Promising forecast for Sydney Hobart

Published on December 21st, 2017

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Race is famous for the variety of weather along the 628nm course, and the certainty that a brutal test must be passed to finish.

“This is a hard race,” said Ken Read upon winning line honors on the 100-foot Comanche in 2015. “I have sailed around the world two and a half times and I thought I had seen it all but this is one hard body of water. The people who have done this race 25 times, God bless them, they are the hardest people on Earth or the dumbest people on Earth, probably a combination of the two.”

Like most offshore races, there is that one year where the weather is ideal, and it is stories of that year which brings people back. The Bureau of Meteorology thinks 2017 could be that year as manager Jane Golding sees a forecast that points to a fast, mostly broad reaching and running race.

“The race will start (on Dec. 26) in a moderate east/south-easterly breeze around 10 knots,” said Golding, “and the winds will shift around to the north-east during the afternoon., to around 15 knots off Batemans Bay.”

All four models the Bureau use point to the nor’-easter building overnight and the next day to around 20 to 25 knots in Bass Strait and down the Tasmanian coast, and those favourable winds will hold into the 28th as well.

The models are split about a weak southerly front that will develop on the southern Tasmanian coast on the 28th, but Golding describes the change as fickle, and it may not even reach the fleet before it is pushed out to sea by a big High in the Tasman.

It is a wonderful forecast for the Line Honours favourite, LDV Comanche, this month purchased by Australian Jim Cooney. In these conditions, the wide, powerful 100 footer should expect to pull away from her narrower rivals Wild Oat’s XI, Black Jack, and InfoTrack, which, as Perpetual Loyal, broke the race record in somewhat more robust but similar weather last year.

But in this forecast, the devil, for LDV Comanche, is bathing in the Derwent River, the final stage of the race. As the navigator on Matt Allen new TP52, Ichi Ban, Will Oxley observed today, “between 10pm and 10am is death in the Derwent.”

This prim, maidenly aunt of a river likes to go to bed early, and many a race leader has seen their lead slip away as they slop around in breathless darkness, a fine view of the distant Hobart lights providing little comfort.

LDV Comanche’s navigator, Stan Honey, says this forecast puts them in the Derwent River at exactly the wrong time: “It doesn’t look good for us in the river. We could spend a lot of time there.”

This is a boat with a huge wetted surface area compared with Wild Oats XI and Black Jack. Black Jack’s navigator, Tom Addis, says, “Some of the other boats will get a jump on us offshore, but we could catch them up in the Derwent,” meaning we could very well have a line honours finish to savour, with three, possibly all four 100 footers battling it out over the last couple of miles.

Unlike the super maxis, Will Oxley’s Ichi Ban, as well as the other TP52s, the Cookson 50s and the faster 40 footers like Patrice expect they will arrive in the Derwent in daylight, and he thinks that even if the potential southerly comes in on the 28th, it will have little effect.

“The competition (for the overall win) will be red hot in the 45 to 55 foot range,” Oxley says, precisely because this will be a fast downwind race that will suit these quick, 20 plus knot flyers over the displacement boats further back. But he does not think it will be an easy race.

“The 40s will stay with us, and the Cookson 50s will be well suited. It will come down to boat handling and minimising damage. Everyone talks about how much fun it is to go downwind, but in 25 to 30 knots on a TP52, that’s a lot of wind on the eastern side of Bass Strait, so we will be working pretty hard to look after the boat to get through those conditions.”

But Tom Addis is wont to describe these as first world problems. The fact is, all these navigators looked a bit like the cats who had raided the cream bowl. Or as Stan Honey put it: “The worst thing is, it looks so good, any change in the forecast can only be for the worse.”

The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.

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Source: CCYA

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