It is the race yachtsmen dream of and dread. The pinnacle of a career on the open water. The Sydney to Hobart yacht race, when the only thing assured is the starting date. And in keeping with its drama and unpredictability the 71st edition of the epic event held in December 2015 will be remembered as one of the toughest races in more than a decade.
After a harrowing first night of tempestuous weather and constant pummeling through punishing seas 31 boats retired from the race, almost one third of the starting fleet including Wild Oats XI, the defending line honors champion.
In what will be remembered as an epic edition of the race with line honors and overall winners of the major offshore races in the world taking part, there was a record number of international entries. In total there were 108 yachts competing, including 80 boats covering every state of Australia and 28 international entries representing 10 countries including mainland China, competing in the race for the first time.
But it was America’s Comanche who took out the coveted title, the first American yacht to win line honors since 1998 and the first international line honors champion since 2009.
The spectacle that welcomes the start of the race each year belies the real life conditions that make this one of the most adventurous yet dangerous yacht races on the racing calendar. This edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart offered up a full range of conditions to challenge all competitors who exercised true seamanship. Under an ominous grey sky hundreds of thousands of well-wishers lined the picturesque shore. As night fell however, the race’s true colors took its toll on the competitors. The renowned southerly antagonized gale force headwinds and in a matter of minutes the crews were scrambling to react to the 180-degree shift in wind direction and battened down the hatches for what would be testing 18 hours.
Defending line honors winner, 100-foot maxi Wild Oats IX was among the casualties of the first night, dashing their hopes of adding another win to their historic eight-title collection.
This bode well for Comanche, co-owned by American Jim Clark and his Australian wife Kristy Hinze-Clark. The 100-foot maxi is deemed the fastest monohull in the world yet the Rolex Sydney Hobart title eluded the team in 2014 so they were back to settle an old score.
Despite the talent on board, it was never easy sailing for Comanche skipper Ken Read and his crew. Within nine hours of the start, the team incurred severe damage to their port dagger board which consequently took out one of the rudders impacting the steering system.
Read placed a call to the Cruising Club of Australia’s race director to report their misfortune; but Comanche’s race was not yet over. Once the sails were taken down the crew began repairing the damage and after discussing it with the watch captains all agreed the race should be finished.
The team persevered and demonstrated great teamwork, and soon pulled past leaders George David’s Rambler 88 on a high following their line honours win at the Rolex Middle Sea Race in October.
The 100-foot supermaxi became the first American entry to win line honors since 1998 taking out the title in 2 days, 8 hours and 15 minutes, finishing in front by more than 50 nautical miles.
“It was really grueling. Pure terror at one stage. Excitement and now just total joy. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said Hinze-Clark, dockside at Constitution Wharf in Hobart admiring her well-earned, engraved Rolex Yacht Master II timepiece.
Attention then turned to who will take out handicap honors for the overall victory. And in a race that is decided on handicap, given certain weather conditions, there is good chance the overall winner would come from the mid-sized boats in the fleet; 2015 was no exception.
The overall winner would be Australia’s most famous financial guru Paul Clitheroe and his crew on board TP52 Balance.
The 52-footer launched a great attack, speeding down the NSW coast before being hit by the famed strong southerly that last hours and severely damaged the boat.
But determination and a will to conquer the testing 628 nautical mile classic prevailed. It came down to the wire, with Clitheroe’s awaiting the arrival of the smallest boat in the fleet, the 34-foot Sparkman & Stephens Quikpoint Azzurro whose finish would determine the winner of the coveted Tattersall’s Cup.
“They kept me up all night. In what sport are you going to get a modern, carbon 52-footer up against a vintage 34-footer bought on a credit card,” said Clitheroe. “Either of us could have won it within five minutes.”
The crew were presented with the coveted Tattersall’s Cup and Clitheroe, the engraved Rolex Yacht Master timepiece.
“I started sailing at eight years old in a sabot, on a lake. But it’s stuff like this that makes you think this is an amazing sport,” he said. “It makes kids jump in a little boat and take on a healthy sport. In what other sport do you know that if you are in trouble in the middle of the night, your competitor is going to stop and come to help? I’m proud to be a part of our sport. I am proud of my team and the people in this community. I’m honoured to win this trophy and sail with these folks, my crew. It’s an absolute privilege.”
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is testament to the fact every detail counts. After months of preparation, sailing more than 600 nautical miles and facing the most challenging conditions, once again it came down to a matter of minutes and sheer determination.
This article was originally published in Yacht Style Magazine