Wild Oats' light wind horizon job

As conditions turn light in the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Saturday December 27th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australia

After its blistering start out of Sydney Harbour yesterday afternoon, the 119 strong fleet competing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart headed south down the New South Wales coast into the teeth of a 20-25 knot southerly and a sharp lumpy sea. However since then the conditions have abated substantially as an area of high pressure has developed over southeastern Australia.

In the battle of the 100ft maxis, the conditions early on in the race favoured Jim and Kirsty Clark’s brand new VPLP-Verdier designed Comanche. However between 1000 and 1100 local time this morning, as she and perennial Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winner Wild Oats XI headed offshore just before setting out across Bass Strait, Bob Oatley’s perennial Sydney-Hobart line honours winner edged into the lead, her slender hull form more slippery in the light conditions compared to that of the beamy Comanche.

This small lead has since translated into becoming a big one and at the latest sched Wild Oats XI’s advantage over her rival has increased to almost 40 miles. As race photographer Daniel Forster, who flew over the fleet this afternoon, put it: “Comanche looks like she’s stuck to the water”.

However the meteorological advantage is soon to return to Comanche. Wild Oats XI’s Spanish navigator, Juan Vila, confirmed earlier there were many more hurdles to clear before reaching the finish line on the Derwent River, immediately adjacent to downtown Hobart: “Later this afternoon the wind will be westerly, and that will suit Comanche more than us. Everyone saw at the start yesterday how fast Comanche can be in those conditions, so it’s going to be hard to hold her out. But, later tonight and early tomorrow, the wind will be light again, and that should be in our favour.”

Yachting meteorologist Roger Badham elaborated on the weather outlook: “The wind will stay at less than 10 knots until 7pm then slowly build from the northwest and north until peaking at 25 knots around 0300. That will make for a fast downwind run. After that it will ease as the leaders close on Tasman Island (44 miles for the finish).”

Badham added that he expected the lead yacht to be at the entrance to the Derwent River around 1400 tomorrow. He also said that it was possible the race for line honours would be decided over the final 11 nautical miles up-river to the finish.

Meanwhile from Comanche navigator Stan Honey, line honours winner on board Investec Loyal in 2011, reported: “Last night we had some big seas, so it was fairly sloppy on a wide boat like this. It was a bit of a challenge. The real challenge will come later tonight and early tomorrow morning when it gets light off the southeast corner of Tasmania.”

Sadly with conditions initially upwind, then turning light, this will not be a year when the Rolex Sydney Hobart race record will be broken. At this stage of the race in 2012, the year she claimed the ‘triple’ – line honours, race record and the overall prize under handicap – Wild Oats XI was already two thirds of the way down the east coast of Tasmania.

Behind, Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin 100 and Anthony Bell’s Perpetual Loyal (ex Rambler 100) were engaged in a similar neck-and-neck struggle, until disaster struck the latter. At about 2100 (local) something happened that caused Perpetual Loyal's hull to start delaminating and for her to take on water in the bow. Crewman Tom Slingsby reported: “We’re not exactly sure what happened. We were coming off some big waves, but we also could have hit something during the night when we were falling off these waves.”

Perpetual Loyal has since retired and is returning to her home club at Rose Bay, Sydney. In addition there have been eight retirees: Tina of Melbourne (damaged hull), Bear Necessity (rudder damage), Willyama (torn mainsail), Last Tango (sail damage), Occasional Coarse Language Too (steering damage), Triton (forestay damage) and Brindabella (rudder bearing damage).

In the fight for the race win on handicap under IRC, race veteran Roger Hickman had his 29 year-old Farr 43 Wild Rose currently leads under IRC followed by Ron Forster and Phil Damp’s Beneteau 40 Ariel, with Imagination, Robin and Annette Hawthorn’s Beneteau 47.7 in third. Three-time overall winner, Love & War, the S&S47 owned by Simon Kurts, was fourth.

The forecast is for the wind to fill in from the north tomorrow morning and 20-25 knots will mean a fast ride for the mid-sized boats in the fleet, before the wind backs into the west as a depression (and associated front) passes from west to east to the south of Tasmania over the course of Tuesday.


Photos from Carlo Borlenghi/Daniel Forster / ROLEX



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