by Rob Mundle
What a difference a day makes: no apocalypse occurred overnight, and, the Wind Gods had a mood swing that decreased the chance of a race record time in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
WILD OATS XI, Sail No: 10001, Owner: Bob Oatley, Skipper Mark Richards, Design: Reichel/Pugh 30 Mtr, LOA (m): 30.5, State: NSW
Yesterday the crew of the line honours favourite, the 30-metre long supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, was savouring the thought of a rapid charge south ahead of race record pace, but today that is less likely.
Specialist yachting meteorologist, Roger Badham, who is advising the Wild Oats XI race strategists, said today that while the supermaxi was still destined to average more than 20 knots on a rollicking run across Bass Strait, the entire weather pattern for the 628 nautical mile was turning against a race record time.
‘The models I’m working from show quite a bit of instability in the weather pattern for the race,’ Badham said. ‘The band of favourable north easterly wind that will be present off the NSW south coast and across Bass Strait is now narrower than it was in yesterday’s outlook, and that means the big boats will have less high speed downwind sailing than previously expected.
‘While the chance for a race record time still exists, the odds of it happening are less.’
Badham also stressed that the outlook could still change either way over the four days that remain before the start time.
Wild Oats XI, which is owned by winemaker Bob Oatley and skippered by Mark Richards, is going for a record sixth line honours in eight starts in the big race, which commences at 1pm on Boxing Day.
She is also out to break her course record time of 1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, which was set during her Rolex Sydney Hobart race debut in 2005. She also has the opportunity to better the fastest, but unofficial, time ever logged for the course. That came in 1999 when the 44.8 metre long American ketch, Mari-Cha III, which was competing under special invitation, set a time that is just three minutes inside Wild Oats XI’s official race record.
Badham’s current prognosis for the race is that the fleet will enjoy a spinnaker start exiting Sydney Harbour then encounter 20 knot headwinds once outside the Heads. The big boats are not likely to encounter a favourable change in the wind towards the east until they are near Montague Island, 160 nautical miles south of Sydney. The north easterly wind that will follow this change will gust to 30 knots across Bass Strait and down the Tasmanian Coast.
Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards, said today he still saw the weather outlook for the race as being exciting.
‘Our aim is to get to Hobart first,’ he said. ‘We’re not thinking about the race record. If we get the record then it will come as a bonus.
‘However, I agree with Roger that we are still in with a chance for the record, even with the less favourable forecast. If you compare the weather pattern we experienced when we set the record in 2005 with what we are likely to get this year, I think conditions are still far more in favour of a race record time this year.’
The current outlook also indicates that the larger yachts in the race will dominate the handicap results.