As always, this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was full of excitement. The 2011 edition was notable for an unexpected winner of the coveted line honors trophy, a worthy overall winner and a slow passage home for the smaller boats.
The Boxing Day start of the 628 mile race south to Hobart was spectacular, with the 88-strong international fleet setting off from the heart of Sydney Harbor, with its iconic bridge and Opera House as a backdrop. The shoreline was teeming with spectators as news helicopters flew overhead. Leading the charge on the beat out of the Harbor was Bob Oatley’s maxi Wild Oats XI, the line honors winner in five out of the last six Rolex Sydney Hobarts.
Weather-wise, the start of the race was fairly conventional with some fast running conditions for the afternoon, but with a dramatic 180 degree wind shift into the south forecast for the first evening. A swell from the north generated by the ex-tropical cyclone Fina, combined with this wind shift, created a horrific confused sea on the opening night, as the 30 knots southerly wind kicked in with a punch, gusting up to 40 knots. But it is these brutal, testing conditions competitors expect when they set out on the Rolex Sydney Hobart and give the event its reputation as one of the world’s toughest offshore yacht races.
For the crews it was a case of battening down hatches and muscling through and by the first morning there was an impressively low attrition rate with just two retirements. They were joined later by a third, the 2003 line honors winner Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing, suffering sail damage. 24 hours in and race favorite for line honors, the Mark Richards-skippered Wild Oats XI ,was 11 miles ahead of Anthony Bell’s maxi Investec Loyal, these two having broken away from Peter Millard’s Lahana with singlehanded round the world sailor Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss holding fourth on the water.
Roger Hickman, an old hand in the Rolex Sydney Hobart competing in his 35th race, had pulled into the lead aboard his 1993 race winner, Wild Rose. For this Rolex Sydney Hobart, Wild Oats XI had been “turboed” with the addition of new twin dagger-boards and a larger square-topped mainsail, but her dominance as the fastest boat in the race was called into question when at 20:00 on the second evening of the race she was overtaken by the similarly-sized, but older, Investec Loyal.
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