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Max de Montgolfier shares his story on board the winning boat of 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht race

The winning team of 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht race

No regular annual yachting event in the world attracts such huge media coverage than does the start of the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht race on Sydney Harbour.

COFACE commercial underwriter, Max de Montgolfier, was one of the crew members on board Balance (TP52 owned by Paul Clitheroe), the boat that won the yacht race this year.

You can find below what he has to share with us: How he felt before, during and after the race, how he got into the team and what is he planning next.

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  • COFACE: Max, congratulations on such a performance, it must have been a dream come true! Please tell us about your experience.

Yes, it was a tough race but the result is incredible!

There were 108 boats that started the race in Sydney. Apart from competing in the race, our aim was also to do well in our division (against the other 14 boats similar to ours in size and speed).

We arrived in Hobart on the 29th December at 4pm but had to wait 36 hours to find out if we had won the race overall (as well as in our division).

Once we crossed the line, there were still two boats that could have beaten us if they had arrived before a certain time but to our luck they didn’t!


  • COFACE: How did you find out that you won?

There is a tracking system to follow the race and it is updated every 10 minutes so we couldn’t stop looking at it all the time, we couldn’t sleep! Even though we had only slept about 5 hours per day during the race, the adrenaline kept us awake!

We were nervous, but that is part of the fun. We could have been beaten by a boat smaller and older than ours at the last minute but that’s the beauty of this sport and this race in particular. Actually, Paul Clitheroe said “They kept me up all night! In what sport are you going to get a modern, carbon 52-footer up against a vintage 34- footer bought on a credit card. Either of us could have won it within five minutes. It’s crackerjack!”

We found out that we had won on the 31st at 4am when I was already back in Sydney so I flew back to Hobart on the same day for the award ceremony and the celebrations.


  • COFACE: What makes the Sydney Hobart race so special?

The weather is very variable: we start in summer, in shorts and t-shirts and it gets colder and colder as we head south, we can finish the race with snow! The Bass Strait is usually a key part of the race and is known for being a boat breaking area as the sea state gets enormous when we cross this strait in strong winds. In the 1998 race 6 sailors sadly died whilst competing.

The 2015 race was considered the hardest race since 2004. The fleet was hit by a very strong southerly front on the first night (we saw 46knts of wind speed with a nasty sea state), and these strong winds lasted for 24hours, causing 32 boats to retire within the first 24hours of the race.


  • COFACE: Were you ever scared?

I am lucky enough to sail on a very well maintained and prepared boat with a team of mates that I have been sailing with for a number of years, so I don’t get scared. But the first night was very wet and cold, with no food eaten, and we got shaken around like rag dolls!


  • COFACE: How did you get into sailing and what made you want to take part in this race?

I used to sail in France, in Brittany, on smaller boats during the holidays. I had always wanted to take part in the Sydney Hobart race as it is one of the most famous offshore races in the world but it is also known for being one of the hardest.

So when I arrived in Sydney in 2010, on a race day, I went to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay, where the Sydney to Hobart is organised from, and looked for a ride. I ended up on an old “Vendee Globe” boat for the day. From then I was introduced to other boats and crews and participated in my first Sydney Hobart race in 2011. I have done it every year since then.


  • COFACE: Tell us about your team on Balance?

We are a team of 13, all  keen amateurs. The boat is owned by Paul Clitheroe. Our key strength is that whilst we may not be professional sailors, we have all been sailing together for a long time, and we have a wonderful boat (a TP52, previously known as “Quest”, which already won the Sydney Hobart race overall in 2008) that delivers great results for us.

I am the only non-Australian on board, which leads to some great laughs when the crew don’t understand me sometimes because of my accent!


  • COFACE: What is your role on Balance?

I am bowman on-board the boat, meaning that I manage sail changes forward of the mast. This is the most exposed role on-board, being one of the youngest I don’t mind but hopefully I can move aft of the mast soon, as I am getting older!


  • COFACE: What advice would you give to people interested in sailing?

Follow your dreams! I have always wanted to do the Sydney Hobart race and I have done it, and winning is like the cherry on top of the cake. But one should not participate at all costs. This race can be very dangerous so this means lots of training and preparation. One that wishes to do the race should not only have confidence in himself but also in the crew that he sails with as well as the boat. This has always be paramount for me in the projects I have been involved in.


  • COFACE: Please, tell us about your favourite moments:

To be frank, there are not many enjoyable moments during the race. For 3 days, we are wet, cold, we rarely eat or sleep and we are focused all the time. This sounds miserable I know! But when we cross the finish line, the pressure comes down and it is time for celebration! The atmosphere in Hobart at this time of the year is truly amazing with thousands of people cheering the boats that arrive, very special and emotional moments for all crews. Within minutes after the finishing, we forget about how hard the race was and look forward to only one thing, do it again!

I am grateful to have my family and friends as my number one supporters. They are a bit stressed when I start the race but they know we are well trained and prepared. I have had the chance to finish all the Sydney Hobart races that I have started.


  • COFACE: So what’s next?

The 2016 Sydney Hobart race!!


  • COFACE: and great credit insurance deals, we hope!  All the best Max, thank you for sharing your experience.





The Coface Group, a worldwide leader in credit insurance, offers companies around the globe solutions to protect them against the risk of financial default of their clients, both on the domestic market and for export. In 2014, the Group, supported by its 4,400 staff, posted a consolidated turnover of €1.441 billion. Present directly or indirectly in 99 countries, it secures transactions of 40,000 companies in more than 200 countries. Each quarter, Coface publishes its assessments of country risk for 160 countries, based on its unique knowledge of companies’ payment behaviour and on the expertise of its 350 underwriters located close to clients and their debtors.

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