In exactly one month's time, Sydney Harbour will come alive as the second largest Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet in a decade sets off for the annual summer blue water classic.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the ill-fated 1998 race and on the minds of those vying for their slice of race history over the 628 nautical mile course will be the memories of the worst storm to ever hit the race fleet, and the six lives lost.
Currently 108 boats are expected on the start line on 26 December, a substantial increase on last year's 82 starters.
"It is pleasing to have the second largest fleet in a decade this year, which is a testament to the ever-growing worldwide popularity of the race. The fleet represents yacht communities from every state in Australia and the ACT, with 12 yachts representing nine countries making up one of the largest international contingents in recent years,"
said CYCA Commodore Matt ALLEN.
"I wish every competitor in the race a safe journey to Hobart and may the best yacht win,"
International entries are particularly strong with 12 yachts representing nine countries, including Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, USA, New Caledonia, France, Russia and New Zealand.
Every Australian state is represented with the majority of boats hailing from NSW yacht clubs and ports.
The headline act is Bob OATLEY's 30 metre maxi Wild Oats XI which is aiming for a record fourth consecutive line honours win. After spending seven months in storage at Bankstown Airport following its record equalling three in-a-row last year, Wild Oats XI was re-launched last month. In its only race appearance to date, the Cabbage Tree Island race, the Mark RICHARDS skippered Wild Oats XI showed ominous form by breaking the course record. Their plan for the next month is to go to ground with a final public appearance for the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge on Sydney Harbour on 16 December.
Grant WHARINGTON's Skandia, the 2003 line honours winner and the second 30m maxi in this year's race, has also had a quiet year. The Victorian maxi is being groomed for its sixth attempt, with WHARINGTON hoping to turn his luck around following a string of mishaps during three of the last four Rolex Sydney Hobarts.
Also among the pointy end of the fleet is the first Russian maxi to enter in 20 years, Trading Network / Alye Parusa. A cloud now hangs over this entry with the discovery last week of an irreparably damaged keel that will delay their departure from Auckland for the delivery to Sydney for the start. Skippered by Australian Mark MCRAE and handled by a majority Russian crew, this Open 85 will be an unknown on the start line on Boxing Day, should the scramble to build a new keel in time be successful.
A number of brand new boats have graced this year's start list including Stephen AINSWORTH's Reichel/Pugh designed 63 footer Loki, the replacement for AINSWORTH's previous Loki which had to be abandoned during last year's Rolex Middle Sea Race.
Alan BRIERTY and his equally top crew will challenge Loki with a new Reichel/Pugh 62 Limit, which is also yet to be launched. Both will be kept in check by the slightly larger and race tuned Black Jack from Queensland with its champion crew, including Olympic Finn sailor Anthony NOSSITER
and Etchells champion and skipper Mark BRADFORD
The 50 foot range is sporting some of the best IRC grand prix racers in the country led by a sizeable fleet of Transpac 52s (TP52). Challenging them will be the brand new Farr 55 Living Doll out of Victoria, Geoff ROSS's always well-sailed Yendys and the slightly smaller but equally competitive Cookson 50s Quantum Racing and Shogun.
The winning skippers of the stormswept 1998 Sydney Hobart, Ed PSALTIS and Bob THOMAS, who won with a previous AFR Midnight Rambler, will be back with their modified Farr 40 of the same name. It will be a particularly poignant year for the pair who were one of just 44 finishers from a fleet of 115 that set out on Boxing Day in 1998 and they were declared overall winners after overcoming the 60-80 knot winds and mountainous seas to reach the finish line off Battery Point in their tiny Hick 35.
The smallest and oldest boat in this year's fleet will be Maluka of Kermandie, Sean LANGMAN's 1932-built gaff rigged 30 footer that stole the limelight in 2006 with an eighth overall when the handicap results were calculated.
Celebrating its 50th birthday and Rolex Sydney Hobart comeback after a decade long absence is the classic timber Sanyo Maris, co-owned and skippered by Clean Up Australia founder Ian KIERNAN, which has already shaken up the Formula 1 ocean going fleet with an overall win in the 414 nautical mile Hempel 35th Gosford - Lord Howe Island Race last month. Aboard for this year's race will be co-owner Tiare TOMASZEWSKI, the granddaughter of the boat's original owner Jack EARL and daughter of the boat's namesake, Maris.
Personal milestones are again an important feature with Tony CABLE securing a ride to Hobart aboard Peter GOLDSWORTHY's Volvo 60 Getaway-Sailing.com for what will be his record breaking 45th Rolex Sydney Hobart. Last year Cable and Lou ABRAHAMS equalled the late John BENNETTO's record 44 races, this year CABLE's moving forward alone with ABRAHAMS accepting an invitation to be the official race starter on Boxing Day.
John WALKER, the oldest skipper in the fleet at 86, will celebrate the 25 race milestone for both he and his boat Impeccable while 81 year old Syd FISCHER is preparing for his 40th race south as skipper of his super fast TP52 Ragamuffin.
Organizing club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, has plans in place to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1998 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
CYCA Commodore Matt ALLEN has already taken part in a wreath laying at the Tasmanian Seafarers Memorial at Triabunna, where among the plaques on the memorial is one which features the names of those six men lost in the fateful 1998 race.
The anniversary will also be marked by a minute's silence at the Rolex skippers function and CYCA Ocean Racer of the Year Awards in December, and at the compulsory race briefings on the morning of 24 December.
In Hobart a wreath laying service followed by a minute's silence will be incorporated into the dockside public announcement of the overall winner, likely to be on 30 December, and another minute's silence will form part of the official proceedings at the New Year's Day official prize presentation held at the Royal Yacht Club of Australia on 1 January 2009.
Recalling the fateful Sydney Hobart Yacht Race of a decade ago, Commodore ALLEN said: "We pay our respects to those six sailors who lost their lives and remember the circumstances in which they were lost. We also acknowledge the loss of five yachts that sank and the support of the rescue services that assisted 55 sailors to safety in one of the biggest maritime rescue operations ever in Australian waters.
"It is also important to remember others who have perished during and because of the race since 1945.
"The tragic race in 1998 led to significant changes in the sport, not only in Australia but worldwide. The CYCA conducted its own race review, which was followed by a coronial inquiry in 2000. All findings and recommendations from the coronial inquest and the CYCA's own race review either were in place prior to 1998 or have since been implemented by the CYCA and relevant authorities, and updated to reflect today's rules of racing. Many of the changes to safety regulations that were made by the CYCA have subsequently been adopted by other race organisers throughout the world and by the International Sailing Federation.
"The CYCA has also in turn supported those that supported it through the 1998 Sydney Hobart by establishing the CYCA SOLAS Trusts, of which one of its core objectives is to support search and rescue organisations Australia-wide. Additionally the SOLAS Trusts assisted those families who were affected by the 1998 race and will continue to provide assistance to those immediate families of sailors who may lose their life during a Yachting Australia sanctioned ocean race,"
said Commodore ALLEN.
"On behalf of the members of the CYCA and our sister club, The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, I wish to remember all those who have perished at sea as a result of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race,"
Commodore ALLEN concluded.
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - www.rolexsydneyhobart.com