Flying start

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race,
the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s flagship event, will start at 1pm on Boxing Day from Sydney Harbour for the 68th consecutive year.

No other commercial port in the world can boast the start of an internationally recognised blue water classic such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The natural grandeur of Sydney Harbour provides a unique backdrop for competitors, as well as the hundreds of thousands of spectators afloat and ashore.

The port of Sydney will be closed from 9am to 4pm on Boxing Day in the interests of safety and to give the yachts a clear run as they exit the harbour. An exclusion zone will be effective from noon until 2.30pm, providing the 80-strong fleet with a clear run to sail unobstructed through the Heads. A six-knot no-wash zone will cover the Harbour from Garden Island and Bradley’s Head to a line between North Head and Macquarie Light.

The fleet line up at the start lines, the course flanked by spectator boats.

In what has been a Boxing Day tradition for Sydney since 1945, thousands take to Sydney Harbour either on the water or on the foreshore to watch the start of the race. Sometimes it is a colourful spinnaker start, other times a beat to windward, with the yachts crossing tacks as they sprint towards the open sea.

Ranked as one of the most demanding long ocean races in the world, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race covers a distance of 628 nautical miles. It takes between two and six days to sail the course, with the race record of 1d 18h 40m 10s set in 2005 by Wild Oats XI (then a 98ft yacht). A good start is considered an important psychological advantage to the crew and helmsperson of any boat in the race, and it doesn’t hurt that hundreds of thousands of people are lining the harbour watching.

To give yachts a clear area in which to manoeuvre before the start, and ample room to tack or gybe as they race to the Heads, NSW Maritime declares an exclusion zone from 12pm to 2.30pm on Boxing Day, with the area for the racing yachts clearly marked by yellow buoys.

The fleet will start simultaneously from two start lines, as they have for a number of years, due to the speeds of the larger yachts. These big boats will start off the front line, 0.2 nautical miles north of the back line, with identical starting signals for both groups of yachts.

To make allowance for the head start, boats on the front line must sail the same distance further to their rounding mark, ‘Victor’, near North Head before heading to sea. Boats starting from the back line will round mark ‘X-ray’, just north of South Head.

Once they leave those marks to starboard, all boats will head for and leave to starboard the seamark Zulu, one nautical mile east of Sydney Heads, before turning south and setting course for Tasmania.

The two starting lines stretch across the Harbour, the back line about 400 metres north of Shark Island, with both lines marked by large Rolex buoys at either end.

Spectator craft may not enter the exclusion zone, and once the race starts the competing yachts must sail within the specified zone until they clear the Heads.

Carl Crafoord, navigator on Peter Millard and John Honan’s 98ft maxi Lahana, explains the Lahana crew’s process in the lead-up to the firing of the cannon:

08:30 hours: The crew attends the weather briefing at the CYCA, then we assemble at the marina to stow our gear onboard.

11:00 hours: We conduct a crew briefing that includes any weather updates and begin to make our way to the start line. Once we are in the Harbour, we report to the Race Committee vessels with storm sails set (this is mandatory as per the Sailing Instructions), then the crew practises sail changes and manoeuvres.

11:30 hours: The crew gets the mainsail up and we run through starting line axis/bearing relative to X and Y marks. As the navigator, I “ping” both ends of the line to ensure we are in the best position to get a clean start. We then check the set-up at other marks. The crew go through sail selection for the two legs out of the Harbour and also get up on deck to work out the sail from the sea mark if there is a nor’easterly.

12:00 hours: In the last hour, we have a quick bite to eat and I go through the sail chart for the start and the weather again (if need be). The boat is then set up on the line and transits are checked again.

12:30 hours: If the breeze is a bit tricky, we will motor at 10+ knots up to the Heads to do a wind check offshore. If not, we will spend the last 30 minutes setting up the boat on line and settling the boat down.

12:50 hours: Once the warning goes we are basically racing and observing the racing rules; jockeying for the best position relative to other big boats and trying to keep our air clear!

As the countdown to the start begins, the CYCA’s cannons will be fired aboard the official starting vessel Aussie Legend to draw attention to the traditional starting flag sequence, as follows:

12:50 hours (12.50pm) 10-minute warning signal – Code flag W hoisted and cannon fired.

12:55 hours (12.55pm) 5-minute preparatory signal – Code flag P hoisted and cannon fired.

13:00 hours (1.00pm) starting signal – Code flag W and Code flag P dropped and cannon fired.

A further signal (Code flag X) and a sound signal (from the individual start lines) may indicate premature starter/s (OCS – On Course Side) by individual yachts, which must return and re-start. Yachts that have broken the start will be advised by radio five minutes after the start. There will be no general recall.

If the wind is from the south, southeast or southwest, the fleet will have a spinnaker run to the Heads. An easterly breeze will see a close reach under working sails down the Harbour.

If the wind is from the north or northeast, the fleet will have to tack (beat to windward) up the Harbour to the turning marks at the Heads. This could see some close encounters between competing yachts as they cross tacks, some sailing right to the edge of the exclusion zone to gain a tactical advantage.

• The Sydney Harbour exclusion zone will come into force at 12pm and continue through to 2.30pm.
The zone will be marked with yellow buoys and some fixed navigational aids.

• The rounding marks Victor and X-ray at Sydney Heads will be large Rolex conical inflatable buoys, as will the mark Zulu, one nautical mile due east of the Heads.

• All spectator craft must remain outside the exclusion zone until 2.30pm.

• No spectator craft is permitted to anchor or remain anchored within 100 metres of the exclusion zone.

• Boats may only proceed through the ‘no anchoring’ zone near South Head if going out to sea and must comply with the six-knot speed limit.

•  Commercial vessels only will have access to the commercial vessels area.

• Spectator craft should not operate under sail near the exclusion zone from noon until the fleet has cleared the Heads.

• Non-powered (passive) craft such as kayaks, canoes and surfboats are prohibited in the area within 100 metres of the exclusion zone. This area is unsafe for non-powered craft because of the large number of bigger boats and their wash, as well as the potential difficulty in seeing and avoiding passive craft.

Control Vessels – Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) and Police vessels will be patrolling and enforcing on the water. Please obey instructions from volunteer marine rescue vessels, as well as RMS and Police boats.

General safety messages will be broadcast on marine radio band 27.88 and VHF Channels 17 (NSW Maritime control network) and 13 (Sydney Ports).

Competing yachts display a special Rolex race flag on their backstay. Please keep well clear of any vessel displaying such flags.

The sight of 80-plus yachts taking to Sydney Harbour on 26 December to mark the start of the 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is a truly spectacular event to witness firsthand.

From early on Boxing Day morning NSW Roads and Maritime coordinates the Harbour closure and installation of the exclusion zone, with the host club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, responsible for the deployment of all the race marker buoys.

Spectators also begin to gather from early in the morning both on the water and on land. It’s a great family day of fun in the sun. There is a mixture of great vantage points around the Harbour for you to watch the start of the race, so bring your picnic lunch of Christmas leftovers with you and secure the best seat in the house!

Some of the best vantage points on the water include either side of the start line – Steele Point on the east and Taylors Bay on the west. Boaters can position themselves in the western channel at Chowder Bay, Obelisk Bay and waters to North Head or in the eastern channel in Rose Bay, Watsons Bay, Camp Cove and around South Head.

For those who want to get out on the water but don’t own a boat there a couple of options. The CYCA runs two spectator craft – one with access to the exclusion zone and one without. The Majestic II will have access to the exclusion zone area, expert commentary from CYCA members and gets you up close and personal with the fleet. Tickets are available from CYCA Reception and cost $195 per person.

The Fiesta Ferry is the perfect option for families as it allows guests to self-cater, but does not have access to the exclusion zone. Tickets are $59 per person and can also be booked through the CYCA. Other cruise operators such as Flagship Cruises, Coast Cruises, Captain Cook Cruises and Bass & Flinders Cruises have packages available but don’t have exclusion access.

For those who can’t get out on the water, the best vantage points are Bradley’s Head, Chowder Bay, Georges Heights and Middle Head on the western shore; Shark Island, Steele Point, Vaucluse Point, South Head and The Gap on the eastern shore; and North Head, which offers a magnificent panorama view of the Harbour, out to sea and down the coast. Get in early to claim the best vantage points!


Left to right: Solo’s crew celebrating their win at Constitutions Dock, Colin is third from the right leaning over the boom;
Colin McLachlan will be firing the cannon to signal the start of this year’s race; Solo, overall winner of the 1962 race.

Colin McLachlan, the only surviving crew member from Solo, the overall winner of the 1962 Hobart race, is thrilled to be given the honour of firing the cannon that will set the 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet on its way.

Recalling the 1962 race, Colin said: “In late 1962, I was introduced to Vic Meyer by a close friend who was a Solo crewman. I ended up being the junior member, at 24 years of age, of the Solo crew for the 1962 Sydney Hobart – my first ever ocean yacht race!

“It was a fast exciting race with a slow becalmed finish. The elapsed time of 3d 3h 49m 16s  set by Ondine who was first across the line stood until 1973.  After the finish I visited an old family friend in Hobart and slept for 20 hours!”

After the race, Solo set off on 4 January with a reduced crew and sailed from Hobart to the south of New Zealand’s south island – nearly 4 days on the same tack of 926 miles averaging just 8 knots. We carried a substantial length of extra anchor chain for use in the NZ sounds. This was on board during the Hobart race – Ondine crew were only allowed to take a toothbrush,” McLachlan recalled.

“We sailed into Doubtful, Milford and most of the sounds sailing north – the only other boats we saw were lobster fisherman who provided us with their undersize catch as they thought Solo was a fisheries boat. On 22 January we set sail from Nelson and were becalmed in the middle of the Tasman. Vic’s (Meyer) expert sextant navigation brought Solo straight in through the heads.”

In 1963, Colin crewed in Solo’s win in both the Brisbane – Gladstone race (with Rupert Murdoch in the crew) and the Montague Island race – Solo’s last ocean race.

In 1966/67, Colin crewed in lightweight sharpies at Mosman Sailing Club and joined the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron in 1969, buying a Tempest KA1 for sailing in the harbour. In 1980 he purchased a 8.23 metre Marauder sloop for sailing around the Harbour and up to Pittwater. Earlier this year he acquired a 7-metre Arvor cruiser.

Colin will be joined aboard the official start vessel by James “Jimmy the Reb” Sandison of Ondine (second overall in 1962), who will fire the five minute warning signal, and Phil Hill of Malohi (fifth overall in 1962) who will fire the 10 minute signal.

Whatever the result of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2012, one thing is for certain – when the race starts at 1pm on Boxing Day it will capture the imagination of both sailors and spectators worldwide, as hundreds of thousands of people converge on Sydney Harbour’s foreshore and millions more tune into the action on TV and online.


The Seven Network will once again broadcast the start of the race live around Australia, with their 90-minute program going to air from 12.30pm AEDT. Gordon Bray will anchor the commentary team.

Gordon’s long and close association with the race has seen him not only involved in past broadcasts, but also making the journey south by sea on six occasions aboard the radio relay vessel. Gordon will again be joined by Rob Brown.

Seven Sport’s commentary team will be based at their outside broadcast headquarters at North Head, which is a prime location offering an expansive view from the start lines off Nielsen Park to the coastline down to Bondi.

More than 80 production and technical personnel are involved in putting together the race start coverage. Covering the race is tricky and relies on numerous specialty cameras that are linked back to the main production facility using digital radio links.

Three helicopters and two chase boats track the fleet. Two of these helicopters supply aerial footage while the third acts as a link platform, relaying close-up onboard footage from two of the yachts as the crew undertake pre-race manoeuvres and begin their race south. Two land-based cabled cameras are also located at vantage points on North Head and South Head and will be incorporated into the coverage.

Stay tuned to Seven for daily Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2012 updates, along with reports on Sunrise, Weekend Sunrise and 7 News. ABC TV will also be following the fleet down the eastern seaboard.

The start of this iconic sporting event will also be broadcast live throughout the Asia Pacific region for the third consecutive year via The Australia Network. This broadens the race’s international reach and allows our diggers serving in Afghanistan to enjoy this great Boxing Day tradition with the rest of us.

Seven’s live coverage begins from 12.30pm AEDT Boxing Day, and for the fifth year in a row, the event will also be streamed live via Seven’s online partner Yahoo!7 worldwide.

The official race website is one of the most popular Australian sporting websites during the Christmas and New Year holiday period and your information portal for everything there is to know about the 628 nautical mile bluewater classic.

This year will see the introduction of a redeveloped race website. Since its introduction in 2002, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has led the way in bringing our remote sport to a worldwide audience with features including the yacht tracker and the standings engine.

The redeveloped website will introduce further initiatives that will be unique in the coverage of ocean racing. The ability to follow the race on any mobile or tablet device will increase the accessibility of this great race to a global audience. The race website will also webcast the Seven Network’s live broadcast of the start.

Included on the website is the complete list of yachts entered along with a photograph and description of each boat, a rundown on the crew and the boat’s past racing record.

There’s also archival data, including results of the past 67 races and the weather encountered each year, a summary of line and overall handicap winners, historical reports and statistical information, designers of the line and overall winners and profiles of some of the race luminaries over the years.

You’ll also be able to follow the event via Twitter @rshyr (or and via Facebook.

By far the most visited page of the website is the Yacht Tracker page, which allows viewers to track the entire fleet or a particular boat from start to finish. Yacht Tracker uses a specifically designed tool that calculates the predicted results for each and every boat in the fleet, so you can see how each is performing.

Each yacht will be fitted with a Yellowbrick tracker that will obtain a position using the GPS satellite network, and then transmit that position back to Yellowbrick HQ using the Iridium satellite network.

Each yacht’s position is then visualised on the race yacht 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 do this, the CYCA equips each boat in the fleet with a Yellowbrick tracker, which automatically updates the yacht’s latitude, longitude, course over ground and speed over ground – and transmits that information via satellite to a land earth station. From there, the data will be transferred to the website, which shows in text and graphics each yacht’s position in the fleet, its place relative to other boats and known geographic features and the speed currently being achieved through the water, as well as the direction in which the boat is sailing.

Line honours and progressive corrected times under the IRC, ORCi and PHS handicap categories are updated every 10 minutes.

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