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A Boxing Day tradition is born

Even as Captain Illingworth was sailing Rani up the River Derwent, with ‘half of Hobart’ waving, cheering, honking car horns and flashing headlights, the news of his incredible win began to spread like wildfire. Post-war Australia was eager for excitement, and the inaugural Sydney Hobart went a long way to satiating this hunger.

The welcome that the ‘first fleet’ received in Hobart was overwhelming, the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania wining and dining crews, and the citizens of Hobart opening their homes to the exhausted and appreciative adventurers. The first Race has been run, and anticipation now hung heavy in the air.

Suddenly, all eyes were on Hobart, and all voices in the fray. Suggestions that the Race be run to link up with the Royal Hobart Regatta, that the participants should in fact race from Hobart to Sydney, and even Melbourne and the mighty Port Phillip Bay were brought into the equation. But no ideas were louder and more widespread than that this great Race become an annual event, a concept supported by none other than Illingworth himself.

And so it was to be, that when the mighty ketchs, cutters and gaff-rigged schooners took to the start line of the second annual Sydney Hobart Yacht Race (pictured above) in 1946, they had more than doubled in numbers. It is said, however, that the increase in the amount of participants wasn’t nearly as significant as the change in their (now more professional) attitudes. And in true Sydney Hobart fashion, the ocean wasn’t about to let them off easily.

One fisherman and seafarer, with over 60 years’ experience, who was sailing-master aboard one of the yachts, said it was the worst Bass Strait storm he had ever seen. There were reports of 65-knot winds, and eight-metre seas. Seven of the 19 yachts were forced to retire, and one, Unis J, finished at dawn on January 6, more than 10 days after the start, and too late to be credited with a finish as the observation post had been abandoned!

Battling through the worst of the storm and taking line honours was the now-famous Morna, a feat she was to achieve six more times in her amazing career. The smallest yacht in the fleet, 10-metre Christina, designed and built by the legendary Lars Halvorsen, ‘backed into’ the win only after Saga, which had been a long way ahead, got becalmed for 11 hours in the Derwent – a feature of many Races to come.

The rich history of the adventure now known as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was starting to take shape. Skippers, now from all over the world, began marking December 26 in their calendars, hoping to one day take on one of the mightiest yacht races.

Will you accept the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race challenge in 2018? Register here.

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This and many other amazing stories of the history of the Cruising Yacht club of Australia can be read in "Ratbags to Respectability," a celebration of the history of our great Club. You can purchase this and other great memorabilia at our online store available here.