by Rob Mundle
Mark Richards, the skipper of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race record holder, Wild Oats XI, sees the current weather outlook for this year’s big race – which starts on Boxing Day – being more favourable for high speed sailing than what was experienced when the 30-metre long supermaxi set record in 2005.
Wild Oats XI
His belief is reinforced by yachting meteorologist Roger Badham, whose latest forecast has the leading yacht arriving in Hobart on record pace.
Even so, Richards still holds reservations when talking of a fast race.
This year he and his 18 crew are hoping for an unprecedented six line honours victories in eight starts in the 628 nautical mile classic, and that is their priority: ‘Above all, our challenge this year is to be first to Hobart,’ said Richards. ‘Anything else that comes our way is a bonus.’
2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - Mark Richards, WILD OATS XI
Regardless, crewman Steve Jarvin, who is going for a record 11th line honours in the Hobart, has written the ‘07.40.09 Friday’ inside his weather beaten sailing cap. That’s the time by which Wild Oats XI needs to finish should she lead the fleet into Hobart and also claim a race record.
To claim line honours Wild Oats XI, which is owned by winemaker Bob Oatley, must beat three other big boats: last year’s line honours winner, Ragamuffin Loyal, skippered by Syd Fischer; the heavily revamped Wild Thing (Grant Wharington), and Lahana (Peter Millard and John Honan).
Richards sees three significant elements – unknown quantities – in the latest weather forecast for this year’s race, and each one could have a bearing on the result, especially when it comes to a race record time. The mark Wild Oats XI set on the 628 nautical mile course in 2005 is one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds.
Those key influences are: the strength and true direction of the southerly wind expected at the start; when and how quickly the wind directions goes to the east then north east in an anticipated transition zone about 60 nautical miles down the coast from Sydney, and finally, the timing of the southerly change that is forecast to sweep up Tasmania’s east coast on late Thursday or early Friday.
The Wild Oats XI crew is hoping an addition to their sail inventory, a huge 525-square-metre Code Zero headsail, will be a powerful weapon in the light winds that will prevail during the transition stage off the NSW South Coast, and if it is then it could provide a winning break.
Wild Oats XI and her line honours challengers are destined to have a fast and exciting downwind slide across Bass Strait and south towards their next turning point, Tasman Island, at the entrance to Storm Bay. That north easterly breeze could peak at 30 knots, and in those conditions the yachts could average a very impressive 22 and 25 knots. In a perfect race the forecast south/south westerly change would assist a record run if it arrives just before the leaders enter Storm Bay as this will make for a fast ride for the 30 nautical miles they sail to the entrance to the Derwent River. It will also allow them to make good speed over the final 11 nautical miles up the river to the finish line off downtown Hobart, which has the magnificent 1200-metre high Mount Wellington as a backdrop.
As for the race record, the first yacht home needs to average 15 knots to establish a new mark. Considering that Wild Oats XI is capable of 12 knots sailing upwind, and should sail at twice that speed across Bass Strait, then on paper a record time for this year’s line honours yacht is distinctly possible.