finance Cinquante (Ian Murray, AUS/QLD) the Sydney 38 One-Design Division.
Seven yachts retired from the starting fleet of 100: Georgia (sank), Sanyo Maris (broken gooseneck), Inner Circle (generator failure), Helsal III (rudder damage), Leukaemia Foundation (rudder damage), Somoya (broken furler) and Pachamama: Swiss Top to Top Global Climate Expedition. Shogun was disqualified.
Four yachts have finished since yesterday evening. Noel Sneddon and Rob Saunders Inca (AUS/ACT) completed the course at 2232 AEDT last night. Sean Langman's immaculately restored, seventy-six year old Maluka of Kermandie (AUS/NSW) crossed the line four hours later. The Russian crewed Getaway Sailing 2 (AUS/NSW) ghosted over the finish just before daybreak this morning, whilst Chris Dawe's Polaris of Belmont (AUS/NSW) waited until today's dockside presentation to arrive at Constitution Dock to great applause.
This left Hobart resident Murray Wilkes' Nest Property (AUS/TAS), one of the smallest yachts in the fleet at thirty-feet, to close out the 64th Rolex Sydney Hobart, arriving at 1645 AEDT this evening. Nest Property was assured of a rapturous welcome from locals and tourists who have gathered in Hobart to bring in 2009. Wilkes will surely have cause to remember his first Rolex Sydney Hobart.