Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Map of the Sydney–Hobart Yacht Race route.
Founded 1945
Start Sydney, Australia
Finish Hobart, Australia
No. of competitors 108 (2015)
Most recent champion(s) Balance (on handicap)
Comanche (line honours)
Most titles Freya ; Love & War (3) (on handicap)
Wild Oats XI (8) (line honours)
TV partner(s) Seven Network
Official website

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is an annual event hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, starting in Sydney, New South Wales on Boxing Day and finishing in Hobart, Tasmania. The race distance is approximately 630 nautical miles (1,170 km).[1] The race is run in co-operation with the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, and is widely considered to be one of the most difficult yacht races in the world.[2] The race was initially planned to be a cruise by Peter Luke and some friends who had formed a club for those who enjoyed cruising as opposed to racing, however when a visiting British Royal Navy Officer, Captain John Illingworth, suggested it be made a race, the event was born. The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race has grown over the decades, since the inaugural race in 1945, to become one of the top three offshore yacht races in the world, and it now attracts maxi yachts from all around the globe. The 2004 race marked the 60th running of the event.

In 2012 Wild Oats XI set a new record by crossing the line in 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, beating its own record of 1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set in 2005.[3] Wild Oats XI is the first boat to claim the treble race record, line honours and overall winner twice.[4]

The longest surviving skipper from the inaugural race, Peter Luke, who contributed to the formation of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and the establishment of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, died on 23 September 2007 aged 92. His yacht, Wayfarer, still holds the record for the slowest elapsed time. Only two sailors from the original race are still alive Geoffrey Ruggles from the Wayfarer crew and John Gordon from the Horizon crew.[5]


During departure from Sydney Harbour, ships pass the iconic opera house.
Investec Loyal about to win the 2011 Sydney to Hobart

Bass Strait, and the waters of the Pacific Ocean immediately to its east, are renowned for their high winds and difficult seas. Although the race mostly takes place in the Tasman Sea, the shallowness of Bass Strait and the proximity to the race course means that the fleet is very much under the influence of the Strait as they transit from the mainland to Flinders Island. Even though the race is held in the Australian summer, "southerly buster" storms often make the Sydney–Hobart race cold, bumpy, and very challenging for the crew. It is typical for a considerable number of yachts to retire, often at Eden on the New South Wales south coast, the last sheltered harbour before Flinders Island.

Elapsed times for line honours, from 1945 to 2014

The inaugural race in 1945 had nine starters. John Illingworth's Rani, built in Speers Point, New South Wales was the winner, taking six days, 14 hours and 22 minutes. Race records for the fastest (elapsed) time dropped rapidly. However, it took 21 years for the 1975 record by Kialoa from the USA to be broken by the German yacht Morning Glory in 1996, and then only by a dramatic 29 minutes, as she tacked up the Derwent River against the clock. In 1999 Denmark's Nokia sailed the course in one day, 19 hours, 48 minutes and two seconds, a record which stood until 2005 when Wild Oats XI won line and handicap honours in 1 day 18 hr 40 min 10 sec.

There have been some notable achievements by yachts over the years. Sydney yacht, Morna, won the second, third and fourth races (1946–1948) and then, under new owners Frank and John Livingston from Victoria, took a further four titles as Kurrewa IV in 1954, 1956, 1957 and 1960. Other yachts to win three or more titles are Astor (1961, 1963 and 1964)and Bumblebee IV firstly in 1979 and then again in 1988 and 1990 as Ragamuffin. When Wild Oats XI won back-to-back titles in 2006, it was the first yacht to do so since Astor in the 1960s.[6] Wild Oats XI claimed its third consecutive line honours title in the 2007 race, re-writing history by being only the second yacht after Rani in the inaugural 1945 race to win line and handicap honours and break the race record in the same year (2005) and then only the second yacht after Morna to win three line honours titles in a row. In 2008, Wild Oats XI broke Morna's long-standing record of three titles in a row, by completing a four-in-a-row, the first yacht to achieve that remarkable achievement.[7] For the handicap race the highly respected Halvorsen brothers' Freya won three titles back-to-back (the only yacht in history to do so) between 1963 and 1965. Although not consecutive, Love & War equalled Freya's three titles by winning its third in 2006 to add to its 1974 and 1978 titles.

The 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race was marred by tragedy when, during an exceptionally strong storm (which had similar strength winds to a lower-category hurricane), five boats sank and six people died. Of the 115 boats that started, only 44 made it to Hobart. As a result, the crew eligibility rules were tightened, requiring a higher minimum age and experience. G. Bruce Knecht wrote a book about this race called "The Proving Ground". (ISBN 0-316-49955-2) A coronial enquiry into the race was critical of both the race management at the time and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.[8]

In 1999 the race record was broken by Nokia, a water-ballasted VO60 yacht. She sailed the course in 1 day, 19 hours, 48 minutes and 2 seconds. Brindabella reached Hobart just under one hour later (1 day, 20 hours, 46 minutes, 33 seconds) and Wild Thing was a close third (1 day, 21 hours, 13 minutes, 37 seconds). The previous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race record had been set by Morning Glory (2 days, 14 hours, 7 minutes, 10 seconds) in 1996.[9]

The calm before the storm. Sydney to Hobart entrants moored up at Rushcutters Bay, Christmas Day, 2004.

In 2004 only 59 yachts completed the course of the 116 who set out from Sydney. Storms hit the race. The super maxi Skandia capsized after losing her keel.[10] In 2005, Wild Oats XI became the first boat since Rani to win the "treble", taking Line Honours, winning the Corrected Handicap (IRC), and breaking the course record. (1d 18h 40 m 10s, over 1hr off of Nokia's record.)

In 2006, 78 boats started the race, including entrants from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, New Zealand, every Australian state and the Australian Capital Territory. The race started on schedule at 13:00 Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time.[11] Wild Oats XI, owned by Bob Oatley and skippered by Mark Richards, crossed the finish line at 21:52 on 28 December 2006 to take line honours with an elapsed time of 2 days, 8 hours, 52 minutes and 33 seconds.[6] Wild Oats XI became the first yacht to win the race in consecutive years since 1964 and only the sixth yacht to achieve this since the race's inception. Love & War, owned by Peter Kurts and skippered by Lindsay May, won the race overall (IRC Handicap) in a corrected time of 3 days, 22 hours 2 minutes and 37 seconds. Love & War became only the second yacht to win the race three times (1974, 1978 and 2006). The yacht Freya won the race in three consecutive years between 1963 and 1965. Gillawa from the Australian Capital Territory, skippered by David Kent, was the sixty-ninth and last boat to complete the 2006 race, making it the third consecutive year that the yacht was last in the fleet.[6]

By the November 2007 race entry deadline, 90 yachts had nominated for entry including four 90-foot maxis, three of them wanting to prevent Wild Oats XI creating history and winning three line honours titles in a row. A little over a week prior to the race, New Zealand maxi Maximus withdrew after cracking its keel. Three-time and 2006 handicap winner, Love & War, was not one of the applications for entry and may have raced her last Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 2006. Wild Oats XI went on to create history by winning its third consecutive line honours title and becoming only the second yacht to do so.[7] Rosebud (USA) won the race on corrected time. John Walker became the oldest skipper in the history of the race at age 85 and Phillip's Foote Witchdoctor bettered its own record and set a mark of 27 races as the most by a yacht.[7]

Hobart's Constitution Dock is the arrival point for the fleet after they have completed the race, and usually witnesses scenes of celebration by many yachtsmen during the new year festivities.

On 3 November 2008 at the close of entries, 113 yachts had nominated for entry with only one other 90-foot maxi (Skandia) to challenge Wild Oats XI and stop it creating history by winning four consecutive line honours titles and becoming the only yacht to do so. Wild Oats XI achieved this and Bob Steel won his second Tattersalls Cup with Quest, the second yacht with the same name to win the handicap title.[7][12]

The 2009 fleet comprised 99 starters. In the 2008 race, Wild Oats XI had equalled Morna/Kurrewa IV's record of three consecutive line honours victories, which Morna achieved in 1946, 1947 and 1948, and was attempting to pass the record in its own right in 2009.

In the event however, Neville Crichton's New Zealand entry Alpha Romeo II passed Wild Oats XI early on and never relinquished her lead, finishing in an elapsed time of 2 days, 9 hours, 2 minutes and 10 seconds. Wild Oats XI came in second and United Kingdom-based ICAP Leopard came in third.

Sailors who have achieved outstanding commitment to the race are represented most of all by John Bennetto (dec), Lou Abrahams and Tony Cable who, after the 2007 race, had each sailed 44 races. Skippers Frank and John Livingston won four line honours titles while Claude Plowman, Peter Warner, S.A "Huey" Long, Jim Kilroy and Bob Bell have each won three. Trygve and Magnus Halvorsen have won four handicap honours titles while a number of skippers have won two handicap titles.

Rolex has been the naming rights sponsor of the race since 2002, and since then the race has been known as the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. It will continue to have the naming rights until 2015.[13] Traditionally, crews of yachts celebrate on New Year's Eve at Constitution Dock in Hobart, with the Custom's House Hotel a favourite venue for Sydney–Hobart yachtsmen.

Panorama of the 2007 Sydney–Hobart Yacht Race.

"Holy Grail"

With the smashing of the Sydney–Hobart Race Record in 1999 by Nokia, and a host of other super-fast boats, that completed the course in less than two days for the first time – the "Holy Grail" of the Sydney–Hobart race, a completion of the course in a time under the 40 hr mark became a possibility. Many of the skippers competing in the Sydney-Hobart race in the 21st century have expressed a desire to be the first to record a time under the once thought of as impossible mark of 40 hrs.

Women's involvement

Women first participated in the race in 1946. The first woman to take part was Jane Tate, whose boat Active was the only one to reach Hobart in 1946. Dagmar O'Brien, with boat Connella, also took part in that year but retired from the race before finishing. Thus, the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy is awarded each year to the first female skipper to complete the race. In 1975, the first all-women crew sailed, with boat Barbarian. In 1982 or 1983, Sue Bowly put another all-female crew together, but the sails ripped. They repaired the sails on the Navy's sewing machine at Jervis Bay, and carried on to Hobart, but no longer in competition.

In 2005, 24 women took part, including Adrienne Cahalan, who is famed for her around-the-world sailing, has been nominated several times for World Yachtswoman of the Year[14] and was Australian Yachtswoman of the Year for 2004–05. In 2005 she was part of the crew for the winning Wild Oats.

In 2011, Jessica Watson, known for her solo unassisted sail around the world at age 16, skippered the Sydney Hobart yacht race with a crew of six other young Australians and three Britons all aged 21 or under, making them the youngest ever to compete in the blue water classic.

In total, over a thousand women have taken part in the race.[15]


The crew of 2005 winner Wild Oats XI.

Much public attention focuses on the race for "line honours" – the first boat across the finishing line, typically the newest and largest "maxi" in the fleet. There is also a handicap competition, a race for what is regarded as Australia's foremost offshore sailing prize the Tattersalls Cup.

The exact rules for the handicap trophy have changed over the years. In general, each boat's time is adjusted on the expected speed of the boat based on its size and other characteristics. The International Offshore Rules were superseded by the International Measurement System (IMS), and the IRC. For 1991, 1992 & 1993 races, the winners of the IOR and IMS categories were both declared Overall winners during the transition from IOR to IMS. However, the Tattersalls Cup was awarded only to the Overall IOR winner during this period. Since 1994 there has been only one Overall winner, from 1994 to 2003 being decided using IMS, but from the 2004 onwards the Overall winner of the Tattersalls Cup has been decided using IRC, with IMS dropped altogether as a handicap system.[16] In theory, this should make for an even competition between yachts of all sizes, however in practice often only the newest and most advanced boats (regardless of size) can sail fast relative to their rating. In addition, in a race of the length of the Sydney–Hobart weather conditions after the maxi yachts have finished can often determine whether they will win on handicap – if the winds become more favourable after they finish, they will lose on handicap, if they become less favourable they will win.

The race is conducted under the Racing Rules of Sailing determined and published by the International Sailing Federation. For the 2005 race, the event organisers removed certain restrictions on the boats. As successful sailing is based on a good power-to-weight ratio, larger sails are expected to help break race records.


The fleet comprises mostly sloops, that is yachts with a single mast on which is hoisted a fore-and-aft rigged mainsail and a single jib or genoa, plus extras such as a spinnaker.

The race has encouraged innovation in yacht design. Between 1945 and 2005, the most successful yacht designer has been the New Zealand designer Bruce Farr, who has designed 15 overall winners.

Winners and fleet sizes


YearLine honoursElapsed time
Handicap winnerCorrected time
fleet size at startat finish
1945United Kingdom Rani6/14:22United Kingdom Rani4/09:3898
1946New South Wales Morna5/02:53:33New South Wales Christina4/11:53:271911
1947New South Wales Morna5/03:03:54Tasmania Westward4/00:24:562821
1948New South Wales Morna4/05:01:21Tasmania Westward3/07:45:481813
1949New South Wales Waltzing Matilda5/10:33:10New South Wales Trade Winds3/23:39:431513
1950New South Wales Margaret Rintoul5/05:28:35South Australia Nerida3/20:17:131614
1951New South Wales Margaret Rintoul4/02:29:01New South Wales Struen Marie2/19:48:261412
1952New South Wales Nocturne6/02:34:47South Australia Ingrid4/09:56:181717
1953New South Wales Solveig IV5/07:12:50New South Wales Ripple3/16:12:122420
1954Victoria (Australia) Kurrewa IV (formerly Morna)5:06:09:47New South Wales Solveig IV3/17:58:011715
1955New South Wales Even4/18:13:14New South Wales Moonbi3/09:21:051716
1956Victoria (Australia) Kurrewa IV (formerly Morna)4:04:31:44New South Wales Solo3/08:33:522826
1957Victoria (Australia) Kurrewa IV (formerly Morna)3:18:30:39New South Wales Anitra V3/00:55:372018
1958New South Wales Solo5/02:32:52New South Wales Siandra3/13:46:352219
1959New South Wales Solo4/13:33:12New South Wales Cherana3/08:33:023024
1960Victoria (Australia) Kurrewa IV (formerly Morna)4:08:11:15New South Wales Siandra3/07:48:043230
1961New South Wales Astor4/04:42:11New South Wales Rival3/03:57:313533
1962United States Ondine3/03:49:16New South Wales Solo2/12:45:144240
1963New South Wales Astor4/10:53:00New South Wales Freya3/06:03:174434
1964New South Wales Astor3/20:05:05New South Wales Freya3/05:58:143831
1965South Africa Stormvogel3/20:30:09New South Wales Freya3/10:03:265349
1966New Zealand Fidelis4/08:39:43New South Wales Cadence4/02:46:244644
1967France Pen Duick III4/04:10:31New Zealand Rainbow II3/16:39:156659
1968United States Ondine II4/03:20:02New South Wales Koomooloo3/13:38:526754
1969United Kingdom Crusade3/15:07:40United Kingdom Morning Cloud3/04:25:577975
1970New Zealand Buccaneer3/14:06:12New South Wales Pacha3/10:07:396147
1971United States Kialoa II3/12:46:21New Zealand PathFinder3/03:14:347976
1972United States American Eagle3/04:42:39United States American Eagle3/02:15:597975
1973New South Wales Helsal3/01:32:09Hong Kong Ceil III2/17:28:289292
1974United States Ondine III3/13:51:56New South Wales Love & War3/13:25:026358
1975United States Kialoa III2/14:36:56Western Australia Rampage2/13:16:5610299
1976New South Wales Ballyhoo3/07:59:26New South Wales Piccolo3/07:45:078570
1977United States Kialoa III3/10:14:09United States Kialoa III3/13:58:1013172
1978New South Wales Apollo4/02:23:24New South Wales Love & War3/12:13:009787
1979New South Wales Bumblebee IV3/01:45:52Tasmania Screw Loose3/03:31:06147142
1980New Zealand New Zealand2/18:45:41New Zealand New Zealand2/21:13:2910293
1981New South Wales Vengeance3/22:30:00New South Wales Zeus II3/19:25:59159144
1982Bermuda Condor of Bermuda3/00:59:17New South Wales Scallywag2/19:19:16118108
1983Bermuda Condor3/00:50:29Victoria (Australia) Challenge II2/23:07:42173158
1984New Zealand New Zealand3/11:31:21New South Wales Indian Pacific3/07:45:0315146
1985New South Wales Apollo3/04:32:28New South Wales Sagacious3/04:34:37179146
1986Bermuda Condor2/23:26:25New South Wales Ex Tension3/01:14:30123106
1987New South Wales Sovereign2/21:58:08New South Wales Sovereign3/01:58:41154146
1988New South Wales Ragamuffin (formerly Bumblebee IV)3/15:29:27Victoria (Australia) Illusion3/18:20:3511981
1989Western Australia Drumbeat3/06:21:34Victoria (Australia) Challenge II3/02:18:45126101
1990New South Wales Ragamuffin (formerly Bumblebee IV)2/21:05:33New South Wales Sagacious V (IOR)
Tasmania Doctor Who (IMS)
1991Australian Capital Territory Brindabella3/11:14:09New South Wales She's Apples (IMS)
Republic of Ireland Atara (IOR)
1992New Zealand New Zealand Endeavour2/19:19:18New South Wales Assassin (IMS)
New South Wales Ragamuffin (IOR)
1993New South Wales Ninety Seven4/00:54:11New South Wales Micropay Cuckoos Nest (IMS)
New South Wales Solbourne Wild Oats (IOR)
1994Tasmania Tasmania (formerly New Zealand Endeavour)2/16:48:04Germany Raptor2/11:41:00371309
1995United States Sayonara3/00:53:35Victoria (Australia) Terra Firma3/10:22:369892
1996Germany Morning Glory2/14:07:10Victoria (Australia) Ausmaid2/12:35:599577
1997Australian Capital Territory Brindabella2/23:37:12Hong Kong Beau Geste2/17:21:2711499
1998United States Sayonara2/19:03:32New South Wales AFR Midnight Rambler2/12:36:2311544
1999Denmark Nokia1/19:48:02New South Wales Yendys1/20:32:537949
2000Sweden Nicorette II2/14:02:09South Australia SAP Ausmaid (formerly Ausmaid)2/19:13:388258
2001Sweden Assa Abloy2/20:46:43New South Wales Bumblebee V2/19:13:387557
2002New Zealand Alfa Romeo I2/04:58:52New South Wales Quest2/19:13:385755
2003Victoria (Australia) Skandia2/15:14:06New South Wales First National Real Estate3/14:14:175652
2004New South Wales Nicorette III2/16:00:44United Kingdom Aera4/02:52:0911659
2005New South Wales Wild Oats XI1/18:40:10New South Wales Wild Oats XI3/03:54:328580
2006New South Wales Wild Oats XI2/08:52:33New South Wales Love & War3/22:02:377869
2007New South Wales Wild Oats XI1/21:24:32United States Rosebud3/09:32:148279
2008New South Wales Wild Oats XI1/20:34:14New South Wales Quest II2/17:43:3210092
2009New Zealand Alfa Romeo II2/09:02:10South Australia Two True4/07:57:4310094
2010New South Wales Wild Oats XI2/07:37:20South Australia Secret Men's Business 3.54/01:29:408769
2011New South Wales Investec Loyal2/06:14:18New South Wales Loki3/22:34:328876
2012New South Wales Wild Oats XI1/18:23:12New South Wales Wild Oats XI3/10:26:317671
2013New South Wales Wild Oats XI2/06:07:27New South Wales Victoire3/18:27:439484
2014New South Wales Wild Oats XI2/02:30:00New South Wales Wild Rose (formerly Solbourne Wild Oats)3/07:04:43117103
2015United States Comanche2/08:58:30New South Wales Balance V (formerly Quest II)4/07:27:1310877


Records and statistics

Wild Oats XI, the 2005-2008, 2010, 2012-2014 line honours winner, 2005 and 2012 handicap honours winner and current race record holder about to finish the 2011 Sydney to Hobart

Another Australian offshore race is the Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race run by the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria. Known as the West Coaster, this race arrives in Hobart around the same time as the more famous Sydney–Hobart.

Sponsors and supporters

Rolex has been the naming rights sponsor of the race since 2002.[18] Other sponsors of the race include Appliances Online and TasPorts.[19]

See also


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