Yesterday was Boxing Day, which means it marked another chapter in the world-famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The race spans nearly 700 miles, taking the better part of two days to complete. There are 88 yachts in the field this year—all of which are packed with tenacity and grit to try and last through the long journey south. But is yacht racing really a form of exercise? The answer is a resounding YOU HAD BETTER BELIEVE IT!
Even during the height of summer, the ocean is cold, choppy, and flat out unforgiving. Not only do yacht racers have to make constant adjustments to their sail—resulting in extreme physical fatigue—but they also have to endure the mental turmoil of trying to stay focused over many hours at sea, several of which are under the darkness of night.
To stay on your game, it’s important to condition yourself accordingly. High intensity cardio is a great place to start, since yacht racing requires quick bursts of energy followed by long periods of inactivity. Interval training exercises, including moderate to intense swimming, boxing, and rowing are all effective, but nothing substitutes actually getting out on the water amidst the elements.
As your 9th grade physical education teacher once said (or said repeatedly as you were chugging up and down the bleachers) it’s all in the core. Indeed, core strength is crucial to yacht fitness as it is to almost everything. Yes, we’re talking about sit-ups, planks, push-ups, etc.
Stretching is equally important. This keeps the body loose, helps prevent injuries, and increases flexibility.
Training for a race doesn’t mean quitting your job and dedicating 24/7 to it. Even the most ardent working man, who also has a family at home, can manage a regular training schedule within his busy life.
In addition to fitness, these races come down to years of experience. Take Wild Oats XI as an example. Led by Skipper Mark Richards and a crew of 20 men, this yacht has been one of the most competitive over the years. Its crew members have a combined 250 races under their belts, and its owners have kept the vessel in mint condition, allowing it to earn 8 titles. At this year’s Sydney to Hobart race, it’s vying for a 9th. Wild Oats XI was launched shortly before it competed in its first Sydney to Hobart race in 2005. Right away, the yacht earned a racing triple crown, winning line honors, setting a race record time, and earning a victory on handicap.
So the next time you see yachts “floating” through the open ocean, don’t assume there’s no effort involved. There’s more work than you probably imagined.