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Santa, Rudolph, the Sydney Hobart Race and American holiday traditions

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 30 Dec 2013
Surfing to Hobart: Wild Oats XI reached more than 30 knots off Tasmania’s east coast during the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2013 Brett Costello/News Ltd © http://www.news.com.au
Some ocean races are easier to watch from afar than others. While a lot of this has to do with the physical size of the race, much also has to do with the race’s position and prestige within its greater society. As dedicated as American sailors may be, the simple (and sad) truth remains that it took a thundering 8-1 comeback for my fellow countrymen to get even marginally excited about the 34th America’s Cup, which was hosted in San Francisco, so you can understand why races like the Newport to Bermuda, the Marblehead to Halifax or even Transpac are largely ignored by mainstream media.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case in all nations. Take Australia, for example. Few populations per capita on earth are as sailing-obsessed as Oz (with the possible exception of New Zealand), and regattas and races are regularly covered by the news, especially the fabled Sydney to Hobart Race, which is in the process of concluding as the smaller boats make their way to the Derwent River and up to Hobart. For many Australians, this race is a critical part of their Christmas/Boxing Day/New Years celebrations, so the coverage is solid, both on the race’s progression and on the personalities and ambitions behind the campaigns.



For geographically challenged American spectators and sailors such as myself, the antipodean obsession with 'the Hobart' only makes my holiday season the sweeter. For example, spouse-enforced last-minute holiday shopping was made all the more entertaining by reading up on the pre-start rivalries, as well as reports on the new and/or modified sleds that veteran owners assembled in hopes of nabbing a class win, or-in the case of the really big dogs-line honors.

But the real genius about 'the Hobart' for us Americans (especially those who are more enamored with sailing than with Christmas’ overtly commercial underside) involves the time difference with Australia. Given that the fleet starts racing at 1300 hours, Sydney time, on Boxing Day, live coverage could start anywhere between the time that Great Aunt Mildred busts out her fruitcake (always a good time to exit stage left!) to when your nieces and nephews decide to sea trial the siren and speaker functions on their new holiday toys.



If you’re anything like me, your smartphone constantly tracked the race, while your web-browser was locked onto Sail-World.com. Thanks to my counterparts DownUnder and in Europe, I was able to (repeatedly) enjoy the race’s start, which was streamed onto Yahoo and showed on Sail-World, while also catching up-to-the-minute details from the fleet as they plunged south. Top international photographers such as Carlo Borlenghi, Daniel Forster, Crosbie Lorimer and Andrea Francolini were on hand to document the race, both at the start, along their southbound racetrack-delivering eye-popping imagery as boats large and small bashed and battled their way through growing seas-and of course at the finish, where 'Wild Oats XI' made race history (again).

Then there was the written word. Top international scribes such as Rob Mundle, Richard Gladwell and Bruce Montgomery-not to mention the whole Sail-World team-contributed great articles and accounts of the race and the challenges that each crew overcame as they battled their way to Hobart.



For over-sated sailors living in North America, this media coverage is a rare treat, especially given the race’s timing. I’ll admit that studying the 'S2H' media has saved me from more than one awkward cocktail-party conversation (although you could make the strong argument that there’s nothing more awkward than a lone sailor fervently tapping an iPhone at an otherwise crowded room), and it’s possible that it has also provided a lifeline during some otherwise-dull holiday moments.

The real trick, however, involves creating plausible reasons to get up and check the race tracker and Sail-World at all hours, especially if your spouse detests smartphones in bed as much as my wife. Fortunately, you can always blame the eggnog and the fruitcake (I did).

So while I’m always happy to be rid of Christmas music clogging up the airwaves, as well as my neighbor’s 'lovely' holiday lights (taste is always subjective, but frolicking reindeer?), I always get hit with a small wall of post-holiday withdrawal. Despite any efforts to hold onto the 'Hobart glow', the sad fact remains that we simply won’t get to enjoy ocean-racing coverage on this scale again until the sight of mistletoe again becomes common (always too soon, in my humble opinion). Fortunately, however, there’s still tons of post-racing Sydney-Hobart media to look forward to, as well as mind-blowing imagery and first-person accounts as the sailors reach Hobart.



As for dealing with holiday gift-returns, however, my best suggestion is to do this chore quickly, while there’s still plenty of great Sydney-Hobart coverage to distract you from the long lines, or worse, the looming threat of Valentine’s Day.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

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