Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race history is full of stories that stem from the inherent challenges of high seas, strong winds, rain, sleet, seasickness and general discomfort.
For onshore followers of the 628 nautical mile race, this often begs the question: Why do crew return, especially after an inevitably eye-opening and sometimes harrowing debut?
But when asked the question, Sydney sailor Doug Sturrock reflects on the passion of so many people who have experienced sailing in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia-organised race.
“It’s like climbing a mountain,” Sturrock explained. “It’s an adventure. It’s the buzz… like how our ancestors sailed off into the horizon and you think you’re never going to come back.”
Sturrock has sailed in five Sydney Hobarts since his debut in 1976 on the Cole43 Wainunu IV. For his sixth start this year, he will crew for the first time with his son, Henry, on the Beneteau 40.7 Crystal Cutter III, owned by Charles Parry-Okeden. Henry Sturrock debuted last year on the Cheoy Lee 47ft Ketch, Zara, that withdrew on the first night off Jervis Bay.
Sturrock understands his son’s wish to return now. “He had a failed attempt last year. I said, ‘Let’s get on a decent boat, do it; and Charles Parry-Okeden provided Crystal Cutter III.”
The reasons for returning to sail in the Sydney Hobart are many and varied among sailors.
For Hamilton Island Wild Oats navigator, Stan Honey, it was purely unfinished business after a disappointing debut in 2006 on the Volvo 70 ABN AMRO when they lost their rigging.
“That made me want to come back and get it right. We were ahead when we lost our rig,” Honey said on Tuesday.
Andoo Comanche navigator Justin Shaffer’s one previous Rolex Sydney Hobart was in 2018.
That year, the American sailed on the Carkeek 60, Winning Appliances, that placed second in division behind the Reichel Pugh 63 Voodoo, fourth overall and ninth over the line.
“I still think about the gybe we could have done to get around Voodoo,” Shaffer reflected.
“I’ve been thinking about that for four years. I definitely want to resolve that this time around.
“But the other thing about 2018 was that it was the 20th anniversary of the ’98 race.
“Herman [John Winning Jr] who put the Winning Appliances program and Andoo Comanche program together did that to honour John Dean [who lost his life in the 1998 race] and his kids.
“Being a part of that was a real honour. There’s so much history with this race.
“It’s really cool to see all of the energy that goes into safety which should be common everywhere.
“The Australians really do it to a level that’s quite impressive and to be a part of that is a pleasure.”
Duncan McRae, navigator on the S&S34 White Bay 6 Azzurro, debuted on the three-quarter tonner Impeccable in 1996. He loves the bond of a crew handling tough conditions at sea.
“There were some very tough moments where you bond with the crew and you have some great friends,” McRae says. “I still sail 20 years later with some of the same people.
“You definitely come away with camaraderie and the experience of the challenge.”
Michael Bellingham, navigator on the TP52 Patrice, cited his 1976 debut on the Farr 36 footer Farr Out. The crew’s tight bond inspired his return to the race he has sailed 29 times.
“I still have good friends from 1976,” Bellingham said. “There’s that special bond you get, whether it be the Fastnet or Hobart. Those bonds last for a lifetime.”
Bryan Northcote, navigator of the XP44 ToyBox2, thinks back to 1983 for his debut as a 21-year-old on the 34-footer Moonlighter.
“It was like a boys’ own annual,” Northcote recalls. “I sailed the boat up [to Sydney] from Melbourne, three-handed. I think we pulled the fishing rod up out from Eden, as you do.
“We got to Sydney…then we did the Sydney Hobart. We won our division. I was hooked.”
The start of the race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and live-and-on-demand on the 7Plus app, as well as on the official race website – rolexsydneyhobart.com – for viewers around the world.
For the full list of entries and more information about the race, visit rolexsydneyhobart.com.