A Sailing Event Down Under Suddenly Gains a Global Reach


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Rambler 88, an 88-foot American maxi, racing Perpetual Loyal of Australia in Sydney Harbor this month.

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Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Before sailing in Australia’s great race, which started on Saturday in Sydney and will end in Hobart, the competitors and their yachts had to get to Sydney.

Increasingly, that is quite a journey in itself. The Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, once largely an Australian concern, is becoming more global.

Of the 109 entries this year, a record 28 are from outside the country — four more than the previous mark.

“I keep saying to the people around at our club here that we are not just a race between Sydney and Hobart; we are an international event,” said John Cameron, commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which organizes the annual race from Sydney Harbor across the Bass Strait to Hobart, on the island of Tasmania.

He added, “I think we’re seeing a resurgence in yachting and interest in yachting worldwide, and what we’re seeing are people who are prepared to invest a lot of time and effort into getting their boats to come a long way to come out to Australia to be part of our event.”

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Two of the boats that traveled the farthest are also two of the fastest in the fleet: Comanche and Rambler 88, which made it to Sydney by container ship from the United States.

But two of the international boats that could have the longest-lasting impact on the race sailed to Sydney with their own wind power: Ark323 and Shuguang Haiyang, the first two yachts from mainland China to take part in the race.

Major professional sailing events have tried to connect with the Chinese market for the last decade. A team representing China challenged for the 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia, Spain, and boats representing China have taken part in the Volvo Ocean Race, with Dongfeng Race Team finishing third in the 2014-15 edition.

But those campaigns came after considerable outreach, and while the boats sailed under the Chinese flag, many of the crews were non-Chinese (and often French). What is intriguing about the two entrants for the Sydney-Hobart race is that both boats will compete with all-Chinese crews. There are also four Chinese sailors on the Australian entry China Easyway.

“They came out of the blue,” Cameron said of the Chinese teams. “We weren’t aware they were even preparing for it.”

At a news conference last week in Sydney, Dong Qing, the skipper of the 42-foot Shuguang Haiyang, which is based in Shenzhen, said that “sailing is becoming more and more popular” in China.

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Another major Australian sporting event, the Australian Open tennis tournament, has carefully cultivated the Asian market. Its efforts received a big boost when Li Na reached the Australian Open women’s singles final three times, winning in 2014.

But the Sydney-Hobart race has attracted the Chinese without much effort, even though the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has hosted some Chinese delegations exploring the idea.

“There are two boats this year, and they’ve got six or seven boats they say they are preparing for future years,” Cameron said. “I hope they do well because that is going to add to the interest.”

Twelve British yachts competing in the Clipper Round the World Race will also take part in the Sydney-Hobart this year.

Comanche, a 100-foot American super maxi, and Rambler dueled for monohull line honors at the Rolex Fastnet Race in August, with Comanche winning by just four and a half minutes.

Comanche, christened late last year, required a major push to get ready for the 2014 Sydney-Hobart race, where it finished second to Wild Oats XI for line honors. Given the logistics, the original plan was not to return until 2016. But the boat’s owners, Jim and Kristy Clark, changed the plan several months ago.

Wild Oats XI’s participation was never in doubt. It has taken line honors eight times in the past 10 years. There have been many modifications during that span in a successful attempt to stay competitive, but nothing has been as radical as this year’s surgery to its composite hull. Two meters were cut off the stern to allow for a lengthened bow.

“It’s not an old boat,” Comanche’s skipper, Ken Read, said of Wild Oats XI. “It’s a brand-new boat in its own right. They’ve done a really nice job over the years keeping up with current times.”

Correction: December 26, 2015

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misstated the length of the Rambler boat. It is 88 feet, not 100.



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