Sydney to Hobart yacht race winning times


The Sydney-Hobart yacht race starts from Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day (26 December) and finishes several days later in Hobart.
It is a 630 nautical mile ocean race.
yatchs going through sydney habour heads
Picture right:
Sydney to Hobart in 1990: A flotilla going through the Sydney harbour taken from North Head.

Here are the winning times for 1945 to 2011.
Year Line Honours Winner days Hours Minutes Time
1945 Rani 6 14 22 6.60
1946 Morna 5 2 53 5.12
1947 Morna 5 3 3 5.13
1948 Morna 4 5 1 4.21
1949 Waltzing Matilda 5 10 33 5.44
1950 Margaret Rintoul 5 5 28 5.23
1951 Margaret Rintoul 4 2 29 4.10
1952 Nocturne 6 2 34 6.11
1953 Solveig 5 7 12 5.30
1954 Kurrewa IV 5 6 9 5.26
1955 Even 4 18 13 4.76
1956 Kurrewa IV 4 4 31 4.19
1957 Kurrewa IV 3 18 30 3.77
1958 Solo 5 2 32 5.11
1959 Solo 4 13 33 4.56
1960 Kurrewa IV 4 8 11 4.34
1961 Astor 4 4 42 4.20
1962 Ondine 3 3 46 3.16
1963 Astor 4 10 53 4.45
1964 Astor 3 20 5 3.84
1965 Stormvogel 3 20 30 3.85
1966 Fidelis 4 8 39 4.36
1967 Pen Duick III 4 4 10 4.17
1968 Ondine II 4 30 20 5.26
1969 Crusade 3 15 7 3.63
1970 Buccaneer 3 14 6 3.59
1971 Kialoa 3 12 46 3.53
1972 American Eagle 3 4 42 3.20
1973 Helsal 3 1 32 3.06
1974 Ondine III 3 13 51 3.58
1975 Kialoa 2 14 36 2.61
1976 Ballyhoo 3 7 59 3.33
1977 Kialoa II 3 10 14 3.43
1978 Apollo 4 2 23 4.10
1979 Bumblebee IV 3 1 45 3.07
1980 New Zealand 2 18 45 2.78
1981 Vengeance 3 22 30 3.94
1982 Condor of Bermuda 3 0 59 3.04
1983 Condor 3 0 50 3.03
1984 New Zealand 3 11 21 3.47
1985 Apollo 3 4 32 3.19
1986 Condor of Bermuda 2 23 26 2.98
1987 Sovereign 2 21 58 2.92
1988 Ragamuffin 3 15 29 3.65
1989 Drumbeat 3 6 21 3.26
1990 Ragamuffin 2 21 5 2.88
1991 Brindabella 3 1 14 3.05
1992 New Zealand Endeavour 2 1 19 2.80
1993 Ninety Seven 4 0 54 4.04
1994 Tasmania 2 17 48 2.74
1995 Sayonara 3 0 53 3.04
1996 Morning Glory 2 14 7 2.59
1997 Brindabella 2 23 37 2.98
1998 Sayonara 2 20 3.5 2.84
1999 Nokia 1 19 48 1.83
2000 Nicorette 2 14 2 2.58
2001 Assa Abloy 2 20 46 2.87
2002 Alfa Romeo 2 4 58 2.21
2003 Skandia 2 15 14 2.63
2004 Nicorette 2 16 1 2.67
2005 Wild Oats XI 1 18 40 1.78
2006 Wild Oats XI 2 8 53 2.37
2007 Wild Oats XI 1 21 25 1.89
2008 Wild Oats XI 1 20 34 1.86
2009 Alfa Romeo II 2 9 2 2.38
2010 Wild Oats XI 2 7 37 2.32
2011 Investec Loyal 2 6 14 2.26

The data for 1945-1993 comes from the Sydney Morning Herald (24 December 1994). The more recent data are from the official race website, the Sydney Morning Herald and Wikipedia. The data originally published included an error in the 1965 results; it has been amended here.

The winning time (first across the line) varies quite a bit due to weather and improvements in boat design and sailing techniques. What has been the pattern of improvement over time?

sydhob1

Winning times have generally decreased, from around 6 days to around 2.6 days on average.

How can we describe the pattern further? Using statistical methods to put a straight line on the graph (regression) gives this:

sydhob2

One way to describe the decrease is with a straight line. The straight line above was fitted by linear regression, giving time in days = 98.6 - 0.0480 x year. This describes the decrease quite well.  However, we should be cautious about applying this model to future races. For instance, extrapolating suggests that by the year 2033 it will take, on average, around 1 day to win, and by the year 2055 the winning boat will arrive before it leaves!

Are there other ways to describe the changes?  Another alternative method fits lines to only parts of the data and joins the results, like this:

sydhob3
This type of method allows for some curving by fitting straight lines to subsets of consecutive years. It makes some other adjustments and is known as 'locally weighted regression', or 'lowess' for short. The lowess curve is shown above. It shows that after about 1975 the rate of improvement slowed down.  The lowess curve helps visualize the changes over time, but it does not give us a formal mathematical model of the change over time.