Ocean Racing Club of Victoria
Richard Bennett

The 2022 Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race – 50 Years in the Makings

With the 2022 Melbourne to Hobart skippers and sailors safely back in their home ports, and their weary bodies well and truly recovered from the challenges of the Westcoaster, we turn now to reflect upon the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s greatest ocean races.

This race was 50 years in the making – from the lightbulb moment when Stan Gibson and Dr Joe Cannon hatched the idea for the West Coast race as an attractive alternative for sailors from Victoria and South Australia. It freed them from the hassle of getting their boats to Sydney and allowed them to enjoy Christmas with their families. It promised challenge and adventure, a variety of sailing conditions and stunning scenery along the way. And finishing in Hobart meant they would not miss the festivities around Constitution Dock and the opportunity to ring in the new year surrounded by like-minded folkhaving sailed a different tactical race – surely on the bucket list of sailors the world over.

The 50th anniversary race started on a sublime summer day on Port Phillip Bay – a day of glorious sunshine, heat and stunning colours, fittingly marked by a touching sail past tribute to Sir Donald Trescowthick, ORCV life members, supporters and sponsors.  

The fleet was brimming with sailors tackling the race for the first time; female sailors and skippers had increased in numbers; and the two-handed crews were as ready as they would ever be. The excitement and trepidation were palpable and the forecast fair.

And at 12pm on the 27th of December 2022, the race management team bid the fleet farewell.

But not everything went to plan for every team. 

Maritimo started well but a tactical error saw them give up the lead to the slick and highly fancied Scarlet Runner. Scaramouche sought safety in Strahan when the crew had difficulty finding the source of water entering the hull, and there were plenty of stories of shredded sails and egos when a westerly front hit the fleet, with some skippers lamenting they misjudged the timing of the intense weather pattern. A few of the smaller boats retired and motored to the finish line after a gallant effort sailing through the heaving westerly swells to then be becalmed, while another crew battled coronavirus for most of the race.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2022 and sailors, families, supporters, sponsors, race management and volunteers are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the race, basking in the golden glow of the late afternoon sun in Hobart. 

And what a journey it was. ​

The Ocean Racing Club of Victoria’s safety and training courses and race briefings were well patronised by the anniversary fleet.

There were those that feared what lay ahead and leaned heavily into the science to understand, predict and prepare for the race to Hobart, while others had quiet confidence in their boat and their crew and were reasonably relaxed about the race. 

There were some who nervously mused whether the West Coast would live up to its ‘wild’ reputation; and for others, the biggest challenge was simply making the start line.  

But what did the 50th anniversary race show us, what will the history books teach the avid sailing student about the Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race?

Hartbreaker is all set for a good race to to Hobart in the 50th Anniversary Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race Photo credit Steb Fisher

It is difficult to put into words the complex emotions etched on the sun and wind-burnt faces of the sailors as they shared their stories, as they clapped and cheered each arriving boat, and as they warmly embraced their teammates and loved ones, dockside in Hobart. For some, the opportunity to eat a local meat pie and wash it down with a Tassie brew and to put on the participation medal and be able to wear the yellow Westcoaster cap meant words were not needed; well, for a short time at least. 

Sitting amongst the sailors as they tidied up their boats and reflected upon their safe arrival in Hobart, what stood out were the smiles of relief and the pride - pride in personal achievement, in the performance of the boat, and pride in the performance of the team.

For mine, the rich narrative in the sailing annals should reflect the deep essence of this remarkable race – an essence that combines strong camaraderie with deep respect for the ocean, nature and each other; leadership, both on and off the water, especially in the professional administration of the race; preparation on all levels; and perseverance in the face of challenge.

This is a race that exposes the fleet to all that is wild and wonderful about ocean racing - from the tactical challenges off the start line and navigating around King Island, to the stunning bird and sealife and lee shores of the rugged West Coast of Tasmania and the magic, yet ruggedly beautiful Maatsuyker Island. And as if Mother Nature has put a cherry on the top for the racing fleet, there is the enormity and achievement of sailing on the edge of the world’s most pristine and remote Southern Ocean.

In the words of the 2022 race-winning skipper, Michael Spies from Maritimo “…until you have actually competed in it, you don’t realise what a challenging race it is, the love that there is for the race, and the history of the race… it is truly one of the world’s great ocean races.”

Until 2023… enjoy this highlight of the start


Jane Austin / ORCV Media 


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