Fast run to Hobart

NSW Bureau of Meteorology's Senior forecaster Barry Hanstrum reports favourable breeze for Boxing Day classic

Monday December 22nd 2008, Author: Lisa Ratcliff, Location: United Kingdom
The NSW Bureau of Meteorology’s early weather forecast is predicting ideal fast sailing conditions for at least the first two days of the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2008.

Senior forecaster Barry Hanstrum from the Bureau says the race is expected to start this Friday, 26 December, in a 15 knot north-easterly breeze which should freshen to 20 to 25 knots during the afternoon.

These strong northerly winds will hang in through Saturday and Sunday, possibly even reaching near gale force later on Sunday before a strong to gale force westerly change associated with the passage of a front sweeps through Bass Strait on Sunday night.

Hanstrum says that at this stage there is no indication of a southerly change in the first few days of the race, a great relief for the smaller boats which often find themselves battling big seas down the New South Wales coast long after the big boats have broken out into Bass Strait.

“It’s set up for a pretty fast race,” said Matt Allen, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and skipper of the big Jones 70 Ichi Ban at today’s long range weather press conference.

“The weather looks good for Quantum Racing (Ray Roberts’ canting keel Cookson 50). They are very fast downwind. If Chutzpah (Bruce Taylor’s IRC 40) can hang onto the bigger boats during the first part of the race she will also be a good chance,” Allen added.

Unfortunately, while the winds will be in the right direction, Allen doesn’t think the forecast bodes well for his own yacht’s chances. “The bad news for us is we will be in the dock by the time the westerly gale comes in on Sunday night.”

His navigator, Conrad Humphreys agrees. “ Ichi Ban needs big strong reaching winds so this forecast is a bit too light for our liking. We’ll be fine against the bigger maxis but the 50 footers will probably hang on, too close for our liking so we will need to make a break at some time,” Allen chimes in, referring to the race for the biggest prize, the Tattersall’s Cup for the overall winner.

The Rolex Sydney Hobart is always a tougher test for the smaller boats in the fleet and this year will be no different.

“It is going to be challenging for the small boats like us in strong downwind conditions,” says Michael Blaxell, navigator of the Sydney 38 The Sub Zero Goat. “You want to hang onto the bigger boats so you will be pushing hard but you won’t want to push too hard and fall over and break something. It will be challenging but it will be quick. The westerly change will affect the smaller boats in the fleet. The seas could be very lumpy so the smaller boats might see tough conditions,” Humphreys agrees. And if the westerly is more south west than west it will slow the boats down.”

Humphreys says that while the forecast promises a fast race it won’t necessarily be a record breaker. “There will be 3 or 4 times during the race when it will be crucial to pick the right time to gybe. These will be the most important tactical decisions,” Humphreys adds.

“The current is going to be a key factor in this race. Last year the wind was more important and we did very well by going further offshore than other boats, to find extra wind. This year the wind strength will be more even across the race course so hooking into the current in the eddies, perhaps around Gabo Island, will pay off. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2 or 3 knot eddies.”

Matt Allen is confident that all the boats are up to the conditions that have been forecast. “The boats are well set up for these conditions. There might be a few broken
spinnakers and a few broken egos but otherwise everything should be fine. It
is going to be great sailing.”

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