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Celebrating 75 years of women's participation in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

by Cruising Yacht Club of Australia 9 Nov 2020 21:36 PST
Wendy Tuck (second from right) receiving the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy after the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

Seventy-five years ago come December, two daring women took part in the second running of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, paving the way for other women to contest the 628 nautical mile race in a sport that was considered a 'man's domain'.

There were 19 starters in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's (CYCA) 1946 race. Tasmanian Jane 'Jenny' Tate sailed aboard Active, owned by her husband Horrie, while Dagmar O'Brien was aboard husband Brian's yacht Connella, which ultimately retired. When Active finished eighth overall, Tate went down in history as the first female to start and finish the race.

To honour her achievement, the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy was struck in time for the 50th race in 1994. It is presented each year to the first female skipper to finish the race. In 1994 Teresa Borrell, skipper of the yacht Brightstone from New Zealand, was honoured as the first to have her name engraved on the trophy.

Some famous names have since been added: Amanda Wilmot (1995) a national and world champion with 12 Sydney Hobarts behind her; round the world sailor Liz Wardley (1999); record-holding single-handed non-stop round the world sailor Jessica Watson (2011); round the world sailor and skipper of second overall in the 2018 Rolex Sydney Hobart Stacey Jackson (2018) and Wendy Tuck, who has won the Trophy twice.

Both of Tuck's wins were as skipper of Clipper Round the World entries taking part in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. In 2015 the Sydney yachtswoman skippered Da Nang Viet-Nam and in 2018, she became the first woman to win an around the world race when she skippered Sanya Serenity Coast. No other woman has matched that feat.

This year marks another first for Tuck, as she will sail in the Two-Handed division, a new addition to the Sydney Hobart.

"My co-skipper is Campbell Geeves. His dad loaned us his Beneteau 34.7, Speedwell, for which I'm grateful. I'm doing the race two-handed because it's an adventure and a challenge. I like a new adventure. We're still looking for sponsorship dollars to get her across the line though," Tuck says.

On the addition of the new division, Tuck enthuses: "It's awesome; a great step forward. It's great the CYCA has joined other yacht clubs around the world in having two-handed racing included."

Tuck says winning the Jane Tate Memorial Trophy in 2017 was the most memorable. "Particularly because we were coming up the river (Derwent), with Zoe Taylor (Grace O'Malley), two of us vying for the trophy."

Tate and O'Brien, Tuck says, "Were trailblazers. They did it tough back then - weather, boats, clothing, everything. I think Jane would think it was special to have a trophy named in her honour and that there are women skippers in the race to win it. I think she would probably like to see more of us, and more consistently," Tuck ends.

Sibby Ilzhofer is another who is entered this year to have won the coveted trophy. Buying Dare Devil, a Farr/Cookson 47, in time for the 2014 race, she won the Jane Tate trophy that year, and the two have contested the race every year since.

"I am very proud of that trophy," Ilzhofer states. "I have it at the bottom of the stairs at home, so every time I go out, I see it.

"When I won it, I wondered how those two women did the 1946 race. They didn't have the gear or the technology we have now. What spirit, to give it a go. We have top of the line wet weather gear, GPS, other navigational equipment, stuff that makes the race more comfortable and easier these days. It was a much slower journey then too - it could take 11 days.

"Would I have done it in Jane Tate's shoes? I don't know.

"It was a man's sport; even the clubs were more for gentlemen then. It must have been a huge hurdle and physically hard for Jane and Dagmar," the NSW owner/skipper says.

A growing number of women take part in the race each year and over 150 are expected this year. To-date, 19 women have contested 10 plus races, while Adrienne Cahalan reached the 25 Sydney Hobart milestone in 2016. The Sydney sailor will contest her 29th this year. Three others are closing in on the 25 mark.

A world-renowned navigator, with a round the world speed record to her name, Cahalan can count six line honours victories, inclusive of two 'triples' - line honours, race record and overall win - in her tally.

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