International yachts and sailors return for first time since 2019

For the first time since 2019, the Sydney to Hobart is back to its old self with a bevy of international yachts and sailors contesting one of the world’s most gruelling ocean races.

After being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and under heavy restrictions last year due to quarantines, the annual Sydney to Hobart starting Monday will feature eight overseas boats and crew from 21 countries, including Antigua, Panama and Thailand.

There will be 126 overseas-based crew members compared with seven foreign sailors last year, all of whom were already based in Australia.

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In 2020, for the first time since its inception in 1945, the race from Sydney, across the notorious Bass Strait, to the island state of Tasmania was not held.

But next week there are no restrictions, and the usual buzz around the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Sydney returned, with a particularly big crowd attending the Australian maxi championship presentations in early December.

“All the maxi crews got together after and there was good camaraderie and it was more like old times,” LawConnect sailing master and New Zealander Tony Mutter, one of the few foreign sailors to participate in the 2021 race, told Australian Associated Press.

Among the 100-plus entries in the 1,170-kilometre race are veterans Stan Honey and Iain Murray. They have swapped big boats for the race, with Murray having sailed on all four super maxis entered.

Murray, the Australian sailing master aboard Andoo Comanche, was a big part of the Wild Oats XI program run by the Oatley family during its record run of nine line-honours victories since 2005.

Honey, an American and the navigator on Hamilton Island Wild Oats, formerly Wild Oats XI, has a success rate of better than 50% in the Sydney to Hobart, taking line honours four times in seven races, including Comanche’s wins in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Honey sailed on Black Jack over a decade ago when it was known as Alfa Romeo and owned by Neville Crichton. Honey had his first Hobart line-honours victory in 2011 on the Anthony Bell-owned Investec Loyal, which races as LawConnect.

“That was a bit of an upset that we managed to beat Wild Oats in that race because Wild Oats was quite a bit quicker,” Honey said.

The 67-year-old Californian said he was proud to be asked to be the navigator on Hamilton Island Wild Oats this year.

“Ricko (Oats skipper Mark Richards) called me up and asked me to do a previous race which they then withdrew from, and then of course there was the cancelled race in 2020,” Honey said. “I’ve been standing by hoping for the opportunity to navigate Oats.”

Early weather forecasts indicate northeasterly winds hitting the east coast at the start of the race, providing the yachts with a comfortable voyage downwind off the states of New South Wales and Victoria. The faster yachts are likely to see that weather through to the finish line.

Black Jack, skippered by Mark Bradford, won last year, arriving at Constitution Dock in Hobart after two days, 12 hours, 37 minutes.

Of the 88 boats that left Sydney, 36 were forced to retire due to dangerous waves and weather conditions.

The 1998 race was hit by terrible gale-force weather and storms. Six sailors died among five boats that sank and of the 115 yachts that started the race, only 44 finished.

Comanche set the race record in 2017, finishing in one day, nine hours, 15 minutes, 24 seconds.

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