Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Greatest Blue-Water Boat Race in the World.

OK. Some will argue. Such is the nature of outstanding claims. But let us look at the field of world-famous boat races. There is the Fastnet. A grueling challenge in nasty seas with sea-dog sailors who cut their teeth on force eight gales.

There is the Americas Cup (originally the Britannia Cup); not much blue water but sometimes depending on where it is, the yachts may stray into open sea. Poor weather usually delays 'heats'. A race for pussies really.

There is the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race of course, but heck, it is hardly 'international, and it is on a river, which is anything but blue and the crews row rather than hoist sail. I have heard that some coxswains read while steering !

Then there is the Sydney to Hobart; a prosaic name for a challenge that draws yachtsmen (and lately women) from all over the world, features collisions with whales, sinks hardy yachts on a semi-regular basis, de-masts and cripples others, occasionally drowns some poor sods who at least go to Davy Jones doing something they love, and finishes near the Tavern. 
It has to be the Greatest.
It also has a hugely varied starting line with boats as long as 100 ft weighing in at 30 tons  and a crew of twenty, down to quite modest little craft less than 30ft with a crew of four. They do not even budge the scales.

This year there were 117 starters. Three start lines were needed with staggers around the harbour heads to even the distance up a bit. And what a distance. 1155 kms as the albatross flies or in sailor-terms 628 nautical miles. (Multiply by 1.15 landlubbers to find statute miles).

last year's start.
Every Boxing Day Sydney turns on a spectacle. People flock to every available headland viewing spot. Picnics and the ubiquitous Barby are everywhere. The air is thick with helicopters and the harbour thick with viewing boats.

We were busy in the Tavern of course and a long way distant but did manage to hear the start cannon and watch as the boats raced off. The weather was magnificent, and, unusually, stayed that way.

The first out of the Heads took just 5 minutes. It was the American Maxi boat Comanche, kitted with every 'aid' one can think of that is legal.  Within just those few minutes it had a commanding lead over the next Maxi boat, Wild Oats 1X, which had seven previous wins to its credit (or was it eight?). 

The last boat to clear took 28 minutes.  That is just one measure of this race. It is a 'handicap' race after all and 'wins' are awarded not only to 'Line Honours' but to overall handicap performance. Small boats are well in with a chance, even against Giants.

So, we followed them down the east coast of Oz, across the vicious Bass Strait, past all the beautiful spots on this small but beautifully put together Island and so to the finish line which is just opposite the Tavern.

By lunchtime today many visitors, not our usual patrons, indeed 'outsiders', had breached the Tavern Hedges and were settling in on the Patio which has a splendid view right to the bottom turns and the approaches up the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.

The upper Patio cum 'Lookout'.

From here one can see seventy miles over three headlands and bays.

Patrons have plenty of space in the Tavern's extensive grounds
I set staff to delivering blessed beverages to our 'guests' and hoped they would eventually go away. They didn't. But I did. We can see a long way from up there but I wanted to be closer. 
Sail ahoy ! 30 miles to the finish line. I have time to get down the hill
I went down the hill into the nicer parts of the Hilary Village below where I knew I could find a vantage spot right at water's edge near the finish line. Sandy Bay. And it was also handy for Mass later in the afternoon.

I stopped by at a favoured bistro to refill on iced coffee and coffee cake and left a barrel of Best Blessed Bevvie for them, sprinkling some on the patrons while I enjoyed the sit. 

That bush on the point just on the right would make a fine shady spot
So by two pm I was comfortably settled and soon joined by many, many others. A chap has to hunt hard for solitude! 

At three pm  the mob of boats arrived. Most had set off a few hours before from Hobart to 'meet and greet' the winners. It had been expected that Comanche and Wild Oats would be slugging it out as they came past, but no.  Comanche had lost sea miles to Wild Oats overnight and at one point had been at least fifty miles behind. A superb effort brought it to within ten miles but rounding the land near Port Arthur Wild Oats kept them at bay.

So the old boat, winner of so many years, won again to great cheers.

Passing no more than 500 yards away.

Turning short of hitting the Tasman Bridge. We would not like to see a repeat knock-out !

No. That one wasn't racing. This time.
 Meanwhile, after just a little while, Comanche comes home. 

Taken from the top Patio.
The rest of the fleet will be home and tied up by lunchtime tomorrow, with luck and a fair wind. They, all 117, less the ones who 'retired', will be 'fitted-in' with  about a hundred more into Sullivan's Cove and various friendly Yacht clubs up and down the Channel. Those others will be from the fleets that are currently en-route in the Melbourne to Hobart races - two of them, one down each side of the Island - and the Launceston to Hobart race. 

The 'Taste' is on at the harbour. That is another tradition here. 
A Looong Lunch 
that lasts until after the fireworks on New years Eve. There will be plenty of food, drink and carousing for the sailors.

I will be busy in the Tavern and hope to see some of them. And the fireworks.

Meanwhile for ongoing and detailed 'other' reports I cannot go much further than JH. Look him up at:



  1. Have linked. Fabulous pics, that and post bring it home.

  2. :) I raised several glasses to you James. The 'good stuff'.

  3. A poetic description and nice sequence of photographs. You have transported me there. It sounds like you had an enjoyable time :-)

    There is an art to finding solitude in amongst crowds ;-)

  4. Most enjoyable. I have regained my solitude too :)


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..