Photography by Carlo Borlenghi
27 November 2023
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has acquired a reputation that has long transcended yachting’s traditional frontiers.
The race and its organiser, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), have been supported by Rolex since 2002, and are cornerstones of the brand’s long-standing relationship with the sport.
There is a natural affinity between Rolex and epic yacht races such as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, where charting a successful course requires an unwavering commitment, a wealth of experience and sharp intuition. One of the toughest tests of sailing ability, the race sits alongside the equally venerated Rolex Fastnet Race as a pillar of Rolex’s privileged partnership with yachting.
Tom Slingsby, a Rolex Testimonee, decorated athlete and one of Australia’s finest sailors, is well positioned to offer a perspective on the appeal of the “great race south”.
The six-time participant and line honours winner in 2016 says: “Within offshore sailing, everyone wants to be able to say they have done the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. It is one of the world’s great challenges that attracts sailors from around the globe and all backgrounds.
“Whether you are trying to win or just complete the course, we are all drawn by a passion for the sea and the enormity of the task.”
This year’s race begins, as always, on 26 December, and is expected to welcome a highly competitive fleet of about 120 yachts, including several international entries. The crews will be seeking to emulate the achievements of some 60,000 sailors and 7,500 yachts who have embraced the challenge since the event’s creation in 1945.
Aside from its distinct slot in the global sporting schedule, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is noted for drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators to watch the start of the race from the shoreline or on the water, in addition to those following live broadcasts. This breathtaking moment on Sydney Harbour is must-see viewing throughout Australia, and with fans around the world.
The 628-nautical mile (1,163 kilometre) course has several key features, most notably the crossing of the easternmost edge of the exposed Bass Strait, a notorious expanse of water. Conditions can be extremely changeable. In the same race, competitors are often exposed to punishing and violent waves, and then periods when the sea is calm as the wind fades.
The final, often arduous, stretch up the Derwent River into Hobart can be among the most demanding as crews summon the last of their physical and mental resources. Once over the finish line, a warm welcome is guaranteed through the collaboration and support of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania. For the front-running yachts competing for line honours and the public acclaim that greets the first finisher, the course typically takes two days to complete. Over the decades, owners of the world’s fastest monohull yachts have made it their objective to succeed at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
A steely focus is required to prevail in the face of spirited and similarly determined opposition. The race record, set in 2017, sits at 33 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds. Rolex is proud to be associated with a race that demands precision, dedication and the highest level of performance from the athletes and their boats, as well as one whose organizer plays a key role in ensuring the future of the sport.
Like so many of the great offshore races, the Rolex Sydney Hobart was conceived by intrepid Corinthian sailors. Over time its reputation has grown, enticing sailors of all backgrounds and ambition. Yachts range in size from 30 feet (9 metres) to 100 feet (30.5 metres), and whether crew members are amateur or professional, completing the race is a significant milestone. Arthur Lane, Commodore of the CYCA, reflects on what competing in the race means: “The common denominator at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is a deep enthusiasm for the sport of sailing and a willingness to test oneself against one’s peers and the elements.
“The race has an enduring appeal and continues to inspire younger generations. The close support of Rolex throughout the past 21 years has been a significant factor in its continued evolution.”
Tom Slingsby, likewise, appreciates the scale of the event: “I have a lot of respect for anyone who races offshore. It is tough when you hit bad weather and you are going up wind in 30 knots of breeze and big waves, day in, day out, particularly on a smaller boat. It is really tough, both mentally and physically, and for me these big ocean races are the ultimate challenge in yacht racing.”
Just as Rolex stands for precision and high-level performance in everything it does, offshore racing sailors must summon the same qualities if they are to complete the exacting course.
For the overall winner on corrected time, the iconic Tattersall Cup and a specially engraved Rolex Yacht-Master watch await, along with a place in sailing legend.
Rolex has always associated with activities driven by passion, excellence, precision and team spirit.
The Swiss watchmaker naturally gravitated towards the elite world of yachting six decades ago and the brand’s enduring partnership now encompasses the most prestigious clubs, races and regattas, as well as towering figures in the sport, including ground-breaking round-the-world yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester and the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie.
Today, Rolex is Title Sponsor of 15 major international events – from leading offshore races such as the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and the biennial Rolex Fastnet Race, to grand prix competition at the Rolex TP52 World Championship and spectacular gatherings at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and the Rolex Swan Cup.
It also supports the exciting SailGP global championship in which national teams race identical supercharged F50 catamarans on some of the world’s most famous harbours.
Rolex’s partnerships with the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Royal Ocean Racing Club, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Royal Malta Yacht Club, New York Yacht Club and Royal Yacht Squadron, among others, are the foundation of its enduring relationship with this dynamic sport.
Rolex is an integrated and independent Swiss watch manufacture. Headquartered in Geneva, the brand is recognized the world over for its expertise and the quality of its products – symbols of excellence, elegance and prestige.
The movements of its Oyster Perpetual and Perpetual watches are certified by COSC, then tested inhouse for their precision, performance and reliability.
The Superlative Chronometer certification, symbolised by the green seal, confirms that each watch has successfully undergone tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories according to its own criteria.
These are periodically validated by an independent external organization. The word ‘Perpetual’ is inscribed on every Rolex Oyster watch. But more than just a word on a dial, it is a philosophy that embodies the company’s vision and values.
Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of the company, instilled a notion of perpetual excellence that would drive the company forward. This led Rolex to pioneer the development of the wristwatch and numerous major watchmaking innovations, such as the Oyster, the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926, and the Perpetual rotor self-winding mechanism, invented in 1931. In the course of its history, Rolex has registered over 600 patents.
At its four sites in Switzerland, the brand designs, develops and produces the majority of its watch components, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining, crafting, assembly and finishing of the movement, case, dial and bracelet.
Furthermore, the brand is actively involved in supporting the arts and culture, sport and exploration, as well as those who are devising solutions to preserve the planet.