Cruel Sport

As a philosophical construct, the very notion of sport is an indifferent delivery mechanism that cares not a jot for the human element. It prefers no-one at its base element and certainly doesn’t favour endeavour, hope or will but for all of us that take part in sport, it’s those elements that crucially matter. As we layer in humanity to the concept of sport, we find it a cruel place at times and anyone who watched how the Rolex Sydney-Hobart played out yesterday both on the water and shoreside cannot fail to have felt the broadest range of emotions.

©Rolex / Andrea Francolini

The roller-coaster ticket was bought and clipped right from the starting gun and that fascinating first night where the brave punched into seaways that most of us will never see, ensured that we awoke to assess the damage reports and marvel at the outstanding seamanship on display. It was classic Sydney-Hobart stuff – the sort that when you were a teenager you read about and vowed “one day.” And as the race progressed those magnificent pros on what we all view as glamour boats gave us everything and more. This isn’t a glamorous sport at this level. It’s tough and uncompromising, brutally dangerous and terrifying in equal measure.

©Rolex / Andrea Francolini

But the stories that were to unfold as the race concluded provided the sporting drama. Around the world we were tuning in to see if Shane Kearns could pull off the impossible and guide his achingly pretty Sparkman & Stephens 34 ‘Azzurro’ to victory.

With less than 50 miles to the finish it looked all on. David was due to beat Goliath in spectacular fashion but the Derwent River had other, cruel and indifferent, ideas. Slowing to a snail’s pace and ghosting along, the elapsed time just ticked on. What was it that Shakespeare said about ‘time and the hour runs through the roughest day’ and the clock was relentless. You feel for the crew – so close but so far.

©Rolex / Andrea Francolini

But shoreside the clubhouse leader, Celestial, faced their own problems. A protest from IRC runner-up Ichi-Ban alongside the Race Committee for failing to respond to calls over the VHF when a Personal Beacon from a crew-member accidentally went off was successful. The result was a 40 minute time penalty and relegation to second overall on IRC. Some may choose to commentate that it was the height of unprofessionalism in not monitoring the VHF more closely and only being alerted when Ichi-Ban fired rocket parachute flares to get their attention in the dead of night. Others, and I’m in this camp, will acknowledge that sailing unbelievably noisy carbon hulled boats to the limit of exhaustion produces errors through ultimate fatigue. I don’t think the Celestial crew were pulling a fast one by a long shot. Tough, cruel and again indifferent.

So the tale of the tape shows Matt Allen’s Ichi-Ban (meaning ‘number one’ in Japanese in case you didn’t know) recording their record equalling third win of this utterly outstanding annual ocean behemoth. Congratulations to that team – and I’ve been alerted to some of the stand-out pros onboard that boat. It’s a crew of ocean racing and big boat legends who once again have performed at the highest level. Perhaps not the sweetest victory of their three but a win all the same and another Rolex for the collection.

Hard sport for the crew of Azzurro though who just finished off the podium in fourth place overall – that’s not to be sniffed at. The leather medal at this level is something to be immensely proud of and we all know that had mother nature played ball, the story would be different. They’ll be back and thank you for giving us spectators such tension…not sure I’ve ever willed a boat, other than my own, on with such gusto. We won’t forget the mighty Azzurro in a hurry.

And what about the winners in the inaugural double-handed race? Who can deny that this is one of the most stand-out features now of offshore racing and let’s be absolutely honest, you really want to be a part of it don’t you…?

For Jules Hall and Jan Scholten on their J99 ‘Disko Trooper – Contender Sailcloth’ it was a glamour race and there’s just the most wonderful interview on YouTube that was posted by the excellent Bow Caddy Media Team, interviewing them dockside. It’s one of those interviews that you just have to watch as you can really put yourself in their boots and see just how hard they worked to get a stupendous win. It’s one of the stand-out interviews of the year. Congratulations to Jan and Jules. Magnificent.

©YouTube / Bow Caddy Media

So the Rolex Sydney-Hobart draws to a close for another year. All down the fleets there are stories to tell. It’s been a classic. It’s been enthralling. It’s been sport conducted at the pinnacle and it’s a marvellous advert for offshore racing. I look at Blue Riband races like this with the eyes and lens of a child. I may never do it. You may never do it. But it’s inspiring to know and dream that one day you might just. Congratulations to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Rolex and all their sub-sponsors and supporters for a hell of show.

As the curtain call for 2021, we couldn’t have wished more than what the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race delivered. Cruel and indifferent but sport at the highest level. Fabulous.

May I wish you all a very happy, safe and prosperous New Year and thank you for reading.

7 thoughts on “Cruel Sport

  1. I am totally with you on the Celestial penalty.

    It is a hollow victory, one of three major sporting ones this year looking back to Comanche’s ‘fake’ victory in the Middle Sea Race and of course Verstappen being crowned world champion. Let’s not go there!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know that technically Ichi Ban may be in the right but was it Paul Elvestrom who said words to the effect that you may have been first on the water but you have not won unless you have the respect of your fellow competitors?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Magnus,
    KHD, others threatening Legal Action if ETNZ choses an Overseas Venue for AC37!

    And the 4th Mystery Venue is apparently Malaga NZ Heralds Paul Lewis reports.


  4. Tough cruel and indifferent? You must be talking about Sail GP or AC37 surely?

    Safety at sea is compromised slowly over time until a very unsafe boat is unconsciously created. Out of date flares, no spare batteries for the only torch, poor crew orientation, slow leak in the inflatable, missing scheds, etc, etc, etc, etc …

    What if, and sailing is full of what-ifs, the crew member had been lost overboard? What if Ichi Ban had changed course to keep an eye out and lost time?

    Sentimentalism is a faux-emotion.

    Lucky there are rules, eh?


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: