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Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science. However, more recent observations and studies may have rendered some content obsolete.
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
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.