Slender lead for the Oats
Seven hours into the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the lead group of eight Maxis, VO70s and Mini Maxis has split away from the chasing bulk of the fleet. The leaders are currently off Jervis Bay some 95 miles south of Sydney Heads with race favourite, Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI just one mile ahead of Anthony Bell's Perpetual Loyal, the rejuvenated former Rambler 100, which has adopted a more easterly offshore berth.
Behind, Peter Harburg's VO70 Black Jack (ex-Telefonica) is neck and neck with Karl Kwok's new Botin 80 Beau Geste, with Jim Delegat's VO70 Giacomo (ex-Groupama) holding the most extreme easterly position among the front runners.
All eight boats are currently ahead of Wild Oats XI's pace for 2012.
The 100ft maxi Wild Thing is taking the most inshore route at present. Navigator, David Turton, commented shortly before 6.00pm: “We’ve got four boats abeam; Wild Oats, Beau Geste, Perpetual Loyal and Ragamuffin – we’re inshore of them and they’re sailing in a bunch. We’re in a sou-easter in the early teens and we’re going as far south as we can as soon as we can. We’re just getting into our watch system – and we can see a bit of a rain cell which should hit us in the next half hour.
“We’re pretty happy to be in touch the other big boats and we’re doing our best to stay in touch with them so we can get into the next breeze transition with them. Hopefully the rain cell won’t affect us too much."
Further down the track, the game is just as strong, with the bulk of the fleet just south of Wollongong.
Aboard the Beneteau 45 Balance, owner Paul Clitheroe reported: “Bumping along in a very nice 13 knots. After such a peaceful start, we had time to be entertained by a boat on the eastern side of the Harbour which seemed to be using their kite to trawl for prawns. In the third miracle of our day, the kite came down intact and off to sea we went, as far as we could tell, we were leading the boats from our line. Can we finish now? It can only get worse!”
Aboard a second Beneteau 45, brothers Martin and Derek Sheppard and crew aboard their tongue-in-cheek named Black Sheep, were happy campers. Tactician Mike Kennedy reported: “We’re sailing along in 10-12 knots and we’ve got Colortile in our sights. All’s going well- we’re enjoying the conditions,”
Two boats retired in the early stages of the race; Rod Jones’ Welbourn 50, Audi Sunshine Coast was first to go when a masthead fitting failed. Shortly after, Adrian Dunphy retired his Andrews 52 Dodo after sustaining mainsail damage. Ninety two boats remain in the race.
Weather-wise, at present there is a shallow depression (1006mB) just out into the Tasman Sea, due east of Sydney. According to the GFS model, this is due to head east out into the Tasman over the next few hours, leaving a north-south orientated ridge in its wake mid-Tasman. However for the Hobart fleet this will see a welcome backing of the wind into the northwest over the next few hours, with the wind aroun 10-15 knots. Meanwhile there is a relatively weak localised depression forming in Bass Straight which will initially help the northerly flow until the ridge shrinks south tomorrow morning (UTC) when the northerlies will lighten and a trough forms off the eastern coast of Tasman. For the front runners this will force them to transition through this trough, probably the most tactically significant part of the race, with the light northerlies replaced by stronger (15 knot) southerlies.
The relatively benign weather looks set to come to an end on Saturday as an intense depression forms in the Great Australian Bight (a secondary depression spawned from a cold front associate with a depression deep in the Southern Ocean) which is due to sweep southeast, leaving Tasmania to port on Saturday afternoon (UTC). Ahead of this depression the Hobart fleet will see the northerlies build to 30+ knots, but the dangerous part will come as the front pass over on Saturday night with the wind subsequently backing into the west.
Under IRC we would predict that the winner will be one of the mid-sized boats that gets in ahead of the front.