When entry applications closed on Friday, Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania Commodore Robert Badenach revealed that the 2002 race will see 56 starters, the smallest number in 36 years but a fleet of superb quality.
Race media director Peter Campbell says increased insurance and safety costs have deterred some from entering, but they are happy with the quality of the field.
"Certainly it's down a little bit on numbers, but quality-wise it's tremendous,"
Mr Campbell said. "It's a great fleet led by some of the best boats in the world."
The 58th race which starts on December 26th on Sydney Harbour is shaping as the battle of the super-maxis.
Neville Crichton's giant new Reichel Pugh 90 footer Shockwave, considered by experts to be the fastest racing mono-hull afloat is being carefully tuned for the 627 mile sprint to Hobart. In a short overnight race two weeks ago, she blitzed her competition. Large and fast but she won't be the largest boat in the 2002 classic.
A 97 footer, Mike Slade's Leopard of London was yesterday unloaded in Sydney. In March 2002, Leopard was on a trans-Atlantic delivery when her rudder broke. She began taking water and her crew had to abandon her. After being salvaged, she fell off her shipping cradle. Now rebuilt, Leopard has been extended from 90 feet to 97 feet and her crew are confident she can take line honours.
The 2000 Line Honours winner Nicorette and Wild Thing will be ready to pounce if the 90 footers stumble and George Snow's little 79 footer Brindabella certainly knows the way south.
While the media focus is on the maxis, it seems the stalwarts of the Sydney to Hobart, the boats that back up year after year are fading away.
While one boat, Mark Twain will be lining up for its 25th Bass Strait crossing; many of the regulars have left the fleet.
As Bachenach commented, "The extra costs have taken the race is now well out of the reach of the average yacht owner. In spite of the drop in numbers, the handicap fleet is again very strong with many well-credentialed contenders."
The Farr 49 Yendys, the 1999 winner now sailing as Sting is coming off wins in the 2002 Hahn Premium Hamilton Island regatta and most recently the 408 nm Gosford to Lord Howe race. However she'll have plenty of competition including Syd Fischer's champion Ragamuffin and the Nelson Marek 46 Quest, three times Hamilton Race Week winner across IMS and IRC divisions.
And for the first time ever, there will be a One Design division with 5 of Australia's very successful offshore cruiser racers, the Sydney 38 One Design. Led by 75-year-old sailing icon Lou Abrahams, sailing south for an amazing 39th time, the Sydney 38's will be competitive in both IMS and IRC divisions.
Two more late entries have boosted the race fleet to 58 over the weekend.