Spinnaker start forecast

Weather favouring the big boats in the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Friday December 21st 2012, Author: Jennifer Crooks, Location: Australia

Rolex Sydney Hobart super maxi navigators are reveling in a dream forecast that’s promising record-breaking conditions, but an unpredictable westerly looming over Tasmania is leaving the race for the coveted IRC trophy – the Tattersall’s Cup - wide open.

The prediction is that the fleet of 77 yachts in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual race will start under spinnaker in a southerly wind on Boxing Day; a spectacle that hasn’t been seen on Sydney Harbour since a brave few popped their kites in a southeasterly during the 2006 start.

Wild Oats XI navigator Adrienne Cahalan said the 15-20 knot winds from the south would make for an ideal start when the cannon fires from Aussie Legend at 1300 AEDT.

“Every Hobart sailor dreams of a southerly on Christmas Day,’’ said Cahalan, who is competing in her 21st Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - a record for women.

Once clear of the Heads the fleet will encounter a weakening southerly wind for the first few hours. It will turn easterly then north easterly later in the day. That northeasterly could blow at between 25 and 30 knots throughout the next day, making for an exceptionally fast downwind course into Bass Strait and on to the coast of Tasmania. It’s here where the big boats are likely to exceed the 14-plus knot average that they must maintain to break the race record. But, a possible westerly change on 28 December, two days into the race, is set to cause plenty of havoc as the lead yachts approach the final miles. Just when the westerly change will set-in is anyone’s guess, with five days remaining before the race start.

One thing is for certain; the super maxis, including Wild Oats XI, Wild Thing and Lahana, are hoping they will cross the finish line at Hobart’s Castray Esplanade before the westerly arrives.

If their dream scenario unfolds, they will be on track to break the race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set by the then 98 foot super maxi, Wild Oats XI, in 2005.

They will also be in good stead to claim the elusive dual line honors and IRC title win, which Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI captured in 2005, along with the record. However, if the westerly arrives early on December 28, the race will be wide open.

“The computer forecasts say we have a chance of record pace,” Cahalan said. “But, we have to deal with the transition on the first night and the Derwent River when the front comes through on the 28th.”

Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards added: "‘It’s an exciting forecast when it comes to a race record, and it could get even better for us over the next few days. We need to average only 18 knots to get there in 35 hours, and I think that is very achievable. Beyond that, it won’t take much more breeze for us to see an average speed above 20 knots – possibly as high as 25 knots. An average of 22 knots would see us in Hobart in 28 hours."

Richards is, however, tempering this excitement with a realistic approach to the race: "It’s a Hobart race – a long race – and as has been seen all too often, plenty of things can go wrong. My biggest concern is that we hit something at high speed and damage the yacht. At the same time, crew safety will be paramount, so we won’t be pushing the boat beyond the limits.

“We must also recognise that there are three other big boats in this race, and any one
of them has the ability to be first to Hobart. Wild Oats XI might be the favourite for line
honours, but we are far from a certainty. Just look at what happened to us last year."

Yachting meteorologist Roger 'Clouds' Badham, who is providing a special race forecast service for Wild Oats XI and many other competing yachts, says the current outlook suggests that a race record time is distinctly possible, but he won’t be confident of that until after he completes his race forecast based on tomorrow’s weather models.

Lahana skipper Carl Crafoord will be keeping one eye on the boats around the 60ft mark and the other on his pursuit of the IRC trophy.

“If we can get in before the westerly change, that gives us a good chance on IRC,” Crafoord, a veteran of 26 Hobart races said. “There are only four boats in our rating band: Loki, Black Jack and Ichi Ban. That’s not many boats in our window.”

It will be a much tougher race for the smaller boats in the fleet. Few will endure more than Sean Langman and his crew on board the 30ft Huon pine, gaff-rigged Maluka of Kermandie. Langman’s crew finished last on line in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart, sneaking in on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Langman admits that just finishing is the ultimate aim.

“It’s not looking too flash for the smaller boats,’’ he said. “We will contend with more upwind conditions,” he said of the southerly he and others such as Simon Kurts’ Love & War will enjoy on Boxing Day.

"Certainly it will be a big boat race. It’s exciting for the big boats. We’ll be listening and just hoping we’ll get there in time for the New Year’s Eve fireworks,” said Langman, who just two years ago was steering the super maxi Investec Loyal across the finish line.


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