by Rob Kothe
Midrace website computer driven handicap predictions for the 628 mile Rolex Sydney to Hobart race ignore the fact that most races are won and lost in the last 40 miles from Tasman Light across Storm Bay, past the Iron Pot and up the Derwent.
Secret Mens Business 3.5 nears the finish line, winning the Tattersall’s Cup - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2010
As we have explained over the years, every ten minutes or so during the race, the computers spit out a new number set, with ranking. At best, these need to be taken with a tablespoon of sea salt.
In the maze of numbers, there is one more important than all the others in deciding if the figures are 'back of the boat fantasy land stuff' or not.
It’s the ETA. Turn Tasman Light at 20:00 and Huey says ‘Good that you could come and thank your mother for the fish’ or words to that effect….
The reason is the factor that has caused heartache and grief in the last 66 Hobart races - the Derwent River goes to sleep at night, unless there is a strong gradient wind.
A boat arriving at the Iron Pot 11 miles from the finish line might have averaged ten knots from Eddystone Light to Storm Bay. However it may take two or three or four hours to go the last eleven miles depending just how tired the Derwent is. It seems most Hobart sailors have a story to tell and year after year, they look for sympathy from other sailors, but they don’t get it.
Many a boat has been famous at 20:00 hours, but at 03:00 is drifting up or even worse down the Derwent.
You see the wind gods use the Sydney Hobart race to remind mortals that most things in life are about timing. So it's way too early in the feverish first 24 hours to determine a handicap chance, which is most easily done when the boats are tied up in Constitution Dock.
The 2010 Tattersalls Cup (IRC handicap ) winner Geoff Boettcher's Reichel-Pugh 49 Secret Mens Business 3.5 finished at an almost perfect time 1.42pm. 2009 Andew Saies Benetau First 40 crossed the line at 1250pm, the 2008 winner Bob Steels Quest lead a fleet of TP52 onto the podium at 2pm.
Its interesting to consider that Matt Allen's latest built to win the Hobart on handicap Ichi Ban is a 60 footer, his Volvo 70 kept arriving at night.
Not just a few sailors have had the Weather Gate slam in their face; just about every one of us has had a 'Derwent experience.'
(A Sail-World tip - use a lighted candle in a winch socket to find the breeze, it’s more sensitive than cigarette smoke and it winds up the smokers who have been dreaming they would get a quick few puffs on the non-smoking boat in the wee small hours on the Derwent River.)
So we are not going to spend the first night during the Hobart race writing feverishly about the half hourly changes in Handicap positions, we are going to have a few Tasmanian Boags or Cascades and do what the Derwent does - go to sleep.