“For me, the best system is one where I spend a lot of time before the race laying out the plan with the whole crew, and especially the key decision makers, and then working to execute the plan,” Oxley said. “I always take advantage of previous day leaders asking questions and probing my recommendations to improve final decisions.”
The knowledge of the crew also counts. Honey said he briefed the crew on deck every two or three hours. “The better they understand it, the better they’ll sail,” he said, adding that it helps sailors negotiate gusts, lulls and unexpected squalls.
Communication is especially important if a strategic move that results in a loss of position in the short term is made for a better position later, or when decisions are not obvious. “I’m clarifying if I’m 90% on a recommendation or if it’s closer to 50-50,” Oxley said.
And in the Sydney Hobart, jump-ball calls may apply all the way to the finish line.
While most of the miles in the race involve exposed coastal or offshore sailing, the flowing River Derwent provides the final crux of the race.
May described the Derwent as miles of frustration, a time when sailors have to play their lucky cards. The arrival time is crucial. Most afternoons and evenings enjoy a helpful breeze, while most nights are calm. “The light winds will only allow you to pass along the shore, keeping you clear of the cross current,” May said of the nighttime arrivals.
Cahalan added that many races have been won and lost in the river.
Add up the race variables, coupled with its attrition rate, and there’s no doubt that this race attracts world-class sailors, who keep coming back.
“It’s so complicated and so difficult for the browser,” Honey said. “It’s my favorite race because it’s the hardest.”