by Jim Gale
Rolex Sydney Hobart -Four days out from the start of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart, the weather forecast is evolving, but it still looks grim for the smaller boats in the fleet - grimmer, if anything, than when the Bureau of Meteorology first showed us it’s long range forecast yesterday.
Will Matt Allen’’s modified VOR 70 Ichi Ban be in the sweet spot in what is shaping as a big boat race -Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012
LtoR: Sam Haynes (Celestial), Matt Allen (Ichi Ban), Andrew Saies (Two True), Mike Broughton (Jazz), Lindsay May (Love and War), Ian Box (Toy Box), Jim Cooney (Brindabella). - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
'I think the rich will get richer in this race,' is how Ichi Ban skipper Matt Allen put it this morning. 'The weather has probably slowed down from yesterday, but the biggest yachts, like Loki, Lahana, Wild Oats XI and Ragamuffin-Loyal all have a great chance at winning the race on handicap.'
Allen can include his own Jones 70, Ichi Ban, in that list as well. It is shaping up as his best chance of a win since he launched the big, twin rudder ocean racer in 2005.
The key is a change of breeze forecast for the end of day two/early day three of the race. Westerly or southerly – it is too far out to say.
Before that, the entire fleet will have worked through a fresh southerly on the first afternoon, transitioning to a light north-easterly in the evening and strengthening the following day for some 20 hours, when everyone will take off under spinnaker - especially the front runners.
The monster 100 footers will open a big lead on the minnows, and will likely be around Tasman Island, or even tied up in Hobart, when the second southerly puts the breaks on the boats still crossing Bass Strait.
'When the breeze switches to the south, anyone who is not at Tasman Island is going to be pretty quickly out of calculation.
'It’s certainly a big boat race,' Allen confirms.
'To get through that weather window you’re going to need a pretty fast boat. The cut off will probably be Loki (the RP63 and last year’s winner).' And yes, Allen is confident that in all but light airs Ichi Ban is faster than Loki.
Mike Broughton, the navigator of the Cookson 50, Jazz, agrees. He fears not even 50 feet will be big enough to score in this race. 'I don’t feel as happy this morning as I did yesterday in terms of forecast,' he reveals.
'Whilst we’ve got a great 20 hours of strong running on day two, I think day three is going to be the challenge for us. The wind shadow of Tasmania on that south-east corner has snared us before. I think it might get us again - hopefully not.'
It is a very poor long forecast for the 40 to 50 foot boats, which would expect to reach Tasman Island on day four.
A mix of southerlies and northerlies would suit all-round boats like Andrew Saies’ 2009 winner Two True, but the second round of headwinds now being talked about, on top of a rugged first afternoon, will not only slow them down relative to the frontrunners, it will tell on the crew as well.
'A southerly off the east coast of Australia over 20 knots is always tough,' says Saies. 'Short pitch seas and into the wind.
'Ironically, our boat does quite well in those conditions rating wise, but our crew doesn’t always do quite well. It’s usually down to two or three of us to get the coffees and tend to the sick and injured. Twenty knots is fine; it’s when it starts to hit 25. After 24 to 48 hours of that, like we had last year, it can get tough.'
The South Australian will now focus on winning his division, and for that, this is a good forecast for his Beneteau First 40.
After two disappointing non-finishes in a row, CYCA member Sam Haynes will be happy to get his Rogers 46 Celestial-Assistance Dogs to Hobart - period. Then he can concentrate on the rest of his division.
'I mainly hope to be in Constitution Dock. I want to make it after two failures in a row. It’s pretty hard to take that,' he says, 'but that said, we are sailing better and Celestial is more versatile now as a yacht.'
'Here, here!' Ian Box chimes in. He has a brand new XP44, Toybox 2, to play with.
'You can’t win a race unless you finish, so there’s that constant compromise between nursing the boat and going as fast as you can at the same time. It is a bit of a marathon. There’s a long way to go and a lot of fatigue issues to deal with for the boats that don’t get there at the front of the fleet,' Box says.
Matt Allen concedes that if a newly forecast day three southerly kicks in a bit earlier than expected, one of the canting-keel super maxis, Wild Oats XI, Wild Thing or Ragamuffin-Loyal will steal the silverware, but at the moment he is very happy to be in the group of Ichi Ban, Loki, Black Jack and Lahana, thinking one of these will win.
Brindabella’s owner, Jim Cooney, reckons he’ll be in that mix too. 'I think as long as we get down the coast safely and cleanly the first day, then once we get the breeze swinging around a bit then Brindabella will pick up her legs and go.
'Light airs are the challenge for us,' he says of the 19 year-old 1997 line honours winner. 'She is a fairly hefty piece of equipment, so we need a decent bit of breeze.'
Love & War, the 39 year-old wooden boat that won the Rolex Sydney Hobart for the third time in 2006. Credit ROLEX-Daniel Forster
However, before they all get too confident, the last word goes to long time navigator, Lindsay May. He is doing his 40th race this year on Love and War, the timber veteran he steered to victory in 2006.
Simon Kurts’ classic S&S 47 will be a long way behind the 60 and 70-foot speedsters, but Lindsay thinks that, this far out, the fat lady still has an aria or two left: 'It will be difficult, but we’re still seven days out from when this critical shift happens, so it could change,' he says.