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Celebrating Christmas, the winter solstice and the 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race

by David Schmidt 25 Dec 2018 06:00 PST December 25, 2018

While there's not a heck of a lot of daylight to spare in North America these days, the excellent news is that we have now rounded the critical waypoint known as the Winter Solstice, meaning that days are slowly adding precious seconds. Sure, this might be unfurling at a relative snail's pace for anyone who wants to go sailing after work, but while Christmas is an important day of giving and sharing and family and religious celebration, it also marks the start of the gift that eventually leads to shorts, t-shirts and Wednesday night racing.

If this still isn't getting you in the holiday spirit, try just inserting the word "gybe" where appropriate in Santa's favorite sentence.

And, if even this happy thinking fails to get you past fears of fruitcake, the solution lies on the antipodean side of the planet, where the annual 630 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is gearing up to begin at 1300 hours, local time, on December 26 (Boxing Day).

This year, five 100-footersBlack Jack, Comanche, Infotrack, Scallywag, and Wild Oats XIwill be on the starting line, giving spectators one heck of a sight as the fleet takes flight past Hornby Lighthouse and the Sydney Heads and out into the open ocean. From there, teams punch south, running along Australia's east coast for the wilds of Bass Straight, a place where the inky depths of the ocean floor rise sharply to create a stretch of water known for its honesty-inspiring wave sets.

After negotiating the bulk of Bass Straight, teams pass the Furneaux Group (including Flinders Island, Badger Island, Cape Barren Island, and Clarke Island) before the northeastern coast of Tasmania hoves into view. From there, navigators find the world-famous Pipe Organs and the River Derwent, the later of which takes teams to the finishing line off of Hobart and what I can only imagine is a rather special celebration to ring-in the New Year.

This year, a total of three boats will be flying the Stars and Stripes in the Sydney Hobart Race, namely John Murkowski's Seattle-based J/122e Joy Ride, Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50 Privateer, and Terrence Glackin's Mills 68 Prospector. Be sure to check out the pre-race interview with Murkowski here ( to learn more about the kind of preparation and planning that goes into launching a serious Sydney Hobart campaign from half a planet away.

While weather forecasts are just that, participating teams were advised by Australia's Bureau of Meteorology of fairly gentle conditions for the race, starting with a 10-knot north-east/easterly that should rotate into a 10-15 knot northerly before building to 15-25 knots by evening on Boxing Day. Afterwards, teams can likely expect fast-paced running conditions that should hopefully carry them to Tasmania.

"It's a great forecast for a passenger. It's very pleasant," said Christian Beck, Infotrack's owner, at a press conference for line-honors contenders. "But (for) a big heavy boat like Infotrack, we really need a lot of wind, so it's a bit disappointing for us really."

Others were more upbeat. "It's a wonderful forecast for the whole fleet," said Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI at the same press conference. "It's a nor'easter the whole way - with a few little challenging transitions to get through maybe. We're still two days out. A lot of stuff can happen in between now and then. But it looks very pleasant and I think everyone will be able to enjoy their Christmas lunch."

And while this forecast is likely a relief to any sailors contending with a small case of pre-Hobart jitters, the fact that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the ill-fated 1998 race, when five yachts and six lives were tragically lost, likely helps to frame the adventurous nature of this undertaking to all participants. wishes all teams fast and fun passages to Hobart, and while we would love to see the race's elapsed-time record of 1 day, nine hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds, set by Jim Cooney's Comanche in 2017, come tumbling down, our biggest wish is for safe and successful passage for all sailors.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World North American Editor

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