Australia's most famous yacht race, the Sydney to Hobart, will boast one of its strongest fields in decades this year due to the nation's renewed competitiveness in sailing, organisers said Tuesday.
The race, which begins on Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day, runs 628 nautical miles down the east coast of Australia to the island of Tasmania, a punishing course known for its spectacular scenery and unpredictable weather.
This year five 100-foot super maxis, three 80-footers, fifteen 70-footers and 22 overseas boats will line up for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia-run race, and commodore Howard Piggott said it showed Australia's strong international sailing reputation.
"The calibre of this year's fleet shows that Australian sailing is back and back with a vengeance," he said.
"Australian yachtsmen and women enjoyed huge success at the 2012 Olympics and Australians figured prominently in the dramatic climax of the America's Cup.
"The fantastic response to compete in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is symptomatic of renewed competitiveness in sailing here."
Past CYCA commodore Matt Allen, whose 60-footer Ichi Ban is in the field, said it was the best fleet he had seen since the early 1980s.
"This is a grand prix racing fleet," he said.
Among the 100-foot supermaxis is six-time winner Wild Oats XI which last year completed a historic Sydney to Hobart triple crown, winning the overall handicap as well as line honours and breaking the race record with its time of one day, 18 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds.
International entries come from New Zealand, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Caledonia, Germany and Cyprus -- with 12 of them part of the Clipper Round the World Race fleet.
"This will be the most competitive offshore race ever," said Hong Konger Karl Kwok, who has entered his new New Zealand-built Botin 80 Beau Geste.
"There has never been a line-up of boats sailed at this high level in any offshore event."
The race has also attracted top crews, with those involved in the America's Cup and other major ocean races, including Oracle Team USA's Australian strategist Tom Slingsby, on boats this year.
"This will be my first Rolex Sydney Hobart and my first major offshore ocean race -- I haven't been sick on a yacht before -- only once when I was on a fishing boat offshore, so I'm curious as to how I'll fair," said Slingsby.
The Sydney to Hobart, which began in 1945, sees yachts race down the southeast mainland coast of Australia, across the dangerous Bass Strait, then along the east coast of Tasmania and up the Derwent River to the historic port of Hobart.