As rough as it gets

Posted on 14 January 2011 Written by Jim Flannery

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race lived up to its reputation of a Christmas classic with a punch as staggering as any ocean sprint around.

"It was a tough race, no doubt about it, and one of the roughest I have been in," says Adrienne Cahalan, 45, co-navigator on Wild Oats XI, the first yacht to finish the 628-nautical-mile race from Sydney, Australia, to Hobart in Tasmania.

That says something. This was Cahalan's 19th Sydney Hobart, but she also has raced in the Whitbread and Volvo round-the-world races and on Steve Fossett's 125-foot catamaran Cheyenne when it set a circumnavigation speed record in 2004.

Dim lights

Click play to watch a video slideshow of the race highlights. Mobile users can click here to watch on the Soundings YouTube channel. (Photos courtesy of Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race).

Within two days of the Dec. 26 start, 18 of 87 starters had retired from the race down the New South Wales coast as three back-to-back "southerly busters" - frontal lines coming out of the south with stiff winds - met the fleet and the east Australia current head-on, says Roger "Clouds" Badham, dean of Sydney Hobart weather routers and Wild Oats XI's meteorologist. The collision of winds blowing up the coast with currents running south piles up tall, steep waves with deep troughs - huge potholes that can swallow a boat when it comes off a crest.

Badham reported winds of 25 to 40 knots over much of the course. Cahalan says the 100-foot maxiyacht Wild Oats XI powered through 12- to 15-foot seas in Bass Strait, a treacherous 150-mile-wide stretch of water between Australia and Tasmania that funnels currents and blasts of cold Southern Ocean winds from the Indian Ocean into the Pacific.

Wild Oats XI's finish - in 2 days, 7 hours, 37 minutes, 20 seconds - was the fifth Sydney Hobart win for the maxi and its owner, Bob Oatley, a third-generation Australian with business interests ranging from vineyards, wineries and cattle stations to thoroughbred horses and an island resort near the Great Barrier Reef.

Read more in the March 2011 issue of Soundings.

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