Monday 5 January 2009

Sydney to Hobart Start Mayhem

After a planned catch up with some old mates on Boxing Day got canned, I thought it might be a good idea to go for a paddle among the spectator fleet watching the start of the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Sydney Harbour.
Rob was happy to join in my lunacy, so we arranged to meet down at Vaucluse Bay & paddle across to South Head just before the race start. We weaved our way through the fleet until we reached Camp Cove, where a Waterways guy motored over to check our credentials.

Rob greets his legions of admirers on South Head
Deciding we knew what we were doing (just as well he did because I wasn't so sure) he pointed us to the best spot & advised us to stick in tight to South head once the gun went off. Anyway, as we reached South Head a bunch of ski paddlers went tearing past heading for the edge of the course - at this point there was about 5 minutes to go before the gun. I convinced a reluctant Mercer that it would be a good idea to go out to the edge as well, so we threaded through again for a better look.

Rob Mercer - 'Are you sure this is a good idea, mate?'

A big police jet ski then picked us out & the smiling fuzz gave us a very friendly warning that he couldn’t guarantee our safety once the fleet started to move. We decided it might be better to head for the cover of the reef at South head.
The gun went off & the Maxi's started to charge, and the spectator fleet fairly raced out to the heads alongside the yachts. It was like a 16 lane freeway of churning whitewater with Sydney's flotilla of Gin Palaces tearing along at breakneck speed - think the running of the bulls on water.

Wakes rolling through the heads

The risks the motorboat skippers were willing to take with their own safety & ours on the shallow reef at South Head was something to behold – we very quickly had 40ft cruisers tearing past within a boat length of our spot on the 3m deep reef to get a gap on the rest of the spectator fleet.

Boat shoes, striped shirts, big boats, no brains

Obviously they’re wealthy enough to own one of these beasts, so they’re also wealthy enough to pay for the repairs. If we had stayed where I had wanted to go – note my preference, not Mr Mercer’s – we would have most likely found ourselves in game of dodgem with 10,000 charging half-pissed skippers in boat shoes & striped shirts.
The water surface went from a small chop being spun up by a 10 knot Nor' Easter, to an awesome frothing whitewater which presented us with some great technical paddling. This of course was the real reason I went out there......

The Gin Palace charge

Within about 10 minutes the combined boat wakes were pushing metre+ waves out of the harbour, so to our delight we caught a few waves out of Sydney Harbour, which was a first. Anyway, we caught wave after wave from the South head reef all the way around to the Gap & had a ball.

The crowds on Sydney's Gap
We stayed clear of the mad buggers in the Gin Palaces & rode their wakes & wash for the next hour or so.

Only the masts are visible above the wash
It was only a bit later in the day I realised that we & the mad ski dudes were the only paddlers out in amongst it, probably for good reason.
We followed it up with a six pack on the sand at Watson’s Bay & paddled back to our cars.

The crowds depart Watto Bay while we suck on a few Boags....
An awesome afternoon, but think twice about mixing it with the boats if you plan on going out next year…!
Eventual Winner Wild Oats leaves the heads


  1. Hi Mark,
    I found the best spot to view the race was behind the big red channel marker near Camp Cove.
    This puts you next to the race course and gives "some" protection from the hordes of spectator craft.
    Last time I parked there I had a 50ft tug in the eddy behind me so he thought it was a good location as well :)


  2. That did cross our minds as we headed out, but I was pushing for some more wave action. If I'm being truthful, the yachts were about the last thing I was interested in - the wash created by the spectator fleet was the real drawcard....


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