Mermaids, Grapevine & Seahorses

What is it about sailing that produces such great stories to be told? And what is it about sailors that make them such great story-tellers? One of the great by-products of writing about this sport on an almost daily basis is the never ending peeling back of the onion to find layer upon layer of rich content and let’s be honest, I barely scratch the surface.

As Christmas looms, I look south for content and rarely fail with the antipodes. Having spent past festive seasons in both New Zealand and Australia, you look back on those years with fondness. Summer breezes at the beach on the big day and the hubbub of action down in Sydney as the Rolex Sydney-Hobart gears up to its Boxing Day cacophony. Oh to be down under. I could happily live there.

©Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

And in usual Rolex style, my goodness they are such amazing supporters of our sport, I was perusing the Sydney-Hobart event website and uncovered gold-dust amidst the usual sailor interviews and looks-ahead to the coming race. All fascinating stuff but the history of The George Adams Tattersall Cup caught my eye. Peter Campbell and David Colfelt have produced a fabulous account of its history and I implore you to read it in full, with such glorious nuggets of history that warm the Christmas cockles such as this:

In 1945 William Adams (great nephew of Tattersall Lotteries founder, George Adams) tracked down what he believed to be a suitable trophy for the fledgling event.  Designed by silversmiths at Prouds of Sydney, the Cup was originally struck for a trans-Tasman yacht race that never eventuated.  Prouds described the trophy to William Adams in the following manner… ‘Hand-wrought 288 ounces sterling silver cup and plinth – 25 inches high under a glass dome. Decorations of mermaids, grapevine and seahorses at base. Lid surmounted with mermaid on crest of wave calling up the winner.  Entirely Australian origin.

©Rolex/Andrea Francolini

George Adams died in 1904, leaving a rich legacy from his Tattersalls lotteries.  Born in 1839 in Hertfordshire, the son of a farm labourer, he came to Australia in 1855, where he tried his hand a gold mining, working on sheep stations, running a butchery and then owning several pubs.  A chunky, chesty, fiery-whiskered man with a good head for business, his Sydney hotel was a favourite watering hole for Tattersalls Club members, from which they could subscribe to sweepstakes on race meetings around the country. 

New restrictions on gambling saw him move to Queensland, and then to Tasmania, where his Tattersalls empire thrived in more permissive legal environments.  Adams’s public image was that of a sporting identity and a patron of horse racing.Having begun life in Australia as a penniless immigrant, George Adams learned early the lessons of fair play and the level playing field.  That a trophy bearing his name would come to acknowledge the bluewater battlers of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race seemed fitting and appropriate.

©Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

Wow. Great writing and yes how fitting and appropriate to have such a lovely trophy with all that etymology behind it as reward for what is a stand-out race on our storied, global yacht racing calendar. Food for the soul that should fire the competitive juices of those lining up on the start-line in 2021.

It’s a mega-race, the likes of which you can only dream of taking on, and I do at about this time every year, but if you examine that dream, what would you prefer? Let’s say money’s not an object, would you go for the line honours glory in a mega maxi bang on the 100ft limit dicing it out for bragging rights amongst your richest peers or do you play the IRC game, find an ocean-going flyer that you know is a rating bandit and plant your name on that trophy forevermore? I know what I would choose.

©Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

And what a trophy to lift. Whoever does, will have sailed like demons, ridden their luck, and had one heck of a time doing it. Can you imagine the feeling as you sail up the Derwent River with Castray Esplanade in sight knowing that you are in with a shot of scooping the Tattersall Trophy? You’d think all your Christmases had come at once.

The feeling of having stolen the crown jewels of world yachting would be yours. Bottle that emotion and you’d never go hungry. Electric. And let’s be honest here, you’d wear that winner’s watch to the local sailing club bar every time now, wouldn’t you…

©Rolex / Kurt Arrigo

Look at the names on the plinth and you throw a blanket over the greats: Syd Fischer, Sir Peter Blake, Ted Turner, Jim Kilroy, Bob Oatley, Matt Allen, Iain Murray…the names are a who’s who of our sport. It’s a heck of a race. I vicariously lean into it every Christmas as a sign of hope for the coming year. It’s inspiring to follow with a presentation by the world’s best photographers and camera crews that you just marvel at and a race management that is first class.

The Sydney-Hobart is a legend within itself. I wish every one of those brave sailors, fair winds for every one of the 628 nautical miles…

…and a very Merry Christmas to you all.

3 thoughts on “Mermaids, Grapevine & Seahorses

  1. Regarding your glowing praise of Oman, maybe check out the BBC Crossing Continents reports on abuse of housemaid.


    1. I sometimes wonder if certain posts on here (the effusive praise of INEOS while simultaneously describing their behavior as underhanded, saying that a dictatorship is the best place to host events) are meant to be read satirically/sarcastically in a “How outré a thing can I say with a straight face and still be taken seriously?” sort of way. Sort of like the interpretation that “The Billionaire and the Mechanic” is a stealth critique of how shallow Larry Ellison is.


  2. I would love to do the S-H someday, given my level of experience I think it’d have to be on one of the “family racing on their old boat inviting friends to crew” boats (I guess nobody who learns to sail at 26 is ever going to be Maxi crew), but I wouldn’t care. Just the experience sounds amazing.


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