Sydney-Hobart spectator's guide to waypoints

When reading reports or listening to commentary of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race, you will hear key waypoints being passed. Here's what RSH navigators tick off as they head south.

Montague Island

The island is off the NSW south coast, 155 nautical miles south of Sydney’s South Head and about 6 nm south-east of Narooma. Its lighthouse, built of granite quarried on the island, began operating in 1881. The island is a protected nature reserve.

Ulladulla, Bermagui, Merimbula, Eden

Frequent havens on the NSW coast for boats and crews in trouble.

Green Cape

Green Cape is at the southernmost point of NSW, 213 nm south of Sydney. It has a concrete lighthouse that began operating in 1883, the first concrete lighthouse in Australia. Today it is an important point of the Rolex Sydney Hobart course as, when boats reach its latitude of 37 degrees 15 minutes south, skippers must radio in to race officials to affirm the boat and crew are in suitable condition to enter and cross Bass Strait. The Green Cape Call is a direct result of the inquiry into the 1998 race tragedy in which six sailors lost their lives.

Gabo Island

Some 20 nm south of Green Cape, Gabo Island marks the entrance to the strait. Its lighthouse, quarried from red granite on the island, was first lit in 1862. To Sydney-Hobart yachtsmen and women, having Gabo off the starboard beam means that the serious business is about to start.

Bass Strait

Bass Strait is the magnet that draws sailors to the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, one of the roughest and potentially most dangerous sea passages in the world.

You imagine it is deep: it is not. It averages only 50 metres because it was once the land bridge between what is now the island of Tasmania and the Australian mainland. Because the strait is shallow, the prevailing westerlies can quickly whip up high, confused seas. On the eastern approach to the strait, there is a southerly current. Sometimes when wind and tide combine and meet this current, sailing can be dangerous as in 1998 when six yachtsmen lost their lives.

English navigator Matthew Flinders named the strait in 1798 after completing a circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land. The surgeon on board his ship Norfolk, George Bass, had made an earlier voyage along the south coast of Victoria that had led to his suspicion that there was a strait there.

Flinders Island

Boats are deemed to have cleared Bass Strait as they pass the north-east coast of Flinders Island. The island takes its name from Matthew Flinders, who surveyed the coast during his circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land in 1798.

Eddystone Point

During the race, boats are often cited as being x miles east of Eddystone Point on the Tasmanian north-east coast, 185 nm from the finish. Eddystone’s main feature is its granite lighthouse and three keepers’ cottages, which now form part of the Mount William National Park.

The light’s famous forebear, the Eddystone light near Plymouth in Devon, gave rise to this shanty:

“My father was the keeper o’ the Eddystone light.

He slept with a mermaid one fine night.

From this union there came three:

A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me…”

(A porgy is a fish.)

Maria Island

When yachts are abeam of the northern tip of Maria Island they are about 12 hours sailing time from Hobart. Maria is 85 nautical miles from Hobart via Tasman Island, Storm Bay and the Derwent River.

The Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman sighted the island on December 4, 1642, only a matter of days after he had made landfall on the Tasmanian west coast, naming present day Tasmania “Van Diemen’s Land” in honour of Antony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies.

Tasman named this new east coast island Maria Eylandt after Maria van Diemen, Antony’s wife. Rightly or wrongly, Maria has always been pronounced as in pariah.

The island is a former convict settlement and is now a national park. The main penal settlement at Darlington is World Heritage-listed.

Cape Pillar

Often confused with Cape Raoul, Cape Pillar points to Tasman Island, less than 1 nm away. It has a single pillar rock at its extremity, rather like a hound’s tooth. Its shape led the English navigator John Henry Cox to give it its name in 1789 when he explored in the brig Mercury.

Cape Pillar is the classic south-east Tasmanian cape, with sheer Jurassic dolerite cliffs rising to 300 metres above sea level. At the end are some striking natural features — Cathedral Rock, The Blade, the Chasm and Tasman.

Tasman Island

Known simply as “Tasman”, this huge lump of dolerite rock off Cape Pillar is the best-known landmark of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, for which it is a mark of the course. Here the fleet turns right to prepare to enter Storm Bay. Under the race rules, yachts must leave Tasman to starboard on their passage to Hobart. In other words, they must leave it on their right-hand side as they pass by. It is possible to sneak between the island and the Tasmanian mainland but it is not a course recommended to the faint-hearted.

The lighthouse is 276 metres above sea level, one of the highest in Australia. It flashes once every 7.5 seconds and is visible for 39 nautical miles.

Tasman is one of the two most isolated lighthouses in Australia. Three keepers’ cottages were built in 1906, of solid brick. Supplying the island was a logistical nightmare. Stores were transferred from the lighthouse supply ship to a launch, which conveyed them to a flying fox that ran from a rock about eight metres above sea level to a ledge on the island about 20 metres higher. The stores were then transferred to a steep haulageway, then to a horse-drawn tramway that took them to the lighthouse.

Cape Raoul

Cape Raoul is the brooding cape that greets sailors once they have rounded Tasman and they imagine they are on the homeward run to Hobart. Theoretically it is about six hours’ sailing time from Tasman to Hobart, but clearing the Raoul has been the bane of many a soul in the teeth of a south-west gale in Storm Bay in the middle of the night. When your electrics have gone, when you are showing no navigation lights to other yachts and the cape is lost against a moonless sky, you begin to imagine the sound of the surf on its shore is just a boat length away.

Storm Bay

Storm Bay is delineated by a line drawn between Cape Raoul and Cape Queen Elizabeth on Bruny Island. Abel Tasman named it in November 1642 when a storm forced his ships out to sea before they could anchor there.

In the evening, about 5 o’clock, we came before a bay which seemed likely to afford a good anchorage. We had nearly got into the bay, when there arose so strong a gale that we were obliged to take in sail, and to run out to sea again, he wrote.

The Iron Pot

The Iron Pot lighthouse stands on a small, barren island at the mouth of the Derwent River where it enters Storm Bay. From “the Pot” it is 11.2 nautical miles to the race finish line at Castray Esplanade.

The Iron Pot was the first lighthouse to be built in Tasmania and the second oldest in Australia. It has the oldest original tower in Australia, was the first to use a locally-made optical apparatus and was the first Australian lighthouse to use solar power.

There are at least three theories for the origin of its name:

§  that whalers’ pots were left on the island in the early 18th century

§  the curiously formed pot-like holes in the island

§  a beacon was fired by whale oil in an old whaler’s tri-pot.

John Garrow Light

This red lighthouse in the Derwent, 2 nm from the finish, warns of a shoal 500 m off Blinking Billy Point at Sandy Bay. The lighthouse, renewed this year, was named in honour of John Ramsay Garrow, a pastry cook who lived in Bath Street, Battery Point. He assisted the crew of the survey ship Sealark in locating and marking the dangerous shoal.

Castray Esplanade

In Hobart it’s known simply as “Castray”. It was named after Luke Richard Castray who was the Commissary-General in Hobart in the 1870s.

On the esplanade, next to the CSIRO division of Fisheries and Oceanography there is a simple wooden structure with a flagpole, a window looking out over the Derwent and steps leading up to the single room. It’s the finishing line of the race. A line between the flagpole and a mark about 100 metres out into the river is the official end of the 628-nm race.

When the bow of a racing yacht crosses the line, there are two people paying close attention in the box – an observer, who sounds the siren when the moment comes, and the recorder who notes the time on the clock. 

A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before A fleet of 118 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.

By Bruce Montgomery, RSHYR media 

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