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A special anniversary for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

by Quinag 31 Dec 2019 01:59 PST 26-31 December 2019
Ichi Ban blasting away down the NSW coast on the first day of the 2019 Sydney Hobart race. © Crosbie Lorimer

For the past three quarters of a century, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has been an icon in the world of sailing. A race that captivates yachtsmen and women the world over, as well as the wider public.

The 628 nautical mile course is a masterpiece of spectacle, human endeavour and striking beauty. Those that participate, whether professional or Corinthian, are guardians of heritage and standard-bearers for an enduring quest for excellence.

In winning the 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on corrected time, owner Matt Allen and the crew of the Australian yacht, Ichi Ban, reinforced both their place in the legend and the legend itself. For the second time in three years, this exceptional team has lifted the Tattersall Cup as overall winners.

First held in 1945, and organized by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), Rolex's partnership with this most demanding of offshore contests is a natural fit within the brand's six-decade-long association with yachting. The race's standing is unquestionable; this anniversary edition attracting a substantial and international fleet.

"The 75th race coincides with the 75th year of the founding of the CYCA," explained Commodore Paul Billingham, ahead of the start. "The club has spent the year celebrating its birthday and these celebrations come to a head at 1pm on the 26 December as the fleet sets off on the pilgrimage south. As ever, we are supported by the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (RYCT) and by Rolex, which has been associated since 2002, one of the longest continuing partnerships in Australian sport."

For Matt Allen, the race is ingrained in his very fibre. He did his first, aged 17, in 1980 and was a winner in 1983, as crew on Challenge II. Since those formative years, he has invested considerable time and effort making sure the traditions initiated by the race founders are maintained and respected.

2019 marked his 30th trip south from Sydney. Such is his passion and commitment, he withstood the disappointment of skirting success a number of times as skipper of his own yacht. What appeared the pinnacle result in 2017 seems to have lifted a weight from his shoulders. The win this year was just as well deserved, just as well executed as the previous. A reflection of the crew he has gathered, their dedication and teamwork.

"Winning this year's race, my 30th race to Hobart and the 75th Rolex Sydney Hobart really brings a lot of history together," commented Allen. "I'd really like to congratulate the two clubs on their remarkable partnership. Over the years, we've seen amazing boats participate, but it's actually the people that make this race: the sailors, the friendships, the competition. It's what makes this race and ocean racing what it is. The race is in the best shape it's ever been and I'm sure its best days are yet to come."

The pre-race forecast had been encouraging for the 50-footers and Ichi Ban was among the favourites. In a division that featured two-time winner Bob Steel and Quest among other highly-rated crews, it would be no easy task with a complex weather system to negotiate. Ichi Ban finished a mere 24 minutes ahead of her closest competitor, Matt Donald and Chris Townsend's Gweilo.

At the front of the fleet, Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant's Comanche outmuscled the four other 30.5 metre (100 foot) maxis to secure a second line honours victory, adding to the one captured in 2017, when they also set the existing course record. That benchmark time was never under threat, as a transition between two weather systems at the mid-point led to the leading boats coming to a standstill during the dark of the first night. Christian Beck's InfoTrack finished second on the water, 45 minutes behind.

Rolex's support for prestigious yachting competitions such as the offshore classics helps guarantee expertise and knowledge are transferred within the sailing community - between peers and generations, from professionals to Corinthians. This transfer safeguards the future of offshore racing, where participation is about much more than the result.

With so many editions, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is a well-trodden path bringing together crews of different experience, ambition and ages. For some boats, there is the prospect of race glory; for many the challenge is simply getting to Hobart, while for others it is the chance to sail with old friends and family. Veteran participants pass on the values inherent in this lifetime sporting pursuit to the less experienced.

At the final prize-giving, Commodore Tracy Matthews of the RYCT eloquently summed up the lasting integrity of the race: "From Rani (first winner) to Ichi Ban and Comanche; from Captain John Illingworth (Rani's skipper) to Matt Allen, Jim Cooney and Samantha Grant; from nine entrants in the first race to the 157 in this; we've come such a long way but, still, the race maintains its origins: the spirit of adventure, courage and challenge."

Next year, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be 75 years young. Listening to the organizing clubs and the participants, its legacy and future have never been more secure.

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