The Beau Geste sails out of Sydney Harbour. Photo: Reuters

The annual Sydney-Hobart yacht race is a spectacular sporting event that is generally regarded as among the world’s most challenging races. The Boxing Day start in the mid-summer sun of Sydney Harbour belies the often gruelling conditions encountered over the approximately 1,200-kilometer course. Of the 115 vessels that started in 1998, five sank and only 43 limped in to Hobart. Six sailors lost their lives. Meantime, in the Chinese city of Harbin, the annual ice carving festival is underway: all thoughts of taking a splash in the sunny seas surely banished from mind.