North to Hobart
“What do you think?” asks author and journalist Peter FitzSimons in his weekly sports column the Fitz Files. Like many, he thinks the Sydney to Hobart yacht race has become “Pretty ho-hum. I mean … do you even remember who won? Me, neither. If it wasn’t for the great tradition of it, none but the yachties would care.”One of his readers, Dean Gibson, has an idea to revitalise it. “What about a handicap race, whereby – instead of some complex equation that most of us can’t work out, to determine who won – the handicap comes down to extra distance.”
He suggests, all the yachts start as usual in the Harbour but, outside the Heads, the fastest boats turn north and head up the coast first! Depending on how fast they are they must first round a buoy at Pittwater, Gosford, Newcastle or thereabouts and then set sail for Hobart. “That way … you do away with the whole line-honours nonsense. It would be a race like the Melbourne Cup.”
From the public’s point of view, which is influenced by the daily media especially TV, the idea is headed in the right direction. They’ve been led to believe first across the line “wins” the race.
Yachties know better, of course, and don’t care what the media or the public thinks. It’s one of the most famous ocean races in the world and one of the prime sporting events of the Aussie summer – why mess with success?
However, it’s not much simpler than the existing system – and it’s still handicapping. There would still be whinging about how far north individual boats must sail. How is that marked and enforced? How is that distance to be calculated if not by some formula to do with boat speed … which is exactly how they are handicapped now? You would have a hodge-podge where nobody would have any idea who is actually leading until the end. Mind you the mass finish could be pretty exciting!
If they really want to make it like the Melbourne Cup, where the handicap is weight, then why not do exactly that? Weight becomes the only handicap and first over the line is the winner. Imagine Wild Oats XI with 150 crew on board and the race committee announcing “Weight’s right” as they check the winning boat.
Theoretically if one has enough money it’s possible to sail the Hobart on remote control. We have the power sources, we have the sensors, we have the cameras – if it was not for the rules, with enough money you could do it all sitting at home. The start might be a bit complicated but thereafter all you need is a case of beer and a constant supply of food. The ultimate video game! Even better, you could still do it when you’re 90!