Winning line honours may be the Sydney to Hobart yacht race's
glamour trophy, but securing overall victory remains the
purist's holy grail.
The famous 628-nautical mile race is now so utterly dominated
by cash and technology that only the largest and most
expensive boats ever stand a chance of reaching Tasmania
And there's nothing wrong with that - line honours is an
exciting, design-driven pursuit, not unlike modern Formula
But imagine Mark Webber's Red Bull car with all its modern
gadgets going up against Ayrton Senna's late 1980s McLaren
and you get an idea of the gulf between some of the
To level the playing field the handicap system exists to
ensure even the smallest vessels have a chance of overall
victory - provided they sail brilliantly and have Lady Luck
The Tattersall's Cup is awarded to the yacht that finishes
the race fastest, once boat size and other handicap factors
are taken into consideration.
And that means dozens of ordinary skippers in this year's
Sydney-Hobart, which starts today, can dream of reaching the
very top of their sport.
"The Tattersall's Cup is the pinnacle of sporting
achievements," Wild Rose skipper Roger Hickman, the 1993
handicap winner, said.
Hickman's 43-foot yacht is less than half the length of 2012
line honours favourite Wild Oats XI and has little in the way
of its high-tech gadgets or cutting-edge design. Yet the
handicap system means it's totally in the running for overall
And the same goes for at least another 25 boats in this
year's 77-boat fleet including Matt Allen's Ichi Ban and Jim
Black Jack, the 66-foot Reichel Pugh class yacht, is another
contender and skipper Mark Radford says good fortune plays as
much of a role as good sailing.
"The wind can stop or change direction, which is the lottery
part of ocean racing," he said.
How the handicap system works
*Yacht racing handicaps are similar to the system in golf -
they're designed to level the playing field between boats of
different sizes and design.
*Sydney-Hobart organisers use the IRC handicap system, the
details of which remain secret to prevent yacht designers
creating boats that could take advantage of the rules.
*Under the IRC rule, a yacht owner takes a series of fairly
straightforward measurements of his or her yacht; the length,
weight, overhangs and sail sizes, whether the boat has a
fixed or canting keel, water ballast, carbon fibre or
*That information is sent to the Rating Office of the Royal
Ocean Racing Club in the UK, which then issues a rating for
the boat, which is basically a multiplier of the boat's
elapsed time during a race.
*Each hour the boat takes to finish is multiplied by its
rating time handicap factor to produce its corrected time.
The higher the rating, the bigger the multiplier, the bigger
the difference between handicap time and elapsed time.