Living Up to the Reputation

Living Up to the Reputation
All the trophies on display before the official prizegiving commences - Protected by Copyright

The 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart was a great contest. It may have finished with one boat, Wild Oats XI, scooping all the serious silverware, but to limit the story to that fact would be an injustice to the other 75 yachts that raced. Over and above the remarkable second treble of line honours, overall win and new race record secured by Wild Oats XI, this race will be remembered for the array of conditions experienced and the commitment of the smaller boats to finish despite the wind playing into the hands of the larger boats.

he pre-race weather forecast identified two key moments that would shape the race's outcome: the arrival on the first night of a northeasterly that would extend throughout the race area, and, a change late on the second day to a building westerly flow that would encircle Tasmania, blowing hard to the north and south of the island, with a tricky shadow in the immediate lee. The predicted timing of these transitions favoured the faster yachts, particularly the 60-footers Black Jack and last year's winner, Loki.
In the end, the actual timing favoured only one boat.

Brisk first day

The 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart set off from Sydney Harbour on 26 December at 13:00 AEDT with the usual blaze of media and public attention. Yachts scorched towards the Heads under spinnaker in a brisk southeasterly. Wild Oats XI was first out; navigator Adrienne Cahalan sailing in her 21st race described how the mighty yacht had reached speeds of 20 knots plus. Turning right the wind came firmly 'on the nose', but Wild
Oats XI
hardly broke stride. Her line honours rival, Ragamuffin-Loyal, was struggling to keep up. The crew's lack of familiarity with the powerful maxi led eventually to a "mongrel moment", according to navigator Andrew Cape, and a continuing problem with headsail gear dogged her race.

For the smaller boats the first afternoon was brutal. "At the moment we are paying the rent. All the crew are soaked," remarked Wild Rose's Jenifer Wells. Wild Rose was
among a group that had headed out to sea seeking an advantageous southerly current, only to conclude that it was too far out to make the move worthwhile. The best option was to stick to the rhumb line, the shortest distance between start and finish. Certainly, there was no easy option. Brindabella's sailing master, Brad Kellett reported: "We're on the proverbial bucking bronco".

Second day speedsters

Throughout the second day, the front-runners powered south at more than 20 knots in the freshening northeaster. At the finish, the post-race tales from this day would be delivered with a beaming grin. Andrew Cape made clear most boats' goal: "The faster you go now, the less southerly you have. It's crucial."

Meanwhile, on board backmarker, Charlie's Dream, Peter Lewis and crew were sitting down to a lunch of smoked chicken, double Brie cheese and a glass of chardonnay: "We're at the back end of the fleet - we always expected to be. We do it for comfort rather than speed".

That evening, after a bruising but exhilarating day, Living Doll became the first of five eventual casualties in the race, retiring with a broken rudder 90 nautical miles southeast of Gabo Island.

Third day legend

The following morning Wild Oats XI drifted across the finish with everyone on tenterhooks. She had finished in 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, shaving 16 minutes 58 seconds off her old record. At first light this achievement had seemed
unlikely, but hopes revived as the distance to the finish shrank. Owner Bob
Oatley was ecstatic: "I'm over the moon. We've never given up; we'll try to do
it again next year!" Wild Oats XI's went into the history book as the second boat to break its own race record and to post six line honours victories. Only Morna, later renamed Kurrewa IV, has done better, winning line honours seven times and breaking her record twice.

As Ragamuffin-Loyal crossed the line in second place just after midday, her 85-year old skipper Syd Fischer completing his 44th race tipped his hat to Wild Oats XI and admitted ruefully: "We had a bit of trouble. We're new to the boat, but I think we did pretty well."

It was a long wait for the next three boats: Lahana, Black Jack and Loki, and despite best efforts none were capable of bettering Wild Oats XI's corrected time. "We had such a ball going across Bass Strait. It was fast, warm and relatively easy till we ran into the southerlies," explained Loki's navigator Michael Bellingham. "We did the best our boat could do."

For a few hours it seemed a group of fifty footers scheduled to arrive in the early hours on the 29 December might break the Wild Oats XI stranglehold. Jason Van der Slot, skipper of Calm, was banking on the southwesterly change to drive his hopes for victory. In the end both Calm and the other contenders were brought to a halt by two parking lots close to the finish. When the predicted southwesterly eventually settled in it brought 30 knot wind, heavy rain and poor visibility. While it came as no surprise, it
was no less unpleasant.

Fourth day drama

In such a race, it was only right that the furthest travelled - Yoshihiko Murase's KLC
Bengal 7
from Japan and Simonas Steponavicius'Ambersail from Lithuania - would finish minutes apart. They converged at Cape Raoul before racing side by side across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River. Ambersail crossed 6 minutes ahead. "This is a must do race," declared Steponavicius. "It is exactly what I had imagined, brilliantly interesting: yesterday we ran with winds gusting to 25 knots, in a huge swell, at a speed of 27 knots."

Shortly after the international arrivals at around midday, Wild Oats XI was announced
as the overall winner of the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart. It was clear no one left
on the course could beat her corrected time. Skipper Mark Richards was elated,
to him the overall win is still the ultimate achievement: "There's only a couple of boats competing for line honours, but the Tattersall's Cup - it's nearly the whole fleet - it's a big deal."

As the day progressed, the northern and southern extremities of the fleet were reporting winds of more than 45 knots, with squalls reducing visibility to less than 100 metres. Four more yachts retired.

Fifth day tales

By the following day, the 30 December, the winds were abating and competitors were able to 'enjoy' the final stages. Close to 40 yachts finished during a captivating 24-hour period. One of the morning arrivals, Chutzpah seemed bewildered by the wind experienced. Their advance weather routing had led them to expect 70 per cent downwind sailing, but they only got about 20 per cent. "Our biggest blue was to go into the Tasmanian coast so close that we sailed inside Maria Island. We'd been expecting a southwesterly to get out; we got a southeasterly." Crossing Bass Strait with the spinnaker up and the wind gusting to 42 knots was something they will never forget.

For Liesl Tesch, the Australian Paralympic sailor, her race on Sailors with DisABILITIES confirmed her addiction to the sport. She planned to get back on board in less than 48 hours to return to Sydney. "41 knots from behind and going 25 knots
downhill as the full moon rose and a rainbow broke from the moonlight" will be her lasting memory.

Race veteran Tony Cable raised his tally to 47 races. As the 70-year-old stepped off Duende, his comment was typically understated: "It wasn't one of the easiest ones, but
it wasn't one of the hardest by far''. After four days of racing, a fierce in fleet contest between a group of Beneteau First 40s resolved itself. Lunchtime Legend won through followed by Two True, which edged Wicked by just over a minute. A mere seven seconds separated Wicked from Brannew.

As the New Year approached, at the end of the sixth day, the last boat home was Sean Langman's Maluka of Kermandie. Happily docked in Hobart in time to share the revelry
her arrival brought to a close to the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart, a race that had it all.

By Partners