Speedy exit from the harbour
The 68th Rolex Sydney Hobart got underway in exceptional conditions for the 76 yachts competing. The forecast southerly breeze providing the perfect angle for a spinnaker start and run down the harbour. The angle would prove less kind as the yachts exited the Sydney Heads and made their turn towards Hobart, finding the 20–25 knots now firmly on the nose.
Wild Oats XI made for riveting viewing. It was almost impossible to drag one’s eyes away as skipper Mark Richards aassumed his usual position at the pin end of the line, the crew work again impeccable. It was like watching a Skud missile launch as Bob Oatley’s 100ft super maxi shot off the line on cue and bolted, taking around six minutes to make the turning mark, leaving all in her wake.
Even those behind were quick; it was one of the fastest exits from Sydney Heads in some time, with all except Bob Steel’s Quest outside of the Harbour inside 20 minutes. Quest struggled and took a penalty turn just inside the Heads, although the reason is unknown at this stage.
A little further up the line from Wild Oats XI, Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin-Loyal tried to keep pace with her nemesis, but could not keep up. Halfway down the Harbour, Peter Harburg’s Black Jack, with Mark Bradford at the helm, and Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki, steered by Gordon Maguire, nearly overtook Ragamuffin-Loyal, Black Jack having another go as they neared the sea mark.
However, Ragamuffin-Loyal held her own, around two minutes behind Wild Oats XI at the sea mark, followed by Black Jack, the RP66, Loki a RP63, Peter Millard/John Honan’s 98ft Lahana and Matt Allen’s Jones 70 Ichi Ban just over one minute astern of their bigger rival.
Ragamuffin-Loyal has been scored OCS, but the Race Committee will seek redress on Ragamuffin-Loyal’s behalf, due to the proper procedure for individual recall not being followed.
The rest followed in hot pursuit, the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart overall winner, Two True (Andrew Saies) from South Australia, struggling to pull down a kite as they headed into the brunt of the southerly in 4 metre seas, making the going tough.
One could almost feel Simon Kurts and his crew on Love & War and Sean Langman and his crew aboard Maluka of Kermandie, the oldest and smallest yacht in in the fleet, smiling as turned the corner into the brunt of the southerly, their heavier boats revelling comfortably in the conditions, while others struggled in the tough seaway and gusty winds.
Nor was Maluka of Kermandie last out to sea, that honour going to the 2008 winner, Quest, while Peter Rodger’s Olsen 40 She, with 43 Hobart race veteran, Bill Ratcliff aboard, only overtook Maluka of Kermandie once they were outside Sydney Heads, only Quest behind them.
At 15.00 local Wild Oats XI had just passed Cronulla, with Ragamuffin Loyal, Lahana, Ichi Ban, Black Jack and Loki in a line off Cronulla Beach.
At 17:30 Wild Oats XI was 8 nautical miles north east of Kiama travelling at 12 knots, with some 50 nm under her belt after 4.5 hours of sailing. Any thought of setting a new record seemed to be on hold as navigator Adrienne Cahalan called in to report the wind speed dropping as evening arrives. Ragamuffin Loyal lies within striking distance just astern. Lahana, Ichi Ban and Black Jack round out the top five on the water. Conditions have been wet and hard on crews during these first few hours and the measure of performance differential between front-runners and back markers is clearly demonstrated by Charlie’s Dream. Averaging just 3.4 knots, Peter Lewis and crew were parallel with Botany Bay having knocked a mere 13 nm off the 628nm course distance.
An interesting night lies ahead. The decision how far to head out to sea was the first conundrum facing the crews. So far the bulk of yachts appear firm in the belief that staying inshore, and inside the rhumb line will pay better. Only, one or two boats have shown a determination to head offshore for any length of time. Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Jazz, felt ahead of the start that the fleet would do well to stay inshore for the initial section of the race, certainly until the major swing in wind direction expected during the night. This transition should see the wind back to the northeast and will have the yachts running under spinnaker for an extended period.
Gordon Maguire, tactician on Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki, indicated some of their pre-race routing suggested the bigger yachts could profit enormously from the predicted northeasterly. If it arrives on cue, they could bite a huge chunk out of the course during the hours of darkness and be lying off Green Cape by mid-morning on the second day, 27 December. The small boats, meanwhile, such as race veteran Roger Hickman’s Wild Rose, might only find themselves parallel with Jervis Bay as dawn breaks. The difference in power between segments of the fleet will be all too apparent at this juncture.
Pics below from Daniel Forster/Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex