by John Curnow
Indeed, conjecture itself really does appear to be on target for both Line Honours and the Overall Winner at present.
Is this the man most likely? Matt Allen could well be the one smiling in Hobart. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
One thing that has settled down a little in to recognisable pattern is the weather. Boxing Day should be the favoured Southerly start with the accordant spinnakers. It will remain thus until the next day when it will clock around from Sou’east to Nor’east and may make 25 knots, which will allow the downwind flyers to open up the throttle. In the case of the Maxis, they should be able to match that and with a little extra assistance, even get on towards 30 knots. All of which is a great way to cover ground and despatch some of the 628 nautical miles required to get to Hobart.
The Bureau of Meteorology presented yet another excellent explanation of the impending weather patterns. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
After that, a series of what appear to be benign Westerly changes will roll through and slow progress down significantly. On the East coast of Tasmania by Friday, this will look more like a Southerly airstream and build that famous eddy that circulates anti-clockwise around and can provide for some very interesting and challenging transitions as you plough on to Tasman Island.
The current theory still expects that the overall winner will come from the likes of Ichi Ban, Blackjack or Loki, who comprise a wolf pack of magnificent minimaxis. The Maxis themselves are not out of contention yet and Lahana, who rates exceptionally well for her 30m length, may be the dark horse in this whole equation. If you had to go for it, you might think it is Ichi Ban’s year, especially if Hughie, the God of Wind, allows for a longer period under spinnaker. Note also, that if the wind from the Nor’east does build past the expected 25knots, then the three Volvo60s will also begin to come in to the equation, rapidly.
Matt Allen signs in and collects yet another plaque as a memento for his 24th run to Hobart. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
One thing that is also not talked about too much presently, is that the race record is also within reach, given that it is only a 15knot average. Even though that is an impressive number, what is even more impressive is the ability for Wild Oats XI, Ragamuffin Loyal and the recently-updated-yet-once-more and previous winner, Wild Thing, to canter off at a pace that disposes of nautical miles as if they are used tissues when you have a cold.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore, Howard Piggott, commented on the level of variance that would seem to be on offer, ‘It’s going to be a good tactical and challenging race, which it should be. There’ll be times when the breeze will change and bring on some big decisions and I would think most of the sail wardrobe will be used, too.’
In terms of the all-important sail choices and what is to be left on the quay before you go, Howard said, ‘I would be reluctant to leave a light spinnaker out of the mix, with the way the forecast is reading and there certainly are times when you need to have the whole inventory at your disposal. The Drifter is a very handy sail to get the boat moving in those ultra-light moments and I imagine most of the fleet will have them packed on board and not at the bottom of the stack, either.’
Earlier on, we saw how there is an old adage for this race that you go out early and come in late. It refers to being out to sea off the New South Wales coast and then much closer in as you approach the end of the second stage of this iconic event. At the time, Sail-World noted that this may be a year for that strategy to be well and truly tested. Right now, there are more than a few computer models that suggest that the converse could well be the track to pursue. At any rate, before we shorten the odds any more on conjecture winning the lot, let’s see what those actually travelling South in the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race have to say.
Jason Van Der Slot is dedicated to the sport and keen to have his TP52, Calm, lead the charge of the 50-footers. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
Jason Van Der Slot from Calm was also aware of the need to look at the transitions, ‘It’s great to see a bit of downhill in the mix, although it is possibly not enough for us and our routing seems to indicate that we will have our work cut out from the beginning, so we’ll keep the focus on leading the six TP52s and trying to hover all over the back of the 60-somethings.’
‘Currently, we look like getting to Tasman Island at lunchtime, so we should be able to get up the River Derwent before it goes to sleep. If we can keep the boat going, we may be able to leapfrog over the 60s, in terms of corrected time.’
Five time Line Honours winner and current record holder, Wild Oats XI, is skippered again by Mark Richards who commented, ‘No. There does not appear to be as much time running downhill on offer now, but it does seem to be more than enough to get us across from Gabo Island to Tasmania.’
‘You’d think we’d be home before that confused eddy of Southerly to Easterly airstreams gets going, but every year we have some issue off the mid to lower East coast of Tasmania with no wind or weird stuff going on. It only has to change a little bit for us to be right on pace and of course, we always remember that the opposite is also very much a possibility.’
‘We’re absolutely motivated to make it six and really looking forward to the challenge. However, like everyone we still have to get to Hobart before we can talk about it. If we make it one piece we’re definitely half a chance, I reckon.’
‘Certainly wish good luck to Wild Thing and we’ll see how it all goes on Boxing Day. Our keel modifications will help in the light airs and that makes us an all-round boat again, which is something you really need to win this race. We may yet get that light patch of Tassie, so it will be good to be able to keep moving at a better pace than before’, Mark finished with.
Attentive faces during the excellent explanation of the weather. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
Mark Bradford is again skippering Peter Harburg’s canting keel, Reichel-Pugh 66 for the journey South after a year off, when a lot of the crew went on Loyal. He said, ‘Of course the are challenges in terms of changes in weather, but we’re more than happy with our overall package.’
‘We’re not worried about a bit of upwind racing, as we put the bow down a bit and get to say 40 apparent wind angle and run high tens for boat speed. Even then the 13s that the maxis do seems to have them over the horizon before you know it.
‘Our plan is to really hang on to Matt (Allen of Ichi Ban) while we are working uphill. We’re well prepared, are one of the only ones out there racing on a durapox belly and have six of last year’s Loyal crew on board’, said Mark. In addition to that, there are faces like Ryan Godfrey from the Puma Volvo Ocean Racing team and the highly respected, Anthony Nossiter, on board this hotted up dragster.
One of the benefits of a canting keel vessel is that the crew weight is not as crucial, for even if they are in bunks, the bulb is still out to the weather side. ‘We learned a lot from Stan Honey in the transitions last year on Loyal, so we’ll draw on that experience. We’ve also been accumulating knowledge all year with regards to our targets etc, so we know that as both Ichi Ban and Loki rate really well, we’ll have to keep on top of our own game to be the one to beat.’
‘We’re boat for boat in terms of rating with Ichi Ban, who has two rudders and a bit more beam for reaching, so they’ll be pushing in anything from the West. You also need to see how well Loki is doing in a range of conditions, especially the light, to understand they are a genuine threat. It just makes for fascinating racing’, Mark finished with.
Now conjecture will continue to reign supreme until the boats are in and the facts dictate who gets the gold. Until then, it will be fun to plot and theorise and just see who might be the likely one to get up, stand up and then ultimately, raise up the Tattersall’s Cup.
Mark Bradford knows sails and he really knows Blackjack well. Are they to be the victors in 2012? - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
Mark Richards from Wild Oats XI is all set to go after Line Honours for the sixth time with Bob Oatley's 100-footer. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
Syd Fischer is doing his 44th race and taking crew like master navigator, Andrew Cape, with him. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race