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Tracking the "Most Gruelling Ocean Race in the World": Rolex Sydney Hobart


A yacht taking part in the Rolex Sydney Hobart
Photo Credit: RegattaNews.com

This 628 nautical mile course is often described as the most gruelling long ocean race in the world; a challenge to everyone, beginner or pro, who takes part.


From the spectacular start in Sydney Harbour, the fleet will sail out into the Tasman Sea, down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across the Bass Strait which can be dead calm or spectacularly grand, the water is relatively shallow and the winds can be strong, these two elements often coming together to create a steep and difficult sea for yachts. The fleet will then head down the east coast of Tasmania, turning right at Tasman Island into Storm Bay. The winds are often fickle and can vary in strength and direction within a few miles so sailing becomes very tactical. Sailors often think the race is near completed upon reaching Storm Bay, but there is still 40 miles of often hard sailing to go. Yachts can be left behind in the maze of currents and wind frustrations. Even when they round the Iron Pot, a tiny island that was once a whaling station, there's still a further 11 miles up the broad reaches of the Derwent River to the finish line off Hobart's historic Battery Point, with Mount Wellington towering over the city.


The race starts at the infamous Sydney Harbour, attracting hundreds of spectator craft and hundreds of thousands of people lining the shore as helicopters buzz above the fleet, filming for TV stations around the world. The fleet will sail past some of the most beautiful landscape and seascapes found anywhere in the world as they travel down the New South Wales coast, which is a mixture of sparkling beaches, coastal townships and small fishing villages, although for most of the race south the yachts can be anywhere between the coastline and 40 miles offshore.


During the race, many boats are within sight of each other and crews listen closely to the information from the twice-daily radio position schedules. Now that technology has progressed, crews have been able to pin point the entire fleet's whereabouts at any given time and follow each boat's progress against their own using on-board computers and YB trackers, which every boat will be equipped with. The trackers will transmit the GPS positions using the Iridium satellite network to get it back to YB HQ. Each yacht's position is then visualised on the online fleet tracker map. In addition, the yacht tracker system also shows distance to finish line and progressive corrected time positions under the IRC, ORCi and PHS handicap divisions to be calculated quickly.


No matter the time of day or night, the first yacht to finish receives an escort of official, spectator and media boats as it sails towards the finish line. Hundreds of people crowd the foreshores of Sullivans Cove to cheer the yachts and their crews while volunteers from the finishing club, the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, meet the weary crews with open arms and famous Tasmanian hospitality, and escort them to their berth in the Kings Pier marina.


Then it's time to celebrate or commiserate, swap yarns about the race with other crews over a few beers in Hobart's famous waterfront pubs.


For more information on this historic race visit the official race website.

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