With just a week to go to the start of the 2017 Rolex Sydney Hobart, the pressure is building on everyone to get their boats fully prepared, the crew working as a team and every last wrinkle ironed out, especially for the 28 international boats.
It is a big enough challenge for the locals, a step up again for the interstate competitors who must first get their boats to Sydney. It is a huge ask for crews that have to assemble from all over the world, get up to speed on a boat they may not have sailed before, and try to winkle out as much local knowledge about the currents, southern hemisphere winds and the fickle Derwent as they can at the bar of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
And then there is the weather.
It is hot in Sydney this time of year – really hot – mid 30s today. Not minus 40, which is the winter norm for Canadian, Sam Harper, who has signed up on the Clipper 70 yacht Dare to Lead.
“The Australian heat is impressive,” Sam says. “I live in a cold, remote place in northern Canada where it is icy eight months of the year. The heat is something I struggle with. When you’re cold, you can just put more clothes on, but when it is hot, there is not much you can do,” she comments.
Of course getting away from those dreadful northern winters may be part of the attraction, but there are island resorts for that. Why warm up in the middle of Bass Strait? Mostly, it seems, because of the very fearsomeness of the race’s reputation.
“The Rolex Sydney Hobart is pretty iconic, even for non-sailors,” Harper says, “so it is special to take part in this.”
“I love this race,” chimes in South Korean, Andrew Rho, skippering Sonic for the second successive time and his third Hobart. “Last year the weather was too easy. In 2015 the weather was terrible, so I want it in-between this year.”
“I will be very happy if it is not like 2015,” laughs China’s Dong Qing, the skipper of the TP52 DeRucci. “We counted 53 knots that first night.”
“I have wanted to do this race for 30 years,” says Germany’s Christopher Opielok, who has competed in winning Admiral’s Cup teams and Rolex Middle Sea race, both as crew and sailing master. He will be skippering his recently purchased TP52, Rockall, formerly known as RKO.
Opielok is brand new to TP52s, having done all his sailing in displacement yachts. In fact, he is the only one on Rockall that has not raced a TP52 before. So if Sam Harper is feeling one kind of heat, Christopher is feeling another. He will be racing in arguably the hottest part of the fleet, against some of Australia’s best sailors.
“This is a completely different ball game. The speed (of a TP52) is so great and they accelerate so fast I am really worried we’ll hit somebody.”
The German has recruited a great TP52 mentor, the American Dee Smith, who raced to Hobart twice in the late nineties with local legend Ray (Hollywood) Roberts. “He is a pure TP sailor,” Opielok says.
From Hobart he will take Rockall to New York, to prepare her for the Bermuda to Hamburg race, marking the 150th anniversary of his Nordeutscher Regatta Verein yacht club.
But maybe the most excited foreigner on Sydney Harbour this year is Peruvian Gerardo (Jerry) Injoque, who will race to Hobart on the Clipper yacht, Garmin. “This beautiful harbour – I have never seen so many sailboats in my life.
“The sailing community here, the quality of the professionals, I tell my family in Peru it is like playing soccer with your friends every weekend and suddenly you’re asked to play for the Barcelona football club against Real Madrid.”
The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.
Full list of entries and all information: http://rolexsydneyhobart.com/
By Jim Gale, RSHYR media