Sydney Hobart: Prepare for the Worst

Published on December 22nd, 2015

Sydney, Australia (December 22, 2015) – Four days out from the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is pretty confident it knows what will happen on day one, but the weather models are still all over the place for the following days, leaving navigators guessing.

In short, the first night of the NSW coast is going to be very tough for everyone. Whether the following day gets even tougher, or it turns into a rather more pleasant sail across Bass Strait, depends entirely on when, where and for that matter, if a Low develops off Tasmania on Sunday.

Speaking at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia this morning, the Bureau’s Michael Logan said he expects the race to start in a freshening nor-easter, which should build throughout the afternoon until the fleet runs into a strong southerly change, with winds of 25 to 35 knots.

“It will be very choppy, wet and uncomfortable for the crews Saturday night,” Logan said. There is still uncertainty about how quickly the front will move up the coast – it is could come earlier, or a bit later – but it is going to come.

So as you hoe into Chrissy dinner guys, remember that in less than 30 hours you are going to be huddled on the rail, or worse still, repacking spinnakers in the steamy forepeak of a lurching, bucking bronco.

The million dollar question is: what comes after?

And the various models forecasters and navigators rely on just can’t agree on that one. Some show a big Low developing in the Tasman Sea east of Tasmania. Depending on where it is, that Low would stretch the southerlies out for an extra 24 hours and make them even stronger in Bass Strait. Some of the models are suggesting winds of 40 to 50 knots.

But other models show no Low at all, predicting the polar opposite of light winds off Tasmania on Sunday.

What happens after Sunday is still more guess than science.

The good news from Logan, though, is “Even the worst case scenarios showing up in the models do not suggest 2015 will be another 1998,” when a monster storm devastated the fleet.

So where does this leave everybody? Preparing for the worst and hoping what does pan out on the day suits each boat’s characteristics.

“A big consideration is keeping the boat together on that first night,” says Perpetual Loyal navigator Adrienne Cahalan. “It is going to be tough on the whole fleet, irrespective of what develops on Sunday.”

“We are working on a worst case scenario of 50 knots in Bass Strait,” says Juan Vila, the navigator on Wild Oats XI, “but we don’t have a firm plan yet. We are still looking at all the scenarios, and the differences between them are black and white. It would be nice if the Low doesn’t form.”

Nice for the slim Oats in the race for line honours perhaps, but not so nice for the wider maxis like Perpetual Loyal and Comanche.

The price they pay for their huge power advantage over a skinny boat like Oats is a lot of extra underwater drag when the wind drops and their wide beams settle back to horizontal from near vertical and put a whole lot of wetted surface back into the water. They may not want 50 knots, but no Low at all would be very disappointing.

“We aren’t eager to race in 12 hours of light air,” Comanche’s navigator Stan Honey concedes. Light winds in Bass Strait cost the Americans the race last year and “while we know how to sail the boat better now, and we’ve made changes, if we had to sail last year’s race again Oats would win,” Honey concedes.

And what does all this mean back further in the fleet in the main race for the Tattersalls Cup?

Well, just like the super maxi’s, it depends on what type of sailing best suits your boat and its handicap. It is a fair bet that a substantial number of sailors will be very happy if that Low proves to be a figment of a weather model’s imagination, but not all.

Last year the 30 year-old Farr 43, Wild Rose, won a very slow race, where clever exploitation of the currents and her classic IOR love of a tough beat to windward suited the conditions down to the ground. A prolonged southerly, especially if it turned north after almost everyone else was already tied up in Hobart, would be just what skipper Roger Hickman ordered.

Wild Rose’ navigator Jenifer Wells is blunt. “If your boat and your crew are not prepared for 40 or 50 knots in Bass Strait, or for that matter, along the coast, you should not be going. We expect it at least once, maybe twice,” she said.

Then a little gleam comes into her eye. “You know, it is exactly 50 years since Freya won back to back Hobarts – could be an omen.”

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts on Boxing Day, December 26, at 1pm AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7 and live streamed via mobile.

Report by Jim Gale, RSHYR media

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Background: The 71st edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts December 26 in Sydney Harbor, taking an entry list of 109 boats along the 628 nautical mile course to Hobart that is often described as the most grueling long ocean race in the world.

SYDNEY HOBART

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