The Ragamuffin 100 crew is backing its chances of beating Wild Oats XI following a race day forecast that guarantees the smaller yachts will 'cop a beating' in predicted treacherous conditions in the 69th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
100, RAGAMUFFIN LOYAL, Sail No: SYD 100, Owner: Syd Fischer, Design: Elliott 100, LOA (m): 30.5, State: NSW
At the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia today, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Andrew Treloar predicted heavy winds nearing 50 knots and seas exceeding six metres, with an occasional 10 metre wave come Saturday night, guaranteeing storm-sails will be stowed within reach and life-lines will be tacked-on around-the-clock.
The super maxi crews reckon they will have crossed the finish line at Hobart’s Castray Esplanade within two days, sneaking them in to safe-harbour just before a gale warning is expected to be issued on Saturday night.
For the yachts around 50-foot and under, a more tried and true Sydney Hobart is in store, with everything from a picture-postcard fast downwind ride, to likely having to seek protection in the lee of Tasmania from a ferocious sou’wester.
'Starting off they’ll be beating into the wind around 10 to 15 knots from the south-west, then they’ll pick up a tailwind down the coast,' Treloar said.
'For those getting through Bass Strait later on Saturday, it’s going to be quite windy down there, we’re looking at gale, and quite big waves as they’re crossing.
'Once they get into the lee of Tasmania they should get some shelter.
'But they need to look out for the southern edge of Tasmania and Storm Bay; the topography there can funnel the wind, and it’ll be strong down there by the time the majority of the fleet arrives.
'The smaller boats will need to be well prepared, they will cop a beating,' Treloar ended.
The forecast couldn’t be much better for Ragamuffin 100, with helmsman David Witt throwing modesty to the wind, saying, 'We’re going to win.
'We’ve just spent all year working on the boat developing it for these exact conditions, so we’ve just gotten lucky,’’ he said.
'If Wild Oats is ever going to be beaten, this is the year.
'Syd opened his cheque book; we’ve got a whole new sail wardrobe, more sail area than any other boat by a lot, which will suit us in the marginal light conditions.
'The boat is the narrowest, has the least displacement, it’s lighter, has a bigger bow sprit, and has six tonne of water in her.
'We’ll do 14 to 15 knots upwind, and we’re probably about the same as Oats downwind, but we’re 10 degrees lower and probably a knot and a half VMG better running in light air than anyone in the fleet.'
But Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards doesn’t believe the super-maxi’s reign is under-threat, especially given the nine-year-old yacht’s had a nautical nip-tuck this year
'The boat’s faster than ever before,' he said.
'The mast, it’s new technology, it’s made from high tensile carbon fibre, so it’s a lot lighter and stronger.
'We had a few early engineering issues with the mast, which we had to work through and rectify, but it has a lot less weight and a lot less windage. The boat’s going about a knot quicker upwind.'
Karl Kwok the skipper of the recently launched Botin 80 Beau Geste is as understated in his team’s chances as was his yacht’s arrival to Sydney.
The Hong Kong Businessman is hopeful the not even a month-old yacht can run with the pack, and even pounce in the always tricky conditions of Hobart’s River Derwent, where many a Sydney-Hobart has been won and lost.
'Hopefully we don’t have to spend that much time with wind on the nose, and we can get more reaching and running weather,’’ he said.
'We hope to keep in touch with the maxis and super maxis, if we can stay close enough, who knows what can happen then.
'There are just so many good boats here, by far this is an experience where you have so many boats in the 60, 70, 80 foot bracket where they all have a chance to arrive at the same time.'
Further back in the fleet will be Bacardi, a 35-year-old yacht, competing in her record 28th race to Hobart.
She might be old, but she’s definitely hard from all those sea miles, giving skipper Martin Power the confidence she’s got what it takes to survive the gale-force predictions.
'All these other sailors will be wishing they were on Bacardi,' laughed Power.
'She’s just so strong, and she’s just the kind of boat you want to be aboard when the going gets tough.
'She survived the ’98 Hobart and it wouldn’t be a Sydney Hobart without conditions like this. It’ll be wet and cold, we’ll have our thermals on, but our bacon and egg sandwiches are all pre-cooked so we’ll be able to power on.'
Bill Ratcliff, a veteran of 44 races feels the same. 'I’ve been there and done that before, it’s sailing and I’ve been sailing all my life and I’ve seen it all in the Hobart,' says Ratcliff, who has sailed each one of the toughest Hobarts.