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Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Danger and Death at Sea

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Yachts in the Sydney to Hobart race

Racing yachts head out to sea in the Sydney to Hobart

© 1997 Australian Tourist Commission

The annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which starts in Sydney on Boxing Day, December 26, draws challengers from around the globe.

Racing yachts of various classes are expected to again join the blue-water classic despite the dangers of the sea which in 1998 caused the deaths of six sailors when the yachts ran into a violent storm.

More than a hundred yachts of various sizes used to compete in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a handicap race which started in 1945. Lately fewer yachts have competed.

A killing pace

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is run at a killing pace as yachts compete with one another along a 630-nautical-mile route, while the vagaries of wind and wave pose a constant threat.

In 1998, the 115 boats competing that year raced headlong into a severe and deadly storm. Winds of up to 78 knots whipped waves to as high as 10 metres.

Fifty-five yachtsmen had to be rescued, 50 of them by helicopters braving the gale-force winds. Only 44 of the 115 boats finished the course. Six sailors died.

Yacht racing dangers

Suddenly the dangers of yacht racing stared organisers and competitors alike straight in the eye.

It has always been accepted that there are risks in yachting, as in many other competitive sports, but the question arose during the 1998 race on whether all care had been taken and storm and wind warnings carefully heeded.

Regardless, 1999 was a different year. Seventy-nine yachts were in competition -- the superyacht Mari-Cha III sailed as a demonstration yacht -- when a strong wind warning was issued for south of the Ulladulla route from Sydney to Jervis Bay. Gusts up to 45 knots -- not as strong as in the previous year -- were predicted, but the weather can be dangerously fickle.

Derwent River finish

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race follows a course down the eastern coast of New South Wales and Victoria, then crosses Bass Strait. It then follows the eastern coast of Tasmania southwards in the Tasman Sea to Tasman Island, across Storm Bay, to the finish line off Battery Point in Hobart.

It is a handicap race and the yacht winning line honors may not be the ultimate race winner. Nevertheless, there’s always the glory of being ahead of the rest.

Organising club is the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (at Darling Point in Sydney) with the cooperation of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

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