Rolex Sydney Hobart forecast perking up
Skipper Mark Richards and the crew of Bob Oatley's Rolex Sydney Hobart race record holder Wild Oats XI might have received a late Christmas gift today. It came in the form of a weather forecast that indicated things might not be as bad as originally expected when the 30-metre long supermaxi reaches Bass Strait on the 628 nautical mile dash to Hobart, which starts at 1300 tomorrow, Boxing Day.
There’s no certainty about the contents of the gift package at this stage, but there’s a hint it contains more favourable wind conditions for the 200 nautical mile dash across the notorious Bass Strait, the stretch of water that has delivered the majority of the carnage to the fleet in the 66-year history of the great race.
Until late today the forecast indicated that the frontrunners, including Wild Oats XI, could expect to be punished in Bass Strait by southerly headwinds of up to 40 knots and savage seas that could peak at more than seven metres. Such conditions would see the crews change their racing agenda from a need for speed to one of seamanship: they would have to come off the pace and nurse their yachts through the rough weather until it eased.
Now however, there are signs that the wind in Bass Strait might have more of a westerly element to it for the big boats, and if that is the case then the yachts will be back to near full throttle.
"We will have to wait to see what happens," Richards said late today, "but if there is more west than south in the wind direction then the entire ball game will change.
"If it goes to the west earlier than predicted then Wild Oats XI will sail at 25 knots straight down the rhumb line, the direct course to Tasman Island at the entrance to Storm Bay, where we turn to the west.
"If that happens then suddenly we will be chomping away at the course record we set in 2005."
Wild Oats XI is going for a record five line honours victories in six starts in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. The course record time she set in 2005, which still stands, was 1 day 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds.
"When we set the record in 2005 we were sailing downwind under spinnaker and covering a far greater distance than we will if we get a westerly slant in the breeze in Bass Strait this year," Richards said. "We will be sailing as straight as a gun barrel directly on course more than 10 knots faster than our average speed on the record run.
"We’re not getting too excited just yet about this possible scenario, but it is a possibility and that’s what we like. Even so, with a total of 203 Hobart races among our crew we are the first to remind ourselves from past experiences that anything can happen."