Organized by the Australian Cruising Yacht Club, the Rolex Sydney Hobart starts on 26 December at 13:00, when more than 100 boats cross the starting line at Sydney Harbour. Over 400,000 spectators gather on shore to witness one of the most spectacular starts of an oceanic regatta. Hundreds of others in their own boats and boats watch as yachts leaving Sydney Harbour head south to Tasmania Island.
Sydney Hobart regatta is often called the most exhausting ocean race in the world. After a spectacularly beautiful harbour start, the fleet enters the Tasman Sea, descends along Australia's south-east coast and across the Bass Strait to Tasmania's east coast. The island is in the «roaring forties» along the path of west winds. Turning in Storm Bay, the yachts reach the finish straight up the Derwent River to Hobart Harbour. A total of 628 nautical miles are covered by the fleet.
In its long history, the race has become one of the largest annual events in world yachting. Both professional and amateur crews can take part in this regatta. The safety requirements for boats are very high. And after the tragedy of 1998, special provisions for crew qualification and preparation of boats for offshore races came into force.
That year, the biggest storm met the fleet in Bass Strait. The yachts from the distance reported wind speeds of 80 knots and twenty meters waves. 16 crews sent out distress signals, 56 yachtsmen were evacuated by rescue helicopters, 5 yachts sank, 6 yachtsmen died.
Only once in the history of the Sydney Hobart regatta, in 1952, the number of finishing boats was equal to the number of starts - 17.
Most surprisingly, unlike other equally famous ocean races, Sydney Hobart was originally conceived as a pleasant Christmas stroll in the company of friends of yachtsmen.
In April 1945, one of the first members of the Australian Cruising Club (CYCA), the artist Jack Earle, anchored next to the Saltair Tasmanian yacht in Sydney Cove. Earl was thinking of taking a family New Year's Eve cruise to Hobart and decided to check with his neighbours about maps. The owners, Burt and Ruth Walker, loved his idea so much, they immediately decided to join. Rumors of an upcoming voyage spread among the yachtsmen and soon one of the founders of the CYCA, Peter Luke, also expressed his desire to participate. At another meeting of the club to meet the famous British racer and military pilot John Ellingworth, Peter told the British about the upcoming New Year cruise. He immediately said, "Why not make it a race?"
Thanks to ties with the command of the British squadron, even Her Majesty's military aviation was involved in the provision. So, when on December 26th, 1945 nine cruise yachts started in Sydney harbor, a British military plane flew over them. The precaution wasn't unfounded. The very next day, a storm with winds up to 50 knots, rain pouring down the boats and huge waves covered the rider. Yachtsmen were trying to find shelter under the shores of New South Wales. Pilots of British escort planes reported that they had lost sight of several yachts. Reports of the race were in the front pages.
Meanwhile, one of the founders of the Australian Cruising Club and the founders of the race, Peter Luke, was anchored on the tall rocky island of Bruli. Hiding from the storm, he went ashore to call home and tell them not to worry. Then he came back aboard, and he went to bed with the whole crew. They may have been in an ocean race, but they weren't «ocean racers»yet. In that first race, he set a record that nobody has managed to beat so far - the longest time of the distance: 11 days, 6 hours and 20 minutes. How he liked to joke: E«ven a girl's team can't do that»!
Despite the harsh conditions, amateur, women's, and even family crews enter into battle with the elements, along with professionals. The youngest of the participants was 18 years old, the most senior skipper in the race of 2008 was 86.
No doubt, Sydney Hobart regatta is a landmark event in the Australian summer. It is difficult for a yachtsman to think of a more expensive and desirable Christmas present.