Growing up in a sailing-obsessed house on the East Coast meant that there were four important 'everyman' distance races to follow, namely the Newport-Bermuda, the Transpac, the Fastnet and the legendary Sydney to Hobart Race. While my family has experience racing to Bermuda, the other three races have always held their own challenges. If Transpac wins the prize for distance, and Fastnet for history and tradition, the 'S2H' is the unquestionable winner when it comes to potentially rough weather and high-speed runs.
Forget Rudolph-masthead lights lead the way to Hobart
If you’re like me, you’ve spent your fair share of time on YouTube, watching video clips of heavy weather sailing. The waterspout video, taken aboard some years astern from the deck of a well-known maxi yacht, is a great example, as are the countless other videos and literary descriptions of what Bass Strait can deliver when she gets angry.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Race
All sailors know the story of the 1998 S2H, when six sailors died and five yachts were lost, but, just as importantly, we have all also heard the epic accounts of approaching the fabled Organ Pipes on Tasmania after a lumpy Bass Strait crossing, or of the dogs-off-their-chains downhill racing conditions that the race is famous for delivering. Suffice it to say that racing to Hobart is anything but a casual affair, but that-of course-also holds true for each of the other 'Big Four' races on my childhood tick list.
But then there’s the timing. Transpac, Fastnet and Bermuda all take place during fine-weather months in the northern hemisphere-times when sailing is the only conversation worth having with salty-minded friends. But the S2H comes at the inky depths of our winter, a time when minutes of daylight are just as precious as degrees Fahrenheit, and when the mind-numbing drone of Christmas carols and the full-court press of the holiday marketing machine is enough to drive any sane sailor to consider her best option for quickly getting on a southbound rumbline.
Which is perhaps why I have grown to love the S2H as a spectator event unlike any other Corinthian-facing ocean race afloat. Sure, the conditions can get hairy, but if your other options include chocking down Aunt Maud’s awful fruitcake or listening to Uncle Ernie’s latest (lost) battle with the utility company-for me at least-the prospect of waterspouts, big breeze and of record-breaking conditions provides a mechanism for the surviving the yuletide glow.
Skandia - Rolex Sydney Hobart Race
Call me a Grinch, but these days one of my favorite holiday traditions involves tracking the S2H fleet south and trading fleet updates with my Dad, who also shares my aversion to holiday music. And while racing to Hobart is certainly no inexpensive endeavor, for us at least, the S2H provides an adrenaline-filled escape from the dial-tone aesthetic of blatant commercialism.
So, if you’re staring down a long holiday in-law-visiting season, or if you simply need a shot of saltwater in the arm after too many months of living on the hard, be sure to tune into Sail-World’s great coverage of the S2H. You won’t find more knowledgeable race coverage anywhere else on the Internet, nor will anyone offer you a thick helping of fruitcake…but I can confidently report that S2H media pairs well with fine holiday wines and rum.
Wild Oats XI in full flight. The crew was hoping for conditions like this in the Transpac 2015 – but the true tradewinds avoided them for much of the way - Transpac 2015
Racing kicks off on Boxing Day (December 26), which means that the docks and our website will be happily atwitter with the latest S2H updates all week, so be sure to stay tuned for the latest news, as it unfurls.
May the four winds blow you safely home,