(Photo @Rolex/ Daniel Forster)

(Photo @Rolex/ Daniel Forster)

Sydney, 24 December 2017 – For over seventy years, Australia has stood still at lunchtime on the 26 December to mark the start of one of the world’s great sporting institutions. 2017 is no exception with 102 yachts set to embark on the 73rd edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Four 100-footers will lead the famous 628nm charge south, followed hard by the remainder of the highly competitive fleet representing some 27 countries from both northern and southern hemispheres. With two days to go, attention has turned firmly to who might prevail in the battle to be first to finish and the contest to win overall, the sought-after main prize.

Organized by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, with the support of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and partnered by Rolex since the 2002, the Rolex Sydney Hobart starts at 13:00 AEDT on Tuesday, 26 December. The current weather forecast suggests an upwind start from Sydney Harbour into a 5-10 knot easterly. Once outside the heads, the wind strength will increase to around 15 knots, and turn towards the north east later on Tuesday afternoon. This direction is set hold until early on Thursday morning. The fastest boats are predicting a quick run, although the record of 1 day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds set in 2016 by Perpetual LOYAL does not appear threatened.

PEDIGREE PERFORMERS
The four expected front-runners, all from Australia, come with some serious pedigree in both their achievements and their crews. A fierce contest is expected with the conditions likely to favour each yacht at different times. Forecast wind transitions will test the resolve and skill of these powerhouse yachts. At a press conference this morning, featuring the skippers of LDV Comanche (Jim Clooney), Wild Oats XI (Mark Richards), InfoTrack (Tom Slingsby) and Black Jack (Mark Bradford), the collective view was that LDV Comanche looks to have the upper hand. Her crew features some rare talent, including James Spithill, Stan Honey and Brad Jackson, able to push this rocket-ship hard. “There’s a period of time when we think conditions will be very good for Comanche, but I think conditions are good for all of us and there will be parts of the race where one boat will shine more than the others,” opined Clooney. “We’re looking at one of the most intense and exciting races for a long time.”

Wild Oats XI is a former two-time treble winner (line honours, course record and overall victory). Despite not finishing the last two races, undone by frustrating breakages, and a lightning strike a week ago that led to a flurry of unplanned activity to put her right, Mark Richards is confident that the boat is prepared and ready for the contest ahead: “We couldn’t ask for a more comfortable forecast and it will be an exciting race between the four fastest 100-footers on the planet.”

Black Jack is a near-sistership of Wild Oats XI in terms of design. Her race set-up, though, is different and she is in new hands since winning line honours in 2009. Mark Bradford can see real opportunities with the forecast: “We are hedged pretty heavily for light air, but everyone’s going to get their moments. The first bit is going to favour us and hopefully the last bit.”

Formerly Perpetual LOYAL, InfoTrack carries the weight of 2016 record-breaking glory. This means little to new owner, Christian Beck – embarking on his first ever Rolex Sydney Hobart – or his stellar afterguard which includes Grant Simmer on his twentieth race and former Rolex World Sailor of the Year and Olympic gold medallist, Tom Slingsby. Simmer believes that though they are perhaps the least favoured there will be some chances: “We just need to be smart. These boats are so big, so powerful and so difficult to make any sail change. You can lose a lot in a sail change. Managing and planning ahead is what’s important for us.”

OVERALL WIN CONTENDERS
Race aficionados believe the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart is set to provide conditions most suited to yachts in the 50-foot range. With close to thirty yachts around this size, it is a tough call to pick a single standout contender.

Matt Allen’s Australian TP52 Ichi Ban, launched this year, is well-regarded. The boat has proved fast and competitive in early season racing. Allen’s experience and that of his crew is substantial with over 150 races between them.

The similar-sized Quest may be older, but skipper Bob Steel has two overall wins to his name and the confidence that comes with that: “The Rolex Sydney Hobart used to be a marathon, and now it’s a sprint race. You have to change the mentality. There’s a gate every 50 miles and you have to get to that gate first. Then you start the next sprint. You cannot settle back, you have to be intense from minute one. You have to do everything well and at speed.”

The international contingent is also strong in this size bracket. A number of crews will be challenging Australian hegemony. The Italian Cookson 50 Mascalzone Latino is a former winner of the 605nm Rolex Middle Sea Race. Her crew is highly-tuned and are not here to make up the numbers, according to tactician Adrian Stead: “We are here to give ourselves the best chance of winning. We think we’ve got a good boat, we’ve got a great sailing team and we’ve come here to try to win this race on handicap. We know there are a lot of others that have that same goal. Looking at the weather it’s not bad for us and we’re quite excited.”

It is not clear-cut. Smaller boats, too, see possibilities. Andrew Weiss from the USA with his 43-foot Christopher Dragon is fulfilling a life-long dream, and with the overriding ambition to perform: “We’ve done a lot of racing over the years. When we race, we try to do well. It’s a huge organizational challenge to get here and we are not here just to tick the event off the list.”

One of the smallest boats in the fleet is 35-foot Banque de Nouvelle-Caledonie, owned by Michel Quintin. In 2015 Quintin finished second overall behind a TP52. He counts among his crew 2015 Rolex Fastnet winner Alexis Loisin, a formidable sailor: “We’re good in all conditions. The forecast looks okay at the moment, certainly the start and down to the bottom of Australia. The last part looks less clear- maybe with wind, maybe no wind, even a lot of rain and with a big transition of the wind. We’ll see.”

What is certain is a rousing reception in Hobart for each and every crew participating in the race. And, at the final prize giving, on 31 December the eventual winner will have their achievement acknowledged with the historic Tattersall Trophy and a Rolex timepiece, the recognized reward for excellence.

The 73rd edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts on Tuesday, 26 December at 13:00 AEDT. Daily video highlights will be available on the Rolex Yachting YouTube channel throughout the race.

(Photo @Rolex/ Daniel Forster)

(Photo @Rolex/ Daniel Forster)

 

ENTRIES

Abracadabra, Allegro, Another Painkiller, Arch Rival, Ariel, Banque de Nouvelle Caledonia, Beau Geste, Black Jack, Black Sheep, Blunderbuss, Calibre, Celestial, Chancellor, Charlie’s Dream, China Easyway , Christopher Dragon, USA4304, Chutzpah , Climate Action Now, Concubine, Dare Devil, Dare to Lead, Dark and Stormy, Derucci, Dorade,
Duende, ENVY Scooters Beachball, Enchantress, Enigma, Euphoria II, Eve, Extasea, Flying Fish Arctos, Freyja, GPB Yeah Baby, GREAT Britain, Garmin, Grace O’Malley, Gun Runner, Hartbreaker, Helsal 3, Highfield Caringbah, Hollywood Boulevard, HotelPlanner.com, Ichi Ban , Imalizard, Indian, Infotrack, Invictus Games, Invictus Games, Jazz Player, Khaleesi, Kialoa II, Koa, Komatsu Azzurro, LDV Comanche, Liverpool 2018, M3, Magic Miles, Maluka, Mascalzone Latino 32, Mayfair, Merlin, Merlion, Mister Lucky, Mondo, Nasdaq, Ocean Gem, Opt2Go Scamp, Oskana, PSP Logistics, PYR-ArnoldCo/Wot Eva, Patrice, Pekljus, Qingdao, Quest, Ran Tan II, Reve, Rockall, SailDNA, Sanya Serenity Coast, Seamo Racing Mahligai, She, She’s The Culprit, Smuggler, Snowdome Occasional Coarse Language Too, Sonic, St Jude, TSA Management, Takani, Triple Lindy Triton, Unicef, Vanishing Point, Visit Seattle, Warrior Won, Weddell, Wild Oats X, Wild Oats XI, Wizard, Wots Next, XS Moment

(Photo by Rolex/Kurt Arrigo )

(Photo by Rolex/Kurt Arrigo )