YACHTING: Calling Asia

Organisers seek more boat racers

Tony Kirby, skipper of handicap favourite Patrice Six, holds the Sydney-Hobart Ocean Sailing Race trophy in Sydney yesterday. AFP pic

SYDNEY: AUSTRALIA’S bluewater Sydney to Hobart sailing  race Wednesday called for more boats from Asia, as one of the organisers said  Europe’s financial woes could be hurting the size of the fleet.  

 Eighty-eight boats are expected to line up in Sydney Harbour on Dec  26  to begin the treacherous 628-nautical-mile race down southeast Australia to  Hobart, the capital of the island of Tasmania.

   Overwhelmingly they are Australia-based yachts, with only a handful coming  from the United States, Britain, Hong Kong, France or New Zealand.

   “We are always looking to do what we can to try to encourage international  people to come here,” Garry Linacre, commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of  Australia, which organises the race, told journalists.

   “Unfortunately… we don’t govern the world economy.”    Linacre said the race, which often features appalling weather conditions  such as the 1998 storms in which six people died, said while a number of this  year’s competitors campaigned heavily in Asia, more visitors were welcome.

   But with competitors facing gale force winds and towering seas only to be  met with a tense lull in the final stretch in the Derwent River heading into  Hobart, he acknowledged it was not for everyone.

   “Basically a lot of the Asian people are more people that probably like to  go out of Sydney Heads (the entrance to Sydney Harbour) and turn left (north to  the warmer climate of Queensland) instead of right,” Linacre said.

   “And they are much more attuned, and their boats are much more attuned, to  lighter weather sailing and there’s a lot of lighter conditions that prevail in  Asia.

   “But again, we will do everything we can to encourage Asian people to come  here and sail in our races.”

   Linacre said the race had had Asian participation over the years, and two  boats from Hong Kong were set to start this year — Ffreefire 52 and Strewth —  in the competition’s 67th race.

   “But we’re not seeing the Thailand boats and the Japanese haven’t been here  for a while. Hopefully we can keep working on that. I would very much like to  see more,” he said.

   He added that it might be easier to bring more foreign competitors into the  race if New Zealand were successful in establishing a new race around the same  time.

   “We are doing everything we can to help them… because I would say if  there were two iconic ocean races in the Southern Hemisphere within a month of  one another in the future, then that would be a major thing,” Linacre said.

   The race attracts yachts as small as 30-footers  and as big as  100-footers, sailed by crews who range from weekend club sailors to  full professionals.  AFP

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