The big boats are incredible: there's nothing quite like seeing super maxis powering up off the start line, barely in control and desperate to lead the fleet out of the harbour. The excitement, the world-class professional sailors, the impressive budgets and the sponsors are a great asset to the race and to sailing. But while the camera lenses are focused in the direction of the glamorous leaders, many of the best Rolex Sydney to Hobart stories often go untold. I believe the true charm and adventure of the race is found in the tightly-contested middle and the slow but determined end of the fleet.The Handicap Contenders
While the race for line honours creates more headlines – and can, to some extent, be won by buying the biggest, flashiest boat – the handicap (IRC, ORCi or PHS) win comes down to the sailors. In a nutshell, every boat has a handicap rating that gives it a chance at winning, though certain weather conditions may favour some handicap ratings more than others.
So while I wouldn’t put my money on any boat for a handicap win, a few of the boats I’ll be keeping any eye on this year are: 2013 winner Victoire; last year’s winner Wild Rose; Chinese Whisper; Black Jack; Patrice; and South Australia’s Concubine. Boats like this are crewed by dedicated weekend racers and the occasional professional sailor. If they can pull off a handicap or podium win, they’ll be greatly admired by fellow sailors.The Smallest Boat
The tail end of the fleet will arrive into Hobart a solid few days after the line honours contenders. And the smallest boat of this year’s fleet is one that could be well worth watching: Quikpoint Azzurro is an S&S 34 with round lines and a low freeboard. Despite being the smallest, this is the boat that I’d feel most comfortable on if the fleet received a forecast for a nasty southerly bluster. Trust me, these boats can handle a blow.
Quikpoint Azzurro was also the surprise winner of the Land Rover Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race earlier this year. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the right conditions will see this little beauty achieve a great tortoise-style result.
©ROLEX/ Rolex Rolex Sydney to Hobart CourseThe Clipper Fleet
Twelve identical clipper boats boost this year’s international entries to an impressive 28 different nationalities. As part of their race around the world, the Clipper fleet are joining this year’s Sydney to Hobart. Crewed mainly by sailors with very little experience, the fleet captures sailing’s spirit of adventure.The Classic Racer
The oldest boat in the fleet, Landfall, has been entered in celebration of her 80th birthday. Built in Tasmania, she was the first of the iconic Sparkman & Stephens to be built outside the USA. Aiming simply to finish the race, Landfall gets my vote for the prettiest entry.
So on Boxing Day, head down to the Race Village at the CYCA (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) or to any vantage point on the harbour, and keep your eyes peeled for a few of these lesser-known boats.
If you get the chance to check out the yachts before they leave the dock, peek below deck to see the tiny galleys stocked with freeze-dried or prepared meals that the sailors will have to eat while healed at 45 degrees, rolling or slamming into waves. See the narrow bunks the sailors will wedge themselves into, lee cloths stopping them from flying out. Back on deck, notice the lifelines running around the edge of the boat where the sailors will sit or sleep off watch, legs dangling over the side and waves crashing over them.
Watch the sailors arrive at the boats, hugging family goodbye, nerves well hidden behind jokes, wearing their sea boots and thermals ready for the cold of the coming night. See if you can spot the five female skippers, and discover many, many more great stories on every boat.
You can keep up-to-date and follow the race at: http://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/
Love sailing as much as we do? Join the Deckee community. It's free!
©ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi The Rolex Sydney Hobart Fleet ready and waiting at the CYCA