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Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Australians celebrate December 26 (a national holiday called Boxing Day) in a number of ways. One is the annual start to one of the sailing world’s premier events: the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Unlike many other major sailing events, the race is not restricted to a single class of sailing vessel, leading to a complex handicap system under which boats of different sizes are scored differently. The most highly sought after prize is line honours for being the first across the finish line in Hobart’s Derwent River. Another prize is awarded for being the fastest boat based on the calculated handicaps for different boat classes.

It is an exciting and potentially dangerous race, traversing 627 nautical miles from start to finish, including the crossing of the often treacherous waters of Bass Strait. Foul weather provides strong winds that sometimes help sailors set new speed records, but can also overwhelm sailing vessels, leaving them in need of rescue. In 1998, for example, strong winds resulted in new record times for the race with boats that took line honours and those placing close behind, but strengthening storm winds in Bass Strait caused many boats behind those leaders to founder and six sailors died despite a major rescue effort. Since then, rules for safety gear, qualifications, and liability have tightened a great deal.

The 2003 event was quite unlike 1998. Weather conditions were much calmer and old records were not broken, though water eddies off Flinders and Eden Islands in Bass Strait gave some savvy skippers a significant boost. There was also considerable well-deserved excitement about the presence of two 30-meter (98-foot) boats, Skandia and Zana, the largest boats ever entered in this race and correctly figured to be lead contenders for line honours. The event, however, is not just a race of large boats: of the 57 vessels in the 2003 race, about one third were in the small 12-meter (40-foot) class.

This MODIS scene was acquired by the Terra satellite approximately 30 hours after Skandia took line honours with a racing time of two days, fifteen hours, fourteen minutes, and six seconds; Zana was just fourteen minutes behind. While well beyond the reach of MODIS’s 250-meter per pixel maximum resolution, this scene does include much of the racing fleet behind the front runners still sailing across Bass Strait towards the finishing line.

Image created from data provided by the MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC