Sydney to Hobart race 2017: 5 things to know about sailing’s offshore classic

(CNN)It’s one of the biggest events on the Australian sport calendar.

Amateur crews in small yachts race alongside big-name professional sailors in multimillion dollar rocketships, all intent on arriving in Hobart in one piece with tales to tell and drinks to be sunk.
This year marks the 73rd edition of the classic “bluewater” race. Here’s what you need to know:

    The news

    One of the favorites for line honors, the 100ft super maxi Wild Oats XI, was struck by lightning Sunday in Sydney, damaging a number of onboard navigational computers.
    The bolt from an electrical storm hit the 45-meter high carbon mast of the eight-time line honors winner, which was ashore in a cradle at Woolwich dock undergoing pre-race checks.
    Race favorite LDV Comanche was berthed next to Wild Oats but escaped any damage.
    Rival super maxi Black Jack has loaned Wild Oats some replacement pieces of equipment.
    “That’s the spirit that exists at this level of ocean racing,” said Wild Oats XI owner Sandy Oatley, son of the late businessman and wine maker Bob Oatley.
    Two years ago Wild Oats XI shredded its mainsail in fierce winds while sailing down Australia’s east coast in the Sydney-Hobart.
    Last year it suffered damage to the hydraulics used to operate the canting keel and had to retire from the race.
    “I’d like to think this is the third strike when it comes to bad luck for Wild Oats XI in the Hobart Race,” said skipper Mark Richards.

    The course

    Boxing Day’s 1 pm start with Sydney’s Opera House and harbor bridge as a backdrop offers a stunning spectacle for the thousands of spectators lining the shore, afloat on boats or watching on TV.
    The fleet races out between the heads and turns south into the Tasman Sea for a long haul down the southeast coast of Australia, sometimes running under spinnaker, sometimes facing stiff headwinds.
    The yachts can be anything up to 40 miles offshore but monitor their position in the fleet via the internet race tracker and twice daily radio “skeds” (scheduled calls).
    The route then takes the yachts across the Bass Strait, which separates Australia and Tasmania, and can be kind or malevolent depending on its mood.
    At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final tactical sail up the Derwent River to Tasmania capital, Hobart.

    The fleet

    About 100 yachts ranging from amateur crews on minimum-sized boats of 30 feet up to the 100-foot giants with their pro roster of hired hands and jaw-dropping budgets will contest the race.
    A mainsail alone on the biggest yachts can cost way more than $100,000.
    Four super maxis will line up this year — Wild Oats XI, LDV Comanche, Black Jack and InfoTrack, all of which have won line honors in the past.
    Australia’s former America’s Cup-winning skipper Jimmy Spithill will sail on LDV Comanche, recently purchased by chartered engineer and businessman Jim Cooney.
    His countryman Tom Slingsby, another former America’s Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist who won line honors on Perpetual Loyal last year, will race on InfoTrack, owned by Legal software supremo Christian Beck.
    The oldest boat in the race is the 86-year-old wooden Dorade, a famous American classic racing in its first Sydney to Hobart.

    The records

    In 2016, Perpetual Loyal won line honors — the first boat, irrespective of class, to cross the finish line — in a new record of one day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds.
    The super maxi broke the record of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes set by Wild Oats XI in 2012.
    The handicap prize, for the fastest boat based on adjusted time according to size and other factors, is known as the Tattersalls Cup.
    Last year’s winner, a 70-foot New Zealand boat named Giacomo (formerly Groupama 4, winner of the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race) took just over two days 16 hours to complete the route.
    Wild Oats XI is the only yacht other than inaugural winner Rani in 1945 to clinch the race treble of race record, line and handicap honors in the same year (2005, 2012). It was also the last of six yachts to have achieved line and handicap honors in the same race.
    Australian yachts Freya and Love and War have both won handicap honors a record three times.

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    The dangers

    The race is a serious undertaking with yachts and crews having to satisfy eligibility requirements to ensure they are fit for the challenge.
    The event is still haunted by the tragic 1998 edition, when a violent storm decimated the fleet on the second day.
    Winds gusting up to 80 knots (90 mph) and huge seas left six sailors dead, five yachts lost and seven abandoned. Of the 115 starters, only 44 yachts completed the race.
    A further 56 people were rescued in the largest peacetime search and rescue mission in Australia.

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