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Over the past 60 years, the Sydney to Hobart Race has become a world sailing icon – a supreme test of teamwork, endurance, and ability.
The 723 mile course starts in Sydney Harbour and takes the fleet down the East Coast of Australia, then through the Bass Strait, which divides the island of Tasmania from the mainland. After rounding towering Tasman Island, the fleet sails the final 30 miles across Storm Bay and then 11 miles up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart, Australia's second oldest city.
“The Hobart" is unique because it is one of the most challenging ocean races in the world. Its uncertain weather can bring winds of up to 70 MPH, sometimes more, along with massive boat and body breaking seas. The Bass Strait, with its shallow depths and strong currents, is notorious for its steep waves.
There has never been a Sydney to Hobart without a radical change in the wind direction and strength, and there have been some turbulent years that have battered boats and bodies into submission. The 2006 race certainly retained this tradition!
Of 78 boats that started the race on Tuesday, December 26, 9 didn’t finish. Several boats were dismasted (including ABN AMRO ONE, which had previously won the Rolex Around the World Race), and one boat sank, requiring a daring rescue of the crew at sea. Many of the problems occurred during the first 36 hours of the race, when a southerly buster with winds reaching 30 knots combined with a strong current to produce pounding seas of 5 meters or more.
Dennis was part of a team of 14 sailing on a Volvo 60 named Dragon. Dragon’s strategy was to immediately head offshore to take advantage of exceptionally strong currents heading toward Hobart. This was clearly the right strategy, and for a time the tracking reports had them near the front of the fleet. However, there were pros and cons to the strategy. Although Dragon never got sustained gale force winds, the combination of the three knots current in one direction and the previous several days of strong winds from the other, caused particularly difficult sea conditions offshore.
While Dragon’s problems weren’t life threatening, they were still serious. Its electrical system had been problematic before the start, and the constant shaking caused it to fail the second evening as we were hit a rogue wave. The boat was left with no communications or navigation instruments and for a while no lights. This led to a difficult night of sailing with just flashlights, a compass and a hand-held GPS.
Those first 36 hours crashing down the coast of New South Wales ultimately proved the most difficult part of the journey. The Dragon crossed the finish line at Hobart in a dying breeze at 1:05am on December 30th, after 3 days and 12 hours of exhausting work, placing them 13th overall, of 69 boats that finished the race.
In Dennis’s own words: “All in all, it was quite an adventure. I came away with a feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that a lofty goal can be personally revitalizing. All the training, preparation, and focus had paid off. I had come away with a deeper understanding of the story of the AFR Midnight Rambler, and what it must have taken for them to win the Tattersalls Trophy in those incredible seas during the 1998 Sydney-to-Hobart. And I had also come to understand leadership and teamwork in a different way, looking up from the bottom of the pyramid in a new and, often, foreign organization.”
We encourage you to get more detail about Dennis’s experience in the 2006 Sydney-to-Hobart by reading Dennis’s blog at Sailing World Magazine.
The Syncretics Group