Sailing is as old as time itself. It is impossible to know when the first guy stuck a sail on his log canoe, but suffice it to say that it was a very long time ago. The sport has come a long way since the first sail went up and modern day sail boats currently exhibit some of the very best technology available in the world. However the rich history attached to the sport is something that has never stopped driving it. The Sydney-Hobart race is a perfect example of this.
The sport of sailing is a weird one. While composed primarily of amateurs there is an incredible amount of diversity within the sport when it comes to the level of competition and commitment. For many sailing is simply a leisure activity. Cruising and the occasional beer can race make a nice hobby if you live in an area conducive to it. However for those of us with competitive souls sailing is a chance to measure yourself. To see how you matchup with the best in the business and, occasionally, it’s a chance to make your mark on history. That is what Sydney-Hobart is to those who sail in it.
I remember when I was young watching my father sail for the New York Cup following the 2002 International Canoe World Championships in Bristol, RI. They didn’t win it – the British defended the cup thanks to an excellent performance by John Ellis – but seeing that race was one of the biggest factors in my decision to first jump in a canoe. Certainly there were other factors – the boats were as fast and exciting as anything I had ever seen, and the rush I got from sailing them was unlike any other. But I also wanted to get my name on that trophy. I wanted to make my mark on the history of the class and do something memorable, even if it were only remembered by a few for a short while. The Sydney-Hobart race is such an opportunity for others. The chance to get your name on that list of winners. The chance to cross the Bass Straight faster than ever before. These are the things that drive us as competitors – the opportunity to be remembered for something positive.
These opportunities are not all that common. Not every race has that, for lack of a better word, mystique, and it is hard to define why some do and some don’t. Perhaps it’s simply a question of time. I know that I desperately wanted to get my name on some of the canoe trophies that are still raced for at Sugar Island primarily because they were old and had a lot of other great names on them. However the Sydney-Hobart race is comparatively young (first sailed in 1945) and doesn’t have a well known perpetual trophy attached to it, but it has that same feel. It’s hard to explain why some races have that luster, but the Sydney-Hobart race is one of them. The chance to get your name on that list of winners and make your mark is something that will drive sailors for decades to come. There is something special about certain races. Winning the New York Cup in 2011 was a dream come true for me. A dream will be realized for someone else when the results of the 2012 Sydney-Hobart come in.