Boxing Day, December 26, is one of those holidays that Australia inherited from the Brits. Originally celebrated as the day when people opened their Christmas gifts, Boxing Day is now one of the biggest sales days of the year – a day when Aussies return gifts that may not fit and find some terrific bargains. For us senior missionaries Boxing Day 2015 was an unforgettable day of watching and experiencing some of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race from a boat at the starting channel right on Sydney Harbour.
Most of us Americans would not know about this famous race any more than we know how to play cricket. We owe it to Elder Roger Williams, who with his wife Barbara serves in the Sydney North Mission office. Elder Williams is sport hobbyist who immigrated from England to Queensland. We could listen to his Yorkshire accent all day long, and we love that he is our conduit to all things Australian. It was he who gathered up all the missionary men and one sporty sister to attend the All Blacks vs. the Wallabies rugby game in August. Shortly after, he hatched a plan that we would all go together and book the boat for a Boxing Day adventure.
Boxing Day morning rose bright with only a few puffy clouds as we set off at Woolwich dock.
Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world, and it never fails to thrill as we chugged under the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Of course, we were joined by thousands of other observers who lined the shores as the magnificent sailboats congregated in the Harbour to wait for the starting cannon. As the hour grew closer, we enjoyed a bit of lunch. Yellow buoys separated the onlookers from the thousands of us in the boats to the 103 sleek competitors. While the day started off sunny, the wind came up and our captain remarked that the waters had not been so choppy in years.
At 1 p.m., the cannon sounded and the boats raced down the harbor to the land’s edge. It was a fast start, too fast for some of the yachts. One lurched suddenly into another and we could hear the sickening clap as University of Tasmania t-boned a boat from China. Both were out from that point.
It was expected that the magnificent Wild Oats, winner for the past eight years would again take this year’s event.
Unfortunately, the first night out, the high winds and tremendously difficult conditions took Wild Oats and another top contender out, and they were forced to limp back to Sydney Harbour. Commanche, an American Yacht, ended up as the winner, but the race took much longer than expected.
After the boats headed for the open sea, we headed back to Woolwich just as the first drops of rain fell. We felt so blessed that we had experienced yet another uniquely Australian experience. Sadly, our mentor Roger Williams had to miss it all. His sweetheart Barbara, who has an intense water phobia just could not take it, and we had to pull up to a dock just before the Harbour bridge and drop them off.