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Yacht sailing Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

While most people wake up early on 26 December for Boxing Day bargains, a handful of intrepid sailors wake up earlier for an even more daunting challenge. Once they've raised their sails, they're off on one of the world's most difficult and prestigious yacht races, the Sydney to Hobart.

The annual event sees maxi yachts and weekend racers from across the globe tackle the 628 nautical miles of sea separating Nielsen Park in Sydney Harbour and Hobart's Battery Point.

Each year, the stakes are raised. Starting with only nine entrants in 1945, the race has grown to accommodate around one hundred yachts and the record for fastest finish continues to be toppled. Most racers nowadays aim for a 40-hour completion time – dubbed the 'Holy Grail' by the sailors – relegating the first Sydney to Hobart record of roughly six and a half days to the realms of distant memory.

On race day, teamwork becomes as important as a good yacht and good weather with crews of between six and 24 working around the clock in each sloop. Sailors as old as 86 and as young as 18 (18 and three days, to be exact) have been known to complete the course. In recognition of their achievements, handicap prizes (which take into account each boat's capabilities) are handed out on top of line honours.

Once they've crossed the treacherously choppy and windy Bass Strait (known to racers as 'the paddock'), the yachts skirt Tasmania's east coast and into Storm Bay for a sprint down 12 nautical miles of the Derwent River. At this stage the race is often close: a chance change in breeze can unseat an expected winner. This makes it doubly important for spectators to gather on the Sullivans Cove foreshore to cheer on the competitors. After countless hours spent battling the sea, the exhausted crews can do with a final push of inspiration to get them over the line.

Whether or not they arrive in time for the 31 December fireworks, all race finishers are greeted by Hobart's Taste of Tasmania Festival, an annual waterfront celebration that continues into the new year.