On top of entries from New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, the race welcomes crews from New Caledonia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, USA, China, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom. That includes the Clipper Round the World Race fleet of 11 identical 70-footers which will be halfway around this year’s 40,000 nautical mile route.
Counting down to the 2017 race, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, John Markos, commented, “We have all the ingredients of a true ocean racing classic in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2017. We look forward to the eyes, ears and enthusiasm of Australian and international audiences supporting our crews throughout this legendary challenge, all the way to Tasmania.”
The Rolex Sydney Hobart 2017 has attracted the line honours winners of 11 of the last 12 Hobart races, albeit under different names, owners and skippers. Only Wild Oats XI will have the same pair of hands on the wheel, Mark Richards. Out of the picture in the last two Hobart races because of forced retirements, she is back again and with very few changes to last year. That is, apart from a new black mainsail, said to be 12 per cent lighter than the old one, and some tweaking of the angle of attack of the daggerboards and forward canard.
Neville Crichton took line honours in 2009 with Alfa Romeo, effectively a sistership to Wild Oats XI. They are both Reichel/Pugh designs, built in 2005. It was Crichton and Alfa Romeo that broke the run of line honours victories that Oats had enjoyed. Crichton is back with the 2015 line honours winner, skippering the US supermaxi now known as LDV Comanche.
Alfa Romeo is also back this year, wearing the livery of Queenslander Peter Harburg’s Black Jack stable. It is a calculated move, with previous smaller Black Jacks he has snapped at the heels of the supermaxis but not overtaken them. In light airs this year, he reckons this version of Black Jack can win.
Last year’s record breaker, Perpetual Loyal, is back as InfoTrack, owned by a newcomer to ocean racing, Sydney software developer Christian Beck. Beck founded two successful technology companies, LEAP Legal Software and InfoTrack. LEAP is used to manage all aspects of a legal practice and InfoTrack provides legal information on property developments. Beck’s sailing endeavours to date have been racing the former Tasmanian Ker 11.3 Dump Truck on the Lane Cove River.
New supermaxi owner Christian Beck, on his first offshore race said, “I’ve seen the start one hundred times but I’ve no idea what happens after that!”
On a more serious note, Beck says, “If the weather is very windy like it was last year I think we have a realistic chance of taking back to back line honours.” Beck has some of Australia’s most experienced professionals on his crew including Michael Coxon and Ty Oxley.
Meanwhile, last year’s overall winner, the Volvo 70 Giacomo, is back as Wizard. She is owned by American brothers David and Peter Askew. As Giacomo, the Volvo 70 stunned last year’s fleet when she finished second behind Perpetual Loyal and also smashed Wild Oats XI’s record.
The maxi Beau Geste returns to the Rolex Sydney Hobart with Hong Kong businessman Karl Kwok in charge after his personal absence of four years. It is 20 years since he won this race with his Farr 49 of the same name. The Botin 80 was fifth across the line and eighth overall last year when she was sailed by Gavin Brady and Aaron Rowe.
Clearly worth watching is Italian Mascalzone Latino, Vincenzo Onorato’s Cookson 50 making its first appearance. Onorato has headed two Italian America’s Cup challenges, won six world titles and leads the Mascalzone Latino sailing team. Mascalzone Latino won the recent Hong Kong to Vietnam Race, covering 770nm in 53 hours 26 minutes, with a top speed of 30 knots.
A strong fleet of TP52s is headed by Matt Allen’s new Botin-designed Ichi Ban. She dominated the recent 200 nautical mile Newcastle-Bass Island Race, beating nearest rival, Sam Haynes’ TP52 Celestial, by more than an hour.
Ichi Ban is up against not only Celestial but also Quest, which won the race under that name in 2008 when owned by Bob Steel - and then again as Balance in 2015, after Paul Clitheroe bought it. Now the name is back to Quest with Steel taking it to Hobart. The two yachtsmen are sharing the boat, swapping between the two names and paint jobs to distinguish who is sailing it at any given time.
“We rate a bit higher than the other TP52s,” Matt Allen says, “so we’ve configured the boat to go fast. We haven’t seen Quest out of late, but that will be the TP52 to beat. They always do exceptionally well.”
“Celestial, Koa and others are sailing at a much higher level these days, after spending more time on the water and making changes.”
Speaking at today’s press conference to launch the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2017, Zoe Taylor, the owner skipper of the Cookson 12, G.O., said, “the reality is that on Boxing Day we are all going to war – we’re all in it to win it,” when asked what her chances were in this year’s race.
Fellow panellist Shane Kearns, agreed saying, “I’m feeling supremely confident of winning this year – this is our year.”
This after finding himself becalmed 150m from the finish line last year and missing second place by six minutes.
Among the nostalgia fleet this year is Kialoa II, the American yawl that won line honours in the 1971 Hobart race. Sparkman & Stephens designed Kialoa II for Jim Kilroy, who went on to break the race record in 1975 with Kialoa III – and held it for a record 21 years.
Brothers Paddy and Keith Broughton bought Kialoa II in 2016 after she had been laid up in Portugal. Their view is to compete in the classic ocean races as Kialoa II did under Jim Kilroy, including the Rolex Fastnet, the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the TransPac.
Also on the comeback trail is the Sparkman & Stephens 51-foot yawl Dorade. Olin Stephens designed it when he was only 21. Built in 1930, it features a deep keel and very narrow beam. Dorade won the 1931 Transatlantic Race from Newport to Plymouth, the Fastnets in 1931 and 1933 and the 1936 TransPac.
Her owners, Matt Brooks and Pam Rorke Levy, are on a mission. “Starting just weeks after being launched in 1930, Dorade has raced in the world's most challenging ocean races. It's what Olin and Rod Stephens designed and built her to do,” they say.
“So far, we've been competing mainly in races where Dorade was victorious back in the thirties, but now we've completed that series, we're looking for new challenges, just as Olin and Rod (Stephens) would have. And there's no bigger challenge in the world of sailing than the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.”
The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.