And what exactly are the Roaring Forties, you ask? The term refers to the region between forty and fifty degrees south latitude, a region of extremely strong easterly winds.
But what does that have to do with watches? Well it turns out, Rolex sponsors a point to point yacht race, the Rolex Sydney Hobart every Boxing Day (celebrated on December 26th). 100 or more ocean-going yachts race from Sydney, Australia to Hobart, Tasmania.
Most years, the race occurs without much incident beyond the normal trials and tribulations of blue water yacht racing. Some years all hell breaks loose. This was one of those years.
A huge storm system presented itself right around the time the starter’s gun sounded. Strong southerly winds hit sailors smack in the face as they exited Sydney Harbor and headed for Hobart. Some tried to go wide to avoid the storm. Others tried to face it head-on.
Race Start (photo - Rolex/ Daniel Forster)
The results were not good. By the time the race was 24 hours old (the record is around 42 hours), roughly 25% of the boats had retired with a variety of troubles – broken masts, torn mainsails, wrecked rudders, etc.
Perennial favorite, defending champion, and 8-time winner, Wild Oats XI was done early and limped back to Sydney to call it a year. Another favorite, Comanche, tore up her rudder and turned back as well. The crew didn’t give up though. They effected repairs, turned Comanche around after 30 nautical miles … and ended up winning the race. Line honors, they call it. First across the line of all the boats in all the classes.
As I’m writing this, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 30, a third of the yachts still in the race have not yet crossed the finish line. Another 31 have retired.