Launceston to Hobart Yacht Race - Gale decimates fleet

Ballendean racing into a 30-40 knot westerly on Storm Bay, under double-reefed mainsail and #4 jib. - Launceston to Hobart Yacht Race 2013
In the National Launceston to Hobart Yacht Race prudent seamanship in the face of Saturday night’s and Sunday’s ferocious westerly gale at Tasman Island and in Storm Bay has seen the retirement of at least 19 of the 26 starters.

Only two yachts, The Fork in the Road and Ballandean, weathered the 30-40 knot westerly blast and have so far finished the 285 nautical mile race down Tasmania’s rugged east coast.

Five boats have not indicated they have retired, but are still sheltering.

All four entries from Tamar clubs, Richard and Katrina Fisher’s Believe and Brett Wood’s Independence from the Tamar Yacht Club and the two Port Dalrymple Yacht Club entrants, David Allan’s Obsession and Dianne Haworth’s Pogue Malone all pulled out, citing ‘prudent seamanship’ in the light of the dire forecast of 30 to 40 knots and big seas for Saturday night and Sunday.

Believe, one of the favourites for an overall AMS handicap win, was running under spinnaker close astern of line honours winner, Gary Smith’s The Fork in the Road, when skipper Fisher elected to head to shelter in Triabunna.

‘With the forecast for extended bad weather on Saturday night and through Sunday, I elected to retire rather than hurt the boat or my friends who were sailing with me,' Fisher said yesterday.

Obsession poked its head around Tasman Island early this afternoon but skipper David Allen elected to turn north and shelter in Fortescue Bay.

A late retirement yesterday afternoon was Mike Pritchard’s, Audère. She had resumed racing and was well to the south of Tasman when skipper Mike Pritchard reported an injured crewman and steering problems on the Beneteau First 45.

Apart from The Fork in the Road, Gary Smith’s Bakewell-White 45 from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, and Ballendean, Andrew Scott’s Jarkan 38 from the Huon Yacht Club, almost the entire fleet sought shelter from the westerly gale in bays and ports between Maria Island and Fortescue Bay.

The two yachts battled conditions described by Smith as ‘very dark night, wet windy and lumpy as we rounded Tasman…you couldn’t see the next wave in front of you.'

The Fork in the Road, from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania crossed the finish line off Hobart’ Castray Esplanade at 5.44.59, just after sunrise, with Ballendean finishing at 9:22:48

Derwent Sailing Squadron sailing secretary Michael Denney praised skippers who, anticipating the ferocity of the gale, had used prudent seamanship in not attempting to continue racing and had sought shelter overnight.

'The gale decimated the fleet but we actually had only two or three boats forced to retire because of damage or crew injuries, and they have not been too serious,' Denney added.