Traditional upwind slog south
This year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet can anticipate a more traditional upwind ride south with the Bureau of Meteorology today detailing its long range weather outlook with two bursts of strong southerly winds in the first 48 hours and steep seas in Bass Strait promising to test boats and crew.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s regional director NSW, Barry Hanstrum, presented the race outlook to a panel of skippers and navigators representing the largest in the fleet, Wild Oats XI, to the smallest, Illusion at 34 feet, acknowledging there are going to be a “couple of rough patches”.
Talk of robust headwinds has put a stop to race record prophesising, today’s panel admitting their strategy is going to be focused on keeping boats and crew in one piece.
"When you’re on the boat you’re really just focused on making the right decisions at the right time to get down there as best you can,” said Wild Oats XI’s co-navigator Ian Burns. “The real challenge I think is [going to be] the first couple of nights and keeping the boat together. We’ll be slowing down rather than trying to break any record, or even necessarily breaking our competition.”
The Bureau is tipping light winds for the 1300 start on Sunday 26 December from Sydney Harbour before a southerly change in the afternoon that will push its way up the NSW coast and build to 20-30 knots causing “very rough conditions, pretty unpleasant sailing conditions on the first night,” predicts Hanstrum.
Reinforced by a passage of low pressure on Monday, southerly winds are expected to strengthen to 30-40 knots on the far NSW south coast and in Bass Strait, with 4-5m seas thrown in the mix, “the most testing period of the race weather wise, the combination of gale force winds and large seas,” says Hanstrum.
Winds should moderate on Tuesday as the lead pack makes its way down the east coast of Tasmania to the finish line of the 628 nautical mile ocean classic.
“It’s going to be quite a demanding race but nothing you wouldn’t expect. The Rolex Sydney Hobart is known for being the toughest race of its type in the world and these are pretty much normal conditions for this sort of race,” said Burns. "For us it won’t’ be a record breaking year, I don’t think, but it’ll have its challenges.”
Jonathan Stone, skipper of the smallest in the 89 boat fleet, the NSW based Davidson 34 Illusion, is circumspect. "We’re forewarned now and the CYCA has made sure we’re forearmed. We’ve sailed in those conditions; we believe we can handle them. It’s an adventure, a challenge and that’s why we're in it.”
For Bryan Northcote, 13 time Rolex Sydney Hobart race veteran and navigator of Syd Fischer’s TP52 Ragamuffin, his predictions for the overall winner lie with the 45 to 60 foot boats, stretching to Ràn at 72 feet.
“In the past, it’s been a race of three stages, to Eden, Bass Strait, and then the Tasmanian east coast. This year it’s looking like a race in two stages; 300 miles upwind and the east coast of Tasmania,” said Northcote. "It’s about battening down the hatches the first day and a half, and really looking after the boat and the crew and setting yourself up for the last 300 miles. That’s where the race will be won and lost."
The 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart was the last time the fleet encountered strong headwinds.