For American skipper Skip SHELDON the Rolex Sydney Hobart was one of those challenges he had to do once in a life that has included success in most of the ocean classics of the northern hemisphere.
Now that his 65- foot cruiser racer Zaraffa is tied up in Hobart he can reflect on just how big a challenge it turned out to be.
"It was tough,"
he said as he stepped off the boat. "The seas were very confused which leaves the skipper confused from time to time.
"This is only the second time in fifty years of sailing that I have been seasick."
Sheldon didn't come to Australia just to compete in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, he came here to win it, as part of a four year campaign that with Zaraffa that has included divisional wins in the Rolex Fastnet and Trans Atlantic races. He put together a crew that included America's Cup and Volvo Around the World sailors, and sailed to Hobart with legendary local meteorologist Neil BATT to guide him. Yet in the end it was the unpredictability of the weather that astounded him.
"It's curious to me how unpredictable and how rapidly the weather changes,"
Sheldon said. "Our predictions for this race were very different from what we experienced. We'd studied the weather of the last ten years of the Hobart, we charted it, plotted it, set the boat up for the average of the ten years, but there is no average weather."
Sheldon said that the fascinating challenge of the Rolex Sydney Hobart is that, for the whole race, one side of the course is blocked off, first by the NSW coast, then Bass Strait and then Tasmania. It is something that he has never encountered before and it cuts down the options available to skippers. "So its puzzling. Very challenging. Strategically, when we review the race, there will be very little we could have done differently given our knowledge of the meteorology of the time."
The race was not without incidents. Like Skandia and Grundig AAPT Zaraffa hit a sunfish on the way down, stopping the boat dead in the water for six minutes. The yacht sustained no damage though.
Sadly the sheer expense of coming down to Australia with a genuinely competitive boat makes it unlikely that Sheldon will be back for a second attempt to master the race.
"I've been a delinquent dad for three years,"
he says. "When I get back home I will take my daughter fishing."
Meanwhile, a cruel dismasting robbed the 1993 winner of an anniversary celebration . The 10-year anniversary voyage for the Melbourne 46-footer Dysons Cobb & Co ended this morning some 102 miles from the finish of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - with a dismasting off the East Coast of Tasmania.
As Ninety Seven, the Farr 47 outlasted the gale-battered 1993 Sydney Hobart as the bulk of the fleet, including the fancied maxi yachts and most other big boats, retired allowing her to become the smallest line honours winner in 30 years.
Present owner Chris Dare, a member of Sandringham Yacht Club in Melbourne, decided to race in the 2003 Rolex Sydney Hobart as it not only was the tenth anniversary of its line honours victory, but would also mark the yacht's 10th race to Hobart.
He even invited two members of the original winning crew, Adam BROWN from Sydney and Darren SENOGLES from Gosford, to join in this year's race.
But so close to the finish, after a gruelling race, the plans for a dockside celebration went pear-shaped when Dysons Cobb & Co (ex Ninety Seven) broke her mast at 8.30am today as she ran under spinnaker before a 15-20 knot north-west/north-east breeze.
She was then 30 nautical miles north-east of Schouten Island, near the Freycinet Peninsula, and is believed to be now heading under motor to Triabunna. Skipper Dare reported that none of the crew was harmed in the dismasting.
Yachts so far retired from the 56 boat fleet that set sail on Boxing Day are Dodo, Nicorette, Dysons Cobb & Co, whilst the Race Committee has declared Obsession DNF (did not finish) for failing to comply with the Sailing Instructions by not reporting in satisfactorily by radio on passing Green Cape on the South Coast of NSW.