The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 has attracted a classy international fleet of more than 60 ocean racers, crewed by some 800 sailors, representing all Australian states, Britain, Sweden, New Zealand and the United States of America.
Heading this sparkling line-up are the two largest boats ever to contest the 627 nautical mile blue water classic, Skandia from Melbourne and Zana from New Zealand, both newly launched 98-footers.
The fleet covers the entire spectrum of Category 1 ocean racing, from 30-footers upwards to the super maxi yachts, from veterans built more than 30 years ago to brand new boats contesting their first major long ocean race.
Last year's Overall Winner, Bob STEEL'S Nelson/Marek 46 Quest is defending her title, but unfortunately the Line Honours winner, Neville CRICHTON'S Reichel/Pugh 90 Alfa Romeo is not returning from Europe, despite her remarkable subsequent international racing record which has included winning other major Rolex-sponsored events, the Giragalia Cup, the Fastnet Race and the Middle Sea Race.
The deadline for Applications for Entry into the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was last Friday, 7 November, but at the request of several Australian and overseas yacht owners still finalising yacht charters and mandatory crew and safety paperwork, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has agreed to extend this date until Tuesday week, 18 November.
"We want to make sure that everyone who wants to race to Hobart can do so this year,"
CYCA Commodore John Messenger said at today's launch of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, he added.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 fleet size is most encouraging for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and is indicative of a significant renewal of interest in the club's premium international ocean race. "
Of the 62 yachts whose Applications for Entry had been received by the CYCA today, more than 50% are contesting the 627 nautical mile race for the first time or are returning after a short or extended break.
Announcing the fleet, Messenger described the line-up as one of the highest quality fleets ever to assemble in the 59 year history of the "Great Race South."
"What is important is that the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 retains its original concept as an ocean race for everyone with a boat and crew that qualifies, whether it be small or large, old or new,"
Commodore Messenger said.
"Our race has set world standards in meeting modern techniques in design and construction, boat and crew safety and in race communications and information through our Yacht Tracker system and web site.
"While there are a number of veteran boats in the fleet…the famous Love and War was built in 1973, more than three-quarters of the fleet was designed and built within the past decade, while almost half of these returning or competing for the first time were built within the last three years.
"At the same time, the CYCA has maintained a level playing field through its limits on speed and length.
"We saw that policy at best in last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race when the modern ocean racer Quest beat the 1979 vintage Zeus II by a matter of minutes on corrected time," </> Commodore Messenger added.
Among the yachts and sailors lining up to contest the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2003 will be:
· The 30m super maxis, Grant Wharington's Skandia from Melbourne and Stewart Thwaites' Zana from Wellington, New Zealand, preparing for a Trans-Tasman duel for Line Honours.
· George Snow, who is skippering Brindabella, arguably Australia's best known maxi yacht, on her 11th Sydney Hobart Race and his own personal 21st race south with three of his adult children in the crew.
· Ludde Ingvall, with the 80-foot Nicorette, the 2000 Line Honours winner, recently updated with a canting keel, longer bowsprit and more powerful spinnakers.
· Quest, Bob Steel skippering his Nelson/Marek 46, Overall Winner of last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
· Veteran Syd Fischer, back again with a newly optimised - and already winning - Ragamuffin.
· The Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in England, Chris Little, skippering the chartered yacht Bounder (ex Sting), the 1999 Overall Winner.
· Prominent New York Yacht Club member Dr Huntington "Skip" Sheldon with his 65-footer Zaraffa, winner of this year's Chrysler/Daimler North Atlantic Challenge race from America to Germany.
· Two women skippers, Englishwoman Denise Caffari heading the British entry, formula1sailing.com and Australian Alison Thompson with an all-women crew of the Sydney 38, Next.
· Past Overall Winner Geoff Ross, competing for the first time since his 1999 victory, with a new Yendys, a grand prix IMS 52-footer from Europe.
· Tasmanian John Bennetto is lining up for his 43rd Sydney Hobart Race, sailing Mirrabooka, Victorian Lou Abrahams is back for his 41st, skippering Another Challenge, while Tony Cable will be sailing in his 40th as a crew member of Witchdoctor.
· Former Admiral's Cup team skipper Peter Kurts, now aged 79, is sailing again with his famous Love & War in which he won two Sydney Hobart Races.
· Four Volvo Ocean 60s - Magnavox, Andrew Short Marine, Seriously TEN and the British chartered formula1sailing.com
· Three British sailors who have sailed the Levranos-designed Ain't Misbehavin' some 15,000 nautical miles from Cape Town to take part in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
· Victorian Anthony Cuschieri is aiming to win "the biggest race with the smallest yacht and the youngest crew" sailing his 9.0 metre LOA Sportboatz.com, skippered by 21-year-old Jason Theuma.
· The small boats will be racing for a new perpetual trophy, silver replica of the America's Cup called the Battery Point Trophy (that's where the race finishes) and donated by Rod Skellet, owner of Krakatoa which last year set the fastest elapsed time for a boat under 32 feet LOA.
Whilst Grant WHARINGTON'S Skandia and Richard THWAITES' Zana will go into this race favourites for Line Honours, Brindabella, Nicorette and Sean Langman's Open 60, Grundig, yet again revamped, will be among the leaders, as will the four VO60s, particularly if they get hard reaching conditions.
Picking Overall Winner is tougher than backing the winner of the Melbourne Cup, but experts predict that the newly optimised Ragamuffin must be one of the favourites, along with Quest, Ichi Ban, Yendys, Bounder, the Sydney 38s from Melbourne, Another Challenge and Chutzpah.
Among the small boats with Overall IMS prospects will be Robert Hick's 31-footer Toecutter, which was in a winning position last year when she was becalmed off Tasmania's East Coast, and Rod Skellet's Krakatoa, while Anthony Cuschieri's Sportboatz.com is an unknown performer.
Further details are on the CYCA Website at the address below.