Melbourne to Hobart (Westcoaster) Yacht race

About the Race

Distance:  435 Nautical miles                              


Safety Category:     2  
Start Location: Portsea pier  
Start Time:  1430 AEST  
Start Date: 27th December 2021  
Race Record:

1d 17h 28m 59s 

by SHORTWAVE in 2008


Arguably Australia’s most challenging ocean race, the Melbourne to Hobart starts from Portsea Pier on 27th December each year. The course takes the competitors out of Port Phillip, across Bass Strait, travelling down the rugged West Coast of Tasmania and rounding the southernmost tip of Australia before heading up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart.

This is a race run for yachties by yachties. It presents an amazing challenge of seamanship and navigation and is run with a level of spirit and camaraderie not often seen - great sailors working hard to earn the right to wear the yellow cap of a West Coast racer.

The 435 nautical mile blue-water classic Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race was the brainchild of Stan Gibson from Hobson’s Bay Yacht Club in Melbourne and Dr Joe Cannon at Derwent Sailing Squadron in Hobart. It was intended as a challenging alternative for Victorian and South Australian sailors who wanted to be in Hobart for the celebrations but did not want the logistical hassle of getting the yacht up to Sydney to compete in the Sydney to Hobart.

The then fearsome reputation of the west coast of Tasmania, ensured that the proposed new race was viewed with scepticism. However, Stan Gibson’s analysis of the summer weather patterns along the west coast overcame the critics. The inaugural 1972 race attracted 15 entries, increasing steadily over the next 20 years to typical fleet sizes of 20 – 30 boats.

Now in its 46th year, and despite the early reservations, the race has a proven and enviable safety record. This is a tribute to the careful preparation of the hundreds of boat crews who have now completed the race without major incident and to the careful management and education programs put in place by the ORCV, a leader in ocean racing safety in Australia.

The race presents in five parts, each with its own challenges. The Bass Strait crossing to the gap between King Island and the north west corner, the north west corner (Cape Grim) to the South West Cape (the west coast), the South West Cape and Maatsuyker Island to Whale Head (the south coast), Whale Head across the bottom of Bruny Island and into Storm Bay and finally the Derwent into Hobart.\

The race starts in Bass Strait, a notorious piece of water which often experiences strong South Westerlies at this time of year. The duration of the passage across Bass Strait can vary substantially and, in this first section of the race, management of the approach to the gap between King Island and the North West corner of Tasmania is a major challenge for navigators. With strong tidal flows and localised wind conditions in this area, navigational tactics for exiting Bass Strait can significantly affect a yacht’s overall result. The West Coast proper starts at Cape Grim. Although the wind is often from the West or North West, there are many challenges in this section. This is a wild and beautiful part of the world not seen by many sailors. Below Macquarie Harbour, we leave the last vestiges of “civilisation” behind and don’t rejoin them until we reach Bruny Island.

The World Heritage South Coast can often be the highlight of the trip. The South West Cape, South Coast and offshore islands are some of the most beautiful areas of the world and the sail across gives you a view of these from a perspective rarely granted to the land based bush walker. It can also be an area of excitement as you are sailing on the edge of the Southern Ocean with strong Westerlies driving the yachts hard from behind and raising massive swells. Maatsuyker Island is the most southerly mark of the course but in strong westerly conditions the fleet may continue further south east until they can gybe onto a clear heading for South East Cape and Whale Head.

Past Whale Head, the end of the South Coast, the fleet heads east north east around Bruny Island and the Friars. Some yachts with local knowledge have been known to go through the Friars but most tend to go around and avoid tempting fate. Past the Friars and the yachts enter Storm Bay proper. At this stage, you often gain sight of yachts in the other race. Tactics vary according to the wind. Most yachts will try and keep clear of the high headlands along Bruny Island which can often throw wind shadows.

The race can be won or lost on the fickle section up the Derwent River. Ideally no one wants to be caught in the river at nightfall. Local knowledge can be so valuable here as the Derwent offers the experience of complex wind patterns and mechanisms.
The warmest of welcomes awaits the finishers at the Elizabeth Street Pier. It is a point of honour in this race that no yacht finishes unheralded and many a yachty has been roused from the local watering holes or comfy berth to meet late night or early morning finishers. Somehow a cold slab is always produced no matter what the time and the previous finishers raise three cheers in honour of the crew.

The Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster is part of the 3 Race Sovereign Series which includes the ORCV Cock of the Bay and DSS King of the Derwent races.

Race History

 Year  IRC  AMS  PHS  Line DHD
2017 Alien(R880) - Justin Brenan Alien(R880) - Justin Brenan Magique (9567) - Maurice Contessi & Martin Vaughan Spirit of Downunder (R1200) - Lawrence Ford Force 11 (3152) - Tristan Gourlay @ Jamie Cooper
2016   Cadibarra 8 (R420) - Paul Roberts Cadibarra 8 (R420) - Paul Roberts Cadibarra 8 (R420) - Paul Roberts Cadibarra 8 (R420) - Paul Roberts Lord Jiminy (Sm119) - Chris Barlow
2015 eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz  
2014 Seduction (M406) - Richard Nichols Seduction (M406) - Richard Nichols Seduction (M406) - Richard Nichols Spirit of Downunder (R1200) - Lawrence Ford  
2013 eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz Tevake II (H101) - Angus Fletcher Tevake II (H101) - Angus Fletcher eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz  
2012 Bandit (Sm4040) - Ashley Trebilcock Tevake II (H101) - Angus Fletcher Tevake II (H101) - Angus Fletcher eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz  
2011 eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz Alien (R880) - Justin Brenan Alien (R880) - Justin Brenan eXtasea (G4646R) - Paul Buchholz  
2010 Enchantress (SA346) - John Muirhead Enchantress (SA346) - John Muirhead Enchantress (SA346) - John Muirhead Gusto (B660) - Brian Pattinson  
2009 Jazz Player (S390) - Andrew Lawrence Alien (R880) - Justin Brenan Jazz Player (S390) - Andrew Lawrence Jazz Player (S390) - Andrew Lawrence  
2008 Shortwave (52052) - Mathew Short Tevake II (H101) - Angus Fletcher Spirit of Downunder (R1200) - Laurie Ford Shortwave (52052) - Mathew Short  

Not run - See Eastcoaster

Not run - See Eastcoaster

Not run - See Eastcoaster

Not run - See Eastcoaster

2006 A Crewed Interest - Eddie Ragauskas/Martin Vaughan A Crewed Interest - Eddie Ragauskas/Martin Vaughan A Crewed Interest - Eddie Ragauskas/Martin Vaughan No Fearr - Matthew Hannaford  
2005 Quetzalcoatl - Joshua Ey Tevake II - Angus Fletcher By Order of the Secretary - George Shaw Helsal II - Bill Rawson  
2004 Under Capricorn - Phil Bedlington Under Capricorn - Phil Bedlington Under Capricorn - Phil Bedlington Quetzalcoatl - Joshua Ey  
2003 Magazan 53 - Gary Rowswell Wavelength - John McGill Rumbeat - Geoff Henderson Indec Merit - David Gotze/Ian Treleaven