Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Fleet is all at Sea.

UPDATED. Boxing Day in Oz has a tradition which has the most tenuous connection with the Christ of Christmas, in that he once walked on water. Here on the 26th of December the sailing boats mass for a race from Sydney to Hobart.

The Hobart which is near the Tavern.  In fact I can see the finishing line if I stand on the roof. But I don't usually as my old legs are too shaky for the ridge.

This year sees the 69th race, which is also the age of my legs, and 94 boats are taking part. Indeed there are more boats taking part this year than the Oz Navy has, even when you count in the skiffs that Naval Captains like to sail on their days-off.

And what fantastic boats they are. They come from all over the world, for this is one of the Top races, if not The Top one. Only the Fastnet comes close. Many of the boats are valued in the several tens of Millions of dollars.

They range in size from over 100 ft down to a more modest 30 ft. The Super-Maxis can weigh as much as 33 tonnes when loaded with provisions, crew, spare bits and bobs and camera crews.  The latter are jettisoned within an hour or so of the start due to them being needed for the evening quiz games.

It is quite a palaver and some fun seeing them leaping from the back of fast sailing boats into deep troughs and high swells, cameras grasped in their hands, to be picked up by chase-boats. Then the boats go like bats out of hell.

Woman overboard. Camera-Gal leaps off the back.

The Sydney to Hobart is a long distance race covering some 1100 kms of ocean. That is 630 nautical miles to sailors or 725 miles to older English car drivers. And the seas get rough.

Today is starting off quite well with a light and variable wind of about 15 knots but tomorrow it promises to become a gale with 7 metre waves. That's even before the boats reach the treacherous Bass Strait which is pretty well guaranteed to take some of them to an early end, a winch ride and an expensive bill.

Usually the remnants of the fleet limp into Hobart a few days later and I shall be there to see the winner (if it arrives at a Gentleman's hour). Stragglers can follow over several more days.


THE Sydney to Hobart fleet has survived a tumultuous first night with no retirements but a shakeup among the leaders.  
Early this morning Anthony Bell's 100-footer Perpetual LOYAL was leading defending line honours champion Wild Oats as the fleet sailed down the Nsw far south coast. 
"Great night sailing," LOYAL navigator Stan Honey told News Limited this morning. 
"Not our ideal conditions but boat is going well. No dramas at all."
The fleet, in light winds this morning, was spread between Eden and Wollongong just after 5.30am with Black Adder the tailender as day began to break.
"We have a bit of catching up to do," Wild Oats navigator Tom Addis said. 
The New Zealand 70-footer Giacomo was third, her Queensland sistership Black Jack fourth and Syd Fischer 's 100-footer Ragamuffin fifth, but those standings are likely to shuffle this morning with the fleet spread out and some yachts setting themselves up for a small loss now so they can claim a major gain later. 
The 69th edition of the race is shaping up as a thriller with the line honours battle still wide open. 
The majority of the fleet was also enjoying nice sailing conditions down the coast . 
Ahead of the frontrunners is a tricky Bass Strait Crossing with light flukey winds later today. 
Addis said the infamous stretch of water was full of "land mines" - areas that could cruel the hopes of his yacht claiming a seventh line honours win. 

Yesterday, the pre-race prediction of Perpetual LOYAL skipper and owner Anthony Bell that navigators would play an important part in the race appeared spot on. 
After an incident-filled start on Sydney Harbour, Wild Oats XI was hounded by a group of rivals as she sailed down the NSW south coast before surrendering her lead. 
In a boost for Wild Oats XI, Bell and his team on Perpetual LOYAL revealed they had lowered their protest flag over an incident just after the start. 
This means there is no protest against Wild Oats, which could impact on her race result. 
"We've had a meeting and decided not to proceed with the protest,'' Bell said
"At first we thought we had been fouled, but in a sense we had not.'' 
The early leading pack included the four supermaxis Perpetual LOYAL, Wild Oats XI, Ragamuffin 100 and Wild Thing; new 80-foot boat Beau Geste and the Volvo 70s Giacomo and Black Jack. 
But the news was not all good in the early afternoon, with the fleet reduced to 92 following the retirement of Audi Sunshine Coast (mast damage) and Dodo (torn mainsail). 
The fleet was making slow work of the 628 nautical mile race because of headwinds but sailors were optimistic their journey south would speed up overnight when more favourable nor'easterlies hit the fleet. 
Skipper Eric Holden, aboard the clipper round the world race leader Henri Lloyd, reported that conditions at sea were pleasant after a hectic start. 
"It was organised chaos as usual,'' said the Canadian who is skippering one of the 12 70-footers using the Sydney to Hobart as a leg of their round the world event. 
"The conditions are fine and no one has any problems. We are chugging along quite nicely.'' 
The protest, retirements, and the thrilling early duel between Wild Oats XI and Perpetual LOYAL combined to make it the most eventful and exciting start of recent times. 
Cloudy skies gave way to a spectacular and sunny start to the 69th edition of the race, with Wild Oats winning the honour of leading the fleet up Sydney Harbour and out to sea. 
Rival supermaxi and race debutante Perpetual LOYAL looked to have the inside running on Wild Oats XI approaching the first mark. 
Perpetual LOYAL seemed to hesitate, with some commentators suggesting she might have been confused over which marking buoy to round.

They have company though as the finish line is also the finish line of two other simultaneous races: from Port Philip (Melbourne) - a fleet of the modest sized boats sails across the Bass too and down the west coast of Tasmania and arrives from around the south at the same time as the Sydney boats; and another fleet of even more modest sizes mingle with the Sydneyers from a departure point in the North of Tasmania in the Tamar River. They come down the East coast.

The most beautiful estuary in the world (as declared by Admiral Bruni D'Entrecasteaux) is chokka with sail for days. It is a magnificent spectacle. I hope James Higham is here one year soon to revel in it.

The result is that no-one really gives a toss who wins (apart from those who stand a good chance) but a party to end all parties erupts in the Harbour in Hobart that lasts for days. That too coincides with a huge feast harbourside that continues until fireworks on New Years eve.

Then this pristine backwater of the civilised world goes back to sleep.


  1. A fine tradition for boxing day. 'I saw three ships' multiplied by many ;-)

    It sounds like a great spectacle! The finishing line sounds like the perfect place for someone who likes to take photographs :-)

  2. Hahaha. Indeed, Cherie. And just for you, an update has been added.

  3. Perpetual Loyal have dropped their protest now.

  4. Fascinating and well-written post. Amfy. I enjoyed the pictures too. I should imagine that it would be a thrilling race for the participants.


  5. Grinch alert:
    Gosh, lots of sail in the air.
    How much of it is supported by wood, iron, and brass, instead of aluminum, fiberglass, mylar, and silicon semiconductors?


    1. A good point Capt Grinch. The 'rear' fleet of smaller boats tend toward that older construction style and they are still at sea making their way to the finish line. The last stragglers are expected in on New Years Eve. If they make it at all. The 'Winner' was home and hosed (to get the salt off) two days ago, along with a quarter of the fleet. All Super-Maxis.

      Some of those older-style boats are from a quite different era. Some were even built in Tasmania, the world's home of the wooden boat. (We have a wooden-boat School down the road aways from me at Franklin. Student carpenters / boat-builders come here from all over the world). They are 'solid' boats, some 50 years old and more.

      One has to agree that from a racing stance the modern composite boats filled with high-tech gizmos (moveable keel boards weighing several tons; electric sail hoists, GPS, computers that strategise by the second, etc) are far better suited to the heavy seas (7 metre waves hit the fleet this year although none sank as has happened in previous years) and competitive racing.

  6. I saw a bit of this on the news here...what a fantastic sight all those boats on the water. Very wise of you to keep off your roof top! :) Im off for a few days break over New Years.... So Im wishing you a safe, peaceful, happy New Year in advance old knight :)

    1. Have a fine time, Mala. You have earned it. I hope all you need comes to you in 2014, plus a bit more.


  7. Dec 26th - you didn't sail out with them, did you?

    1. Maybe he is sailing across the globe to check up on your progress...


    2. Hahahaha. I must get some new barrels in and hooked up. Christmas is a busy time for my supplier.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..