EVERY year is different, but the itch is always the same. For Bruce Taylor, Boxing Day always brings exhilaration: Sydney Harbour at its most spectacular, the start of a wild ride and the dream that this year will be the one.
As most of us wake to leftover ham and strewn tinsel, Mr Taylor and his crew will be readying themselves for one of the world's iconic boat races, the Sydney to Hobart. The Melbourne skipper of Chutzpah will this year compete in his 32nd race, while most of his crew, including son Drew, have made the trip more than 20 times. Mr Taylor calls it the esprit de corps that can never be shaken.
"We started off being one of the youngest crews and now we're one of the oldest. We've all stuck together which is part of the attraction. It's become an obsession and a habit," he says.
For all that longevity, one thing is amiss: winning the race. Mr Taylor has been part of crews that have won 10 division titles, finished second overall in the handicap race, and third another year. Chutzpah - one of 13 Victorian boats in the 80-strong field - is quick enough, but needs the northerlies to blow the next three days to give the 40-footer the chance she needs.
During that time the crew will be pushed mentally and physically. If they're not on the deck working they're underneath trying to sleep. Some might get sick - even seasoned sailors do - and for all his experience, Mr Taylor, 63, admits there are nerves.
The tragedy-marred 1998 race, when he and his crew went to help another boat in distress and then themselves had to retire, taught everyone there is no shame in pulling out if things get too hairy. "As you get older you do worry more: not only about 10 blokes but 10 wives and God knows how many kids because it is a dangerous sport," he says.
Mr Taylor has sailed for most of his life, and so the Sydney to Hobart was a natural progression, as it was for Drew, 41, who now lives in Hong Kong but returns to the family's Flinders home every Christmas. This race will be his 21st.
They could vie for line honours aboard a super-maxi, but a bigger boat and crew changes the dynamics, especially given the Chutzpah team still have day jobs.
"We are one of the last Corinthian crews," Bruce Taylor says. "Or to put it another way, the last of the wankers, because most of the other crews have professional fellas who fly in from various places and do it for a living. That helps mould our blokes together a bit more. We take a certain pleasure in knocking off the blokes who do it professionally."
This year could be the one when Chutzpah finally knocks off the rest.
But even if that happens, it might not be enough for her skipper to call it quits.
"The older you get the more you say 'This is crazy, I could be sitting on the beach with the grandkids or at the MCG watching the cricket,' Mr Taylor says.
"I suspect if I stop I wouldn't restart so we'll keep banging away at it for a bit."
The story Race No.32 and counting: the dream of victory is still alive first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.