A fleet comprising 94 yachts, including 22 international entrants, five 100-ft Maxis, seven former winners and the current race record holder, is arguably the strongest in recent Rolex Sydney Hobart history. Running for the 69th uninterrupted year and sponsored by Rolex since 2002, the 2013 edition of the 628-nm race starts - as is tradition - on 26 December from Sydney Harbour.
OATS versus LOYAL
"What an amazing line up we have this year, it's a very exciting prospect for all of us,"
comments Mark Richards, skipper of Bob Oatley's 100-ft Maxi Wild Oats XI. Six-time line honours winner and current race record holder (1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds), Wild Oats XI is one of the race's symbolic names and has undergone extensive structural improvements over the course of the past year in a bid to equal Morna's (later Kurrewa IV) record of seven line honours victories. It will not be easy; she faces a stringent examination of her credentials with the emergence of a new rival.
Anthony Bell's Perpetual LOYAL is another 100-footer, and is expected to provide a stern test. "It will be a tough battle with Wild Oats XI,"
explained Bell, line honours winner in 2011 with his previous boat, "we're up against the best maxi racing team in the world - they're like the Ferrari team of ocean racing."
Perpetual LOYAL, the former Rambler 100, boasts vast speed potential and a talented crew including Australian Olympian Tom Slingsby.
"This will be my first Rolex Sydney Hobart and my first offshore ocean race. I haven't been sick on a yacht before - only once when I was on a fishing boat - so I'm curious as to how I'll fair,"
said Slingsby, ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2010. "The two boats are very different craft,"
added Richards. "Wild Oats is a long, narrow boat, Perpetual LOYAL is very beamy and a very powerful boat. It's going to come down to the conditions."
Wild Oats XI and Perpetual LOYAL know that focusing only on each other could have detrimental consequences, with the fleet comprising three other 100-ft yachts with similar ambitions of finishing first - Wild Thing, Zefiro and Ragamuffin 100. Skippered by Australian sailing legend Syd Fischer, 86 years young and preparing for his 45th Rolex Sydney Hobart, the latter will not lack experience. Tony Ellis will compete alongside Fischer for an incredible 41st time while taking part in his 47th 'sail south' to Hobart, Tasmania.
Records to fall?
The fleet is peppered with former winners, both sailors and boats. 2012 was a fast boat edition with Wild Oats XI claiming the overall win on handicap and the famous Tattersall's Cup. The limelight, as history proves, can be stolen by any boat in the fleet, professional or amateur-crewed. Recent winners include a vast range of yacht types - including the 47-ft Love & War in 2006; the 40-ft Two True in 2009 and the 60-ft Loki in 2011.
"As a kid it's something you always dream of. Just doing the race is fantastic, but to be a winner is the ultimate in sailing for Australian blokes,"
explained Geoff Boettcher who led the 51-ft Secret Men's Business 3.5 to success in 2010. It is one of the seven former winners to participate in the 2013 race although will sail as under the guise Primitive Cool with John Newbold.
The last overseas entrant to win the race was American Roger Sturgeon's 65-ft Rosebud, back in 2007. A statistic the large contingent of overseas entrants will seek to alter, in particular Karl Kwok from Hong Kong, who could become the first foreign owner to win the race twice.
Kwok last won the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1997 and this year inaugurates his latest Beau Geste. Also seeking a place in history is Martin Power's Bacardi, a yacht that will set a record for most Rolex Sydney Hobarts completed if she finishes for a 28th time.
The international fleet includes entries from Cyprus, Germany, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Singapore (Zanzibar, winner of the 2012 Rolex China Sea Race) and a large contingent from the United Kingdom. The global audience for the race start in Sydney harbour is estimated to reach one million, including those watching in numbers from the shore and the water, together with viewers following live coverage on the television and internet. The sight of the fleet exiting Sydney Harbour provides one of the iconic images of the Australian sporting calendar, taking place as the equally renowned Boxing Day cricket Test Match breaks for lunch.