With these words, Captain James Cook recorded his discovery of the east coast of Australia in his sea journal. In his first voyage of exploration, he had crossed the Pacific to Tahiti and then, under secret British Admiralty orders, sailed due south to determine if there was a great southern continent south of latitude 40 degrees. Reaching this latitude, he continued west, disproving the notion of a mysterious continent, and more importantly, accurately charting the north and south islands of New Zealand. From New Zealand he continued west across the Tasman Sea until he discovered the southeast tip of Australia.

Although he did not know it at the time, Cook was in Bass Strait, the 100-plus nautical mile wide channel between Australia and Tasmania. From this location west, no point of land intervenes until you track nearly two-thirds of the way around the world, back to the coast of Argentina. It is the notorious Southern Ocean, and in the vast distance between the Cape of Good Hope and Southern Australia, great storms build and pour their fury through the narrow and shallow waters of Bass Strait and into the Tasman Sea.

Cook caught the tag end of one such storm; it propelled HM Bark Endeavor to the northeast, past Bermagui, Batesman Bay, Jervis Bay, and finally to a bay he described as “tolerably well sheltered from all winds, into which I resolved to go with the ship.” Due to the wealth of new and unusual plants discovered there, he named it Botany Bay. Later colonists would settle on Sydney as a more favorable location.

In 1945, following the end of World War II, a small group of sailors decided to race from Sydney south to Hobart, the largest city on the island of Tasmania, a distance of around 628 nautical miles. The race effectively follows Cook’s course, but in the opposite direction, and then continues further south across Bass Strait and along the east coast of Tasmania into Hobart. Since then, every year on December 26 (Boxing Day), the race has been run.

Some sailors consider the Sydney-Hobart race to be jinxed—every seventh year, they claim, the weather turns really nasty, as occurred in 1970, 1977, and 1984. The trend came to a halt in 1991, disproving the myth, but ironically returned with a vengeance in 1998.

Peter Lewis, a veteran of six races or, as he puts it, “more accurately, five and one-fourth,” raced in 1981, 1982, and even in 1984, when 104



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement