Forecast favors small boats in Rolex Sydney Hobart

Published on December 22nd, 2014

The 117 yachts in the 628nm Rolex Sydney Hobart will face strong winds soon after the December 26 start, but the outlook for the lead boats to face light winds should favor the smaller boats for overall honors.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is forecasting a sharp 20 to 25 knot southerly change on Boxing Day afternoon not long after the start, with the tough upwind conditions expected to hold throughout the first night. However, Andrew Treloar from the BOM says winds will then get lighter the further south the boats go, and the front runners should cross a high pressure ridge around Gabo Island giving them light westerlies across Bass Strait on Saturday.

Winds off the Tasmanian coast on Saturday night are also expected to be pretty light westerlies. They could be quite fluky.

“The midfield and tail end boats will get a better go from the wind,” Treloar says. “They will tend to stay up around 10 to 15 knots right through as they cross Bass Strait and sail down the Tasmanian coast.”

So this is a classic mid-sized to small boat forecast. A southerly on day one, stopping the super maxis from getting too far ahead, and a northerly after the glamour yachts are already tied up in Hobart.

“We’re really excited by this forecast,” says Tom Barker, the navigator on the Ker 40 St George Midnight Rambler. “In terms of handicaps, the slow start means that is more time the big boats will have to take out of us. And if we do get some of this reaching and running northerly while the big boats have had slower stuff, it plays into our hands really well. The Ker 40 is very good upwind and very dynamic downwind.”

Of course the very thing that so suits the smaller and heavier boats, that first day southerly, is also tough on the crews. Jenifer Wells, navigator on the 29 year-old Farr 43, Wild Rose, also likes the forecast, but concedes there will be some very seasick sailors that first night. “It is an issue we will have to manage,” she says.

The strong southerly poses other issues for crews, especially on the lighter newer super maxis. They will have to keep their boats in one piece throughout this first day. They will be racing, but know that the race for line honours will not be won on day one. It can be lost, though, with one broken piece of gear.

“That strong southerly down the coast will be the time to keep the boat in one piece,” says Wild Oats XI navigator Juan Villa. “Then it will start getting tricky when we approach Green Cape and this high pressure. That will be the first call we have to deal with: how to cross this. Then the lee of the Tasmanian coast is another tricky part of the race, and how to approach Tasman Island.”

“Given the characteristics of Comanche we are happy with the fresh southerly,” Comanche’s navigator, Stan Honey says, “but the light air worries us, especially in the choppy seas left over from the southerly. That will suit Wild Oats XI. The race will be won and lost in the two regions of light air. The first ridge as we get into the westerlies south of Green Cape, and then the light air on Saturday night. Those will be the critical times of the race.”

With such disparate designs, there will be times when conditions favour one style of boat over another: the heavier, beamier, more powerful Comanche and Perpetual Loyal soaking up the tough stuff, the narrower Wild Oats XI finessing the lighter airs.

“These boats are so different you can’t match race,” says Perpetual Loyal navigator Tom Addis. “You have to make the gains when you can and manage the losses.”

Both races, one for line honours, the other, larger handicap race for the overall win, will be fascinating this year. Both are likely to be decided close to Tasman Island.

The question all will be asking is: “Do we go out to sea on day one, with higher winds and bigger waves but a strong current? How fluky will it be off the Tasmanian coast? Go out to get beyond the Tasmanian wind shadow but add miles to the race track or stick with the rhumbline? What angle should you come into Tasman Island from”?

Answers to these questions will decide who drinks champagne and who drinks beer in Hobart’s famous pubs a week from now.

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.

A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before a fleet of 117 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.

Background: One hundred seventeen teams have entered the 628 nm Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. Starting on December 26, the fleet exits Sydney Harbor and heads down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait, then down the east coast of Tasmania. At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final sail up the Derwent River to finish in Hobart.

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