S y d n e y – H o b a r t 2016: Australia braces for spectacular sailing

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It is one of the most famous, and feared, yacht races in the world and offers its competitors the perfect cold-turkey cure for Christmas blues. The Sydney-Hobart is the annual 628-nautical mile dash down the New South Wales coast to Tasmania beginning on Boxing Day, December 26.

Alongside events such as the Melbourne Cup on Australia’s sporting landscape, the race pits amateurs and professionals together in yachts ranging in length from 30ft to 100ft.

Early forecasts for this year’s 72nd edition suggest strong breezes could propel the 90-strong fleet across the Bass Strait, around Tasman Island and up the Derwent River in record time. Wild Oats XI, which won overall on debut in 2005 and again in 2012, set the fastest time of one day 18 hrs 3min 12sec in 2012.

But the eight-time line honors winner, which was owned by the late wine magnate Bob Oatley, is looking to make amends for an early retirement last year because of a storm-damaged mainsail on the first night. “We’re on a mission, to redeem ourselves, to ourselves, more than anything,” skipper Mark Richards told Scuttlebutt.

Wild Oats XI faces three rivals in the 100ft supermaxi class — Perpetual Loyal also retired 12 months ago, while Scallywag (ex Ragamuffin 100 owned by Syd Fischer) and Ludde Ingvall’s newly revamped CQS, previously known as former winner Nicorette. Also in the tussle for line honors is the New Zealand 80-footer Beau Geste and the 70-foot around-the-world racers Black Jack, Giacomo and Maserati. The timing of a southerly front which could slow progress will determine

whether the record is viable for the leaders, who can reach speeds of up to 30 knots with a favorable wind behind.

“The race record is definitely on the cards,” top meteorologist Roger Badham told the Courier Mail. US entry Comanche won line honors last year in two days, eight hours, 58 minutes and 30 seconds, but is not back to defend the title.

Last year’s winner of the Tattersall’s Cup, the overall handicap prize, was the TP 52 Balance and financier Paul Clitheroe’s team will line up in Sydney Harbor at 1pm for another shot at glory.

Matt Allen, skipper of the 52ft Ichi Ban, is another eying the overall crown.

Nine yachts set sail in the first edition of the race in 1945, when Rani set the inaugural record of six days 14 hrs 22 min 0 secs. The race gained worldwide notoriety in 1998 when a savage storm sank five

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