The 68th edition of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race gets underway in just 12 days, on December 26th 2013 at 1pm local time.
In this city, if you played your cards right, when you were born your old man owned a boat, or was very good mates with someone who did - so your earliest memories were of sun, salt air and a summer sea breeze - messing around on Sydney Harbour with the nonchalance of someone born to it.
For some, the old man’s boat was big enough to go to Hobart. For them, Christmas was as much a ritual of bottom cleaning and visits to the chandler as sitting on Santa’s knee and tearing open pressies while the oldies were still asleep.
You’d watch the old man rack up the miles. One Hobart became 25, then 30. He would take his place alongside the Hobart legends, full of stories of Bass Strait and not-so-quiet little drinks with sunburnt mates.
That was then. Now it is the sons who are writing Rolex Sydney Hobart history.
'When I was young, I spent the whole weekend at the Cruising Yacht Club waiting for dad to get back from racing,' Carl Crafoord, one of Australia’s most sought after navigators, remembers.
Carl is coming up to his 28th Rolex Sydney Hobart, this year on the super maxi Wild Thing, and it will be just two short of his late father Max’s 30.
'It was a different culture then. In the 50s and 60s your father went sailing. They went offshore all weekend and came home full of beer. These days, if you did that, you’d get divorced. I helped paint the boat, learned how to do things. You had no choice. It was what you did,' Carl says.
'Your parents built a boat in the garage and then sailed with you. I would never have sailed without my father. He did 30 and I want to match him. Sailing is for life.'
Carl deeply respects the practical, working class style of yachting that characterised his father’s era. You all knew the boat inside out, how everything worked, how to fix things when they broke. There was, after all, no-one a mobile phone call away.
'These days, the boat comes wrapped in plastic,' he says.
Self-sufficiency can be an invaluable quality in a petulant Bass Strait. Carl loves the new breed of boats. The speed, the technical innovation, the professionalism of a modern ocean racing crew, but it is clear he has a deep respect and fondness for the men of Max’s era, and their heavy, wet boats that took five days to get to Hobart. Wild Thing will get there in under two days.
One of Max Crafoord’s CYCA compatriots, Peter Green, arguably the most highly respected sailing master of his era, was the first person to notch up 35 races. Many were on Ray Kirby’s Patrice III.
This year, Peter’s son Mike will equal his late father’s 35 starts. And in a pleasing symmetry, Mike will be tactician on board a brand new Patrice, a Ker 46, campaigned by Ray Kirby’s son, Tony.
'It’s in our DNA, we really have no choice,' Mike Green muses. 'When I was little, dad put me into Manly Juniors, then I graduated to Cherubs and finally skiffs. After I won a couple of national titles, he said I was good enough to sail with him; but I would be grinding winches, not steering.'
Green subsequently sailed two Hobarts with his father on Patrice III. 'You started at the bottom - you had to earn your place,' Green says.
'My old man was an exceptional seaman. He had this deep understanding and affinity with the sea. With him, you learned to work as a team. Those old IOR boats were always overweight and under-crewed. Dad loved to go fast. He would say that if you broke it was too light, if you didn’t break it was too heavy.'
Mike had thought he would quit when he matched Peter’s 35 races, but now ….'My wife says it keeps me young. The Hobart is always about mateship and getting out there whatever the sea throws at you. You can understand a little bit what it was like for the guys in the trenches.
Rob is preparing for his 29th race, still 11 short of father Bernie’s 40.
'I remember as a kid when Dad would be getting ready for the Hobart. The build up, the anxiety, the anticipation,' Rob Case recalls.
'I don’t know how to stop. Your instincts tell you should, but you get this fever in December. There is always something new to learn every year. I guess I will stop when I stop getting anxious before the start.'
'Dad always had a great respect for the sea and for the boats that sail on it. It was always more than a game. The real deal. People get hurt, killed. He taught me you have to be able to look after yourself; you don’t want to put someone else in jeopardy because of a problem you’ve created,' Green finishes.
Rob Case will be racing again with Matt Allen, on board Allen’s gleaming new black-hulled Ichi Ban, a state of the art Carkeek 60. It has been a long partnership.
'This year is the one where I’ll have done more with Matt than with Dad, who did 40 Hobarts. Dad and I went down 10 times together. This’ll be my 11th with Matt,' Rob says.
The core of Ichi Ban’s crew has come over from the hugely successful Loki, and reads like a who’s who of Rolex Sydney Hobarts: Gordon Maguire, Darren Senogles, Will Oxley, Michael Spies and Anthony Merrington.
'It is an absolute world class crew,' Rob says. 'I could watch these guys all day. It’s like running out onto the footy field with a premiership team; extraordinary. You just want to do your absolute best. My job won’t win the race, but it could lose it.'
Max Crafoord, Peter Green and Bernie Case have long since hung up their storm gear but this year two pairs of fathers and sons will be out at sea yet again for the umpteenth time.
David Kellett, who won the double of line and handicap honours on Sovereign, and line honours on Vengeance - two of Australia’s great maxis - has been a Sydney Hobart fixture for 39 years. In the last 13, David has been head of the Radio Relay Vessel team on JBW, and conducts the thrice daily fleet skeds and monitors any problems that crop up and accompanies the fleet to Hobart.
Come sched time, son Brad will be reporting in to David as sailing master on another famous maxi, Brindabella. 'It always raises a smile when I hear his voice radioing in,' David says, 'To remember how he started out at the bottom and now he’s in charge of a maxi.
'I’m very proud. Offshore racing has been a passion for me all my life. Brad chose it, I didn’t push him.'
Brad responds: 'It is all thanks to Dad. He set me up for a lifetime in the sailing industry; sailing around the world, America’s Cups. I’m very lucky. I have a passion for this race. The thrill of getting across Bass Strait; the feeling of achievement when you finish.'
Brad joined his father for his first race at 16, and hasn’t missed one since. This will be his 22nd, and he is on track to become the second youngest sailor ever to reach the landmark 25.
'I took him for his first three, then he went solo,' David Kellett smiles.
Another Rolex Sydney Hobart fixture is Bruce Taylor. For his 33rd race, Bruce is bringing up the sixth incarnation of Chutzpah from Melbourne, and for the 22nd time, his son Drew will be racing alongside him again.
Bruce is always saying: 'This will be my last Chutzpah, this will be my last Hobart,' and it never is.
'I can’t give up until he does - I’d look too much like a wimp,' Drew jokes.
The truth is, though, that just like their fathers, none of these guys wants to give up. The Rolex Sydney Hobart is in their blood. Ocean racing has given them too much.
'My son’s been sailing in Optimists for two years,' Carl Crafoord says. 'He is seven now. In 11 years he’ll go to Hobart; he understands what it’s all about.' Fleet Update:
The 2013 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet currently stands at 94 yachts, following the withdrawal of Quiros, Wayne Williams’ Pawtucket 35, from Tasmania. Williams was forced to withdraw his entry for logistical reasons that included a lack of preparation time to get the boat race ready following its delivery back to Tasmania after the Hamilton Island Race Week.
Yachts that have changed their names include: Sailors with Disabilities will now be known as Faceboat Sailors with disAbilities and Mahligai racing as Art Equity Mahligai. Event website