Rolex Sydney Hobart maxi-boat match race
Wild Oats XI’s position as the fastest boat in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was being severely tested last night when at around 2000 (local time, 0900 UTC), Anthony Bell’s maxi Investec Loyal overhauled the five time line honours winner.
Overnight the wind the leaders have seen the wind clock through 360°.
Crossing the Bass Strait yesterday Investec Loyal’s track south was some 20-30 miles east of Wild Oats XI’s. But early evening, when the wind backed from the southwest into the southeast, both boats tacked southwest, Loyal getting the better of the shift, aggressively bearing away towards her opponent. Making 14 knots compared to Wild Oats XI’s 9, within an hour Investec Loyal had pulled ahead by 6 miles.
While this is what appeared on the tracker, Wild Oats XI co-navigator Ian Burns later explained that in fact they had been stuck under a cloud in no wind when Loyal passed them. "They were well to seaward of us and managed to take a nice low course and got plenty of leverage out to sea there and obviously they were keeping track of how we were doing and the moment we stopped under a cloud with no wind under it, they had a great opportunity to keep rolling along and make sure they kept their distance from that, and they basically sailed right around the outside of this large hole we were stuck in and almost did a full circle around us and came back above us. It was pretty interesting, good work on their part. Luckily when they had just overtaken us the breeze they carried right through came down to us and we could get going, otherwise we might still be there now."
Since then the lead duo have continued to round the northwest quadrant of an area of high that, since yesterday, has been shifting east out into the Tasman Sea. With the wind continuing to back into the northeast, so the lead duo at around 0100 local time this morning on this occasion gybed southwest, allowing them to close on the east coast of Tasmania.
However at around 0730 local time this morning, Wild Oats XI nosed her way back into the lead.
With another light patch off the southeast coast of Tasmania, so the boats remain still quite offshore, now with the wind back in the southwest, where it was yesterday afternoon. With 72 miles to go to the finish off Hobart for Wild Oats XI at the latest sched, leading Investec Loyal by just 1.5 miles, ETAs into Hobart remain vague. The forecast is now showing the wind dying in Storm Bay and up the Derwent River leading up to Hobart – conditions which have destroyed many a winning yacht’s chances in previous years.
"It is tricky out here," confirmed Burns. "The good conditions we had running in for the last few hours have somewhat evaporated and it is pretty light winds here now and keeping the boat rolling along is quite a challenge. We have got Loyal close to leeward and they are doing a nice job, keeping their options open, keeping as much distance between us and them as possible so that if they have an opportunity they can make the most of it.
"The guys are working hard. We have got a relatively good tactical position right now, but as the wind lightens off it gets harder and harder to capitalise on that – it is easy to see two or three knots difference in speed, it only takes a few minutes of that for them to chew up your lead and put themselves in a good position. It is relatively easy sailing for the crew, but hard tactically for the afterguard, in trying to get around that Tasman light in good shape."
Burns hoped the wind would't disappear altogether en route to Storm Bay, however this has since proved to be the case. However he confirmed that there was a good chance that this could be the first occasion since the dust up between Exile and Brindabella in 1997 that we might be on for a match race all the way up the Derwent River to the finish in Hobart. "I hope it is, because if there is only one then there is 50-50 chance it won’t be us. There has been a lot of good racing out here in stronger winds and lighter winds. On our boat and I would imagine on Loyal had have a great deal of enjoyment out of it. It is about as good as it gets with light airs, strong air, reaching running, it is everything we could hope for in a race."
On board Investec Loyal, skipper Anthony Bell said that they had been pushing hard throughout the night and he was pleased they were still in contact with Wild Oats XI. "We are where we want to be coming into the Tasman light and it is good to be good to be with the guys." However he was aware that the Wild Oats XI crew would be watching their every move and would almost certainly try to cover them. "So stay in contact and do everything we can. We won’t know until we get into Storm Bay. I reckon it is going to be hard to call right up to the Derwent." Crutially the Loyal crew know that despite Wild Oats XI's superior horsepower with their fixed keel (as opposed to Oat's canting keel and daggerboard arrangement) they have the edge over their rival in light conditions.
Under IRC handicap, the battle for the Tattershall’s Cup continues to rage, with the best hopes now back to the maxis. In particular Peter Millard’s maxi Lahana (the Brett Bakewell-White designed former Zana/Konica Minolta), holding third place on the water 62 miles astern of Wild Oats XI, is looking very strong. For at present across the race course conditions are generally light, with the exception of where Lahana, Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki and Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, are located off the east coast of Tasmania, where in 15-20 knot northerlies, Hugo Boss is recording the highest speed in the fleet of 17 knots.
While at the time of writing the wind was disappearing for the two leaders, some 20 miles short of the Tasman Light, so Stephen Ainsworth's Loki was eating up the miles, 78 miles to the north.
"At the moment we have a northwesterly breeze of about 15-20 knots, a 0.5-1 m building sea, clear skies, beautigul sailing conditions," recounted Loki's chirpy navigator Michael Bellingham. "We are doing probably 17-18+ knots at the moment, heading straight for the Tasman light. At this speed our ETA would be 6 hours perhaps."
It was almost as if Loki was in a different race. "There is a strong wind warning at the Tasman light for late evening, 20-30 knots. The timing is a bit unclear at the moment. I am not sure we are going to make it all the way, but we are going to try."
As to their Tattersall's Cup prospects for handicap honours, Bellingham said: "I think we are well positioned for that. This breeze is certainly what we tried to get into and we’re in it. At the moment we are stretching out on the boats behind us, which is good. Lahana and us are both doing the same thing here down the coast. If we can maintain the gap with the back ones, we see the big boats in front as the challenge. At the moment we are doing good things on that."