The race started as a cruise in the years after World War II but gradually became more competitive and commercialised. It is one of the pre-eminent offshore yacht races in the world and attracts maxi-yachts from other countries.
Another shorter race called the West Coaster starts from Melbourne and finishes in Hobart about the same time, leading to Hobart being a very exciting place on New Year's Eve.
The race has occasionally been subject to loss of life and controversy in recent years when hit by freakish weather conditions and this has resulted in significant safety improvements. While some rail against this imposed regulation, it has to be remembered that the rescue services are morally obliged to risk their lives when sailors are at risk, so safety improvements, though costly and limiting, are necessary for the safety of all. The 1988 race which was a disaster was the subject of a book by noted sailing commentator, Rob Mundle.