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Solstice celebrations, Sydney Hobart, Global Solo Challenge, Ocean Globe Race 2023

by David Schmidt 19 Dec 2023 16:00 GMT December 19, 2023
A view of Bellingham Bay from Clark Point © David Schmidt

There are a lot of great holiday traditions in the world, all of which deserve celebration and recognition. Even my own strange little nod to the annual "low tide". You see, dear reader, I live at 48.5 degrees north latitude, a place that, on the Winter Solstice, receives a mere 8 hours, 15 minutes, and 44 seconds of illumination. Given that this is barely two offshore watches worth of lumens, I make a point of raising a glass to mark this "stingy solstice" (December 21 at 1927 hours) each year.

After all, this might be the shortest bit of daylight that will greet Bellingham, Washington, in a year, but it also comes with the guarantee that - for the next six months - every day will be longer than the one before. Talk about a Christmas present that no-one will ever return!

My small salutation isn't much, but it's my small way of accepting that, at least here in North America, this is a time when fields are fallow, trees are empty of leaves, and - in many parts of the continent - boats are carefully wrapped like presents for a different season.

It's also a time when I use my fast internet connection and my knowledge of international sailing events to live vicariously.

And, if there's one sailboat race on the planet that fits this bill better than any, it's the annual Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, which will start on Boxing Day (December 26) on the waters of Sydney Harbor.

Granted, the race is "only" 628 nautical miles, so it doesn't provide the same kind of extended armchair navigation opportunities that are afforded by longer races, but, like the tide and the solstice, it arrives at a predicable time each year.

Better still, it predictably provides some of the world's best offshore racing.

There's another big tactical advantage of this race for North American Grinches (my hand is aloft!). As noted, the Sydney Hobart begins on Boxing Day, which (given the 19-hour delta between Seattle and Sydney) means that the race will be starting right around the time that the gifts have been unwrapped, the eggnog supply has dwindled to a shadow of its former self, and two distant relatives start squaring off about next year's election from different sides of the ballot.

My mind is already on the supermaxis and whether there's a chance that a new race record might get established.

Really, there's a heck of a lot to love about the Sydney Hobart, even if you're stuck on the wrong side of the planet to physically engage this classic bluewater contest.

And, for anyone who needs a bit more boost than 628 nautical miles to get them through these darkest of days (spoiler alert: the supermaxis will likely be tied to a dock in Hobart less than 48 hours after starting), there are two other major offshore races under way. Namely, the Global Solo Challenge, which is a non-stop, pursuit-style race around the three great capes, and the Ocean Globe Race 2023, which is a fully-crewed affair that circles the world via a series of stage races.

For anyone just tuning in to the Global Solo Challenge, American sailors are firmly in the hunt, proudly led by Cole Brauer and Ronnie Simpson, who have been engaged in a kind of high-latitude match race. As mentioned, this is a pursuit-style race (read: the tortoises started first), so while Phillipe Delamare aboard Mogwgli is still in the pole position, Brauer and Simpson are rapidly catching up.

As of this writing, Delamare was solidly east of New Zealand, while Brauer and Simpson are still solidly west (and south) of Western Australia.

While I have followed Simpson's sailing for years and was expecting a strong showing from him (he's a very experienced and talented sailor), I continuously find myself celebrating Brauer's sparkling performance to date, and I cannot help but cheer her on to win the whole thing.

To date, the only female skippers to have won an around-the-world race are Australian Wendy Tuck, who earned this honor when she won the 2017-2018 Clipper Round the World Race, and South African Kirsten Neuschäfer who recently won the Golden Globe Race 2022.

Personally, I'd love to celebrate Brauer's victory in 2024, but, if nothing else, this bold sailor is showing the world that she's got speed to burn, and - at least so far - can more than handle the Southern Ocean on her own terms.

(For those not familiar, Brauer, who stands 5'2" and weighs 100 pounds, was turned down by The Ocean Race teams for being too small for the Southern Ocean.)

Meanwhile, in the Ocean Globe Race 2023 (and as of this writing on Monday morning, December 18, U.S. West Coast time), the first ten teams have now completed Leg Two of this retro race, which took the fleet from Cape Town, South Africa, to Auckland, New Zealand.

Skipper Vittorio Malingri and his crew aboard Translated 9 were the first to crack the finishing line after more than 36 days and 7,500 nautical miles of racing.

"We went south, you have to go south, that is how you sail around the world," said Malingri in an official race communication. "Some days in the fog it was one degree, four degrees. We didn't see the sun for two weeks! But we are so happy to be here. New Zealand is an amazing country."

Translated 9 was joined across the finishing line by skipper Marie Tabarly and her Pen Duick VI crew, and by skipper Jussi Paavoseppä and his Spirit of Helsinki crew.

Sail-World wishes safe passage to all solo sailors racing in the Global Solo Challenge, to all fully crewed boats racing in the Ocean Globe Race 2023, and to all crewed and two-handed teams that are competing in the Sydney Hobart race.

On small personal note, as this is my last Sail-World newsletter of 2023, I extend my best wishes to all readers for a happy and spirited holiday season (irrespective of one's traditions, even my own silly one), and for a happy, healthy, and successful 2024.

Finally, for anyone stuck contending with a lump of stocking coal, an ugly pair of argyle socks, or (worse) a holiday spent alone, focus on the waxing daylight, and remember: those boats that are wrapped like holiday presents for a different season won't be landlocked forever.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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