At exactly 13:00 local time (2:00 GMT, 3:00 Italian time) on December 26, the VOR 70 Maserati, manned by Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini and his 11-strong crew, will line up for the start of the 71st Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, one of the world’s toughest and most prestigious sailing challenges.
The 628-nautical mile event always throws up extreme conditions, but every year attracts top-level, meticulously-prepared craft that battle it out to the last to take home the much-sought after Tattersall’s Cup.
The Italian boat will be flanked by 108 others ranging in size between 10 and 30 metres and hailing from 11 nations. The fleet will number some of the world’s fastest maxi yachts, including Comanche, the super maxi penned by VPLP-Verdier, Ragamuffin 100, Wild Oats XI, Perpetual Loyal and Rambler 88.
Amongst Maserati’s toughest rivals will be the VOR 70 Black Jack, ex Telefonica. Four years Maserati’s junior, the latter has competed in two previous Sydney Hobarts, finishing fourth and fifth in line honours. Based permanently in Australia, it allows her to prepare year round for the event.
Organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race was launched in 1945. The current speed record was set in 2012 by the Australian yacht Wild Oats XI (winner of eight of the last 10 editions) which covered the distance in one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.
There have also been some positively gruelling editions: in 1998, an unusually vicious storm resulted in the deaths of six sailors. Of the 115 craft that cast off that year, just 44 made it to Hobart. In 2004, another storm meant that only 59 yachts out of 116 completed the race.
“Maserati is all set to tackle this incredibly tough race,” declared Soldini in Sydney. “In recent years, we’ve done of series of preparatory jobs on the boat that have made her more robust and reliable than ever. We also have an exceptionally strong crew ready to face into even very difficult weather conditions.
“This is the first time I’ve competed in the Sydney Hobart, but I did sail in these waters during round the worlds in 1994 and 1998. As ever though, we’ll be fighting tooth and nail.”