by John Curnow
Just before the crews departed the quay for the start of the 68th race to Hobart, we tracked down a few key suspects in some of the divisions to see if plans had changed with the latest weather information.
Vicsail Beneteau’’s Cheryl Stanton went to all the boats, this one is Andrew Saies’, Two True. - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
The first stop was one of the eight Beneteau First 40s competing in 2012, Wicked from the Sandringham Yacht Club in Melbourne. After being presented with a small and not too heavy farewell gift from Vicsail Beneteau, co-owner Mark Welsh commented, ‘They are wonderful people at Beneteau, right throughout Australia and the most fantastic agency you could ask for. We are really looking forward to the Beneteau race as our race within the race. As we’re all effectively the same boat, it is just going to be game on the whole way down there. We are going to be slugging it out with all of them and hopefully we will be the first ones down there.’
Given that on the morning of December 27 they were indeed out the front of their clan, it has been a good night for Wicked. Now the Beneteau First 40 National Championship was held recently, so in a lot of ways, this race is sort of a quasi-offshore championship. ‘We have now got to work out what the trophy is going to be and I don’t think that you could go past something at the Customs House Hotel down in Hobart. There might be a few unofficial trophies going on in that little establishment. And of course if Beneteau would like to add to that with something bubbly or sweet, all the way from France, then we’d be delighted’, Mark finished with.
Around 10 nautical miles astern of Wicked is Halcyon from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria. Skipper Chris Tucker said, ‘We are all pretty competitive, but I think we are all very supportive of each other, too. In terms of racing against each other we’re fierce competitors but friendly rivals. I don’t think there will be any argy bargy out there, but we will be all trying to beat each other.’
‘The only boat that we have sailed against before is Wicked. We feel we have an idea on how they sail and we can match them in certain conditions, so I think we need to get out there and see how we go against the others, but Wicked will be the one we will keep an eye on’, said Chris.
Former overall winner and back with the same boat is South Australia’s, Andrew Saies. When asked about the fact that the weather patter was certainly not etched in stone and that day three and four were going to be the interesting ones, he said, ‘Certainly Wicked and that are keen to see what it is all about. It is rumoured that there will be many a championship awarded inside the Customs House when we get there.’
‘I think that the real issue overall, for all of us Beneteaus in this race, is really what happens to the weather on day three and day four. If we pick up stronger Westerlies coming into St Helens and the bigger boats are hitting a large, light patch off the Southern part of Tasmania, then there is going to be a bit of compression in the fleet and that will put us back in contention. If they get through that light window, then they are probably going to get into Hobart in good time and it is going to be hard for us in the overall standings.’
‘The other big interest for us is the other seven First 40s and we are really keen to see if we can come out on top in our division.’ Now late on Saturday/early Sunday there might be a bluster that might roll through the aptly named Storm Bay, so the hardest part of the race may well be inside sight if the finish and be the hardest part. ‘Yes it could be. Certainly Storm Bay and the Derwent are a really critical part of the race. Plenty of boats have been riding contention until that last 30 miles and seen victory slip away. We are hoping that it arrives late and we are in before it.’
To do well in this race you have got to win your division. ‘Yes. Every year we have said that. The best we can do is to be set for win our division. If that division is favoured in the overall standing of the race because of the weather pattern, then you do well overall, but you can’t hope for more than a division win and see where that takes you.’
Sydney Harbour had a solid 15 knots that built to more like 20 at the Heads, so kite trimmers were definitely going to earn their keep on Boxing Day. ‘I think they will. Getting us out of the Harbour safely is part one on the journey, then getting the headsail up and locking down for about 12 hours, and ultimately waiting for that wind to back around into the East a bit. That will be the next interesting part of the race’, said Andrew. Indeed it would pan out that way, for Two True were bare headed at the inner turning mark as they struggled to get their code zero furled back up correctly and move on to the headsail. On Thursday morning (0900hrs), Two True was 2nm astern of Wicked.
In IRC Div2, Bruce Taylor’s Chutzpah is in seventh place about 20nm behind the leader, Warwick Sherman’s GTS43, Occasional Course Language Too. Bruce’s Reichel-Pugh penned 40-footer is another that would have loved the fast exit on Boxing Day. ‘You always need to take the weather with a grain of salt. I don’t think this Southerly will last too long and by sundown it will start to moderate a bit. By midnight it will shoot around. I think the big call this afternoon when you get out there whether you head South or off to New Zealand. That is going to be a big one.’
Commenting on that issue further, where inside seems to be the favourite at the moment, Bruce said, ‘We have been nailed twice over the years doing that. The wind just rotates round and suddenly you are tacking off the beach at 120 degrees, so you are almost heading off to Brisbane.’
‘It is a close call. We run a couple of different bits of software and one is actually saying to tack as you get out and the other one is saying to keep going, which is interesting. The breeze from last night to today, in terms of prediction, has gone from 140 to 160 degree, which would encourage me to go offshore more. We will wait until we get out there. If there is a 160 degrees breeze when we get out there, I would be inclined to keep heading out for a little while. If it is at 140, then you are forced to tack onto port and go for it.’
At 160 degrees the seaway would suggest it would be kinder on boat and crew by going out to New Zealand. ‘Yes. There will be plenty of bump. The seaway would be a little easier and the current is a little stronger further out, which will actually make the seaway harder. Looking later on towards the very dark hours of tonight and early tomorrow morning, there is probably more pressure further out than there is closer in, so there is a whole range of decisions we’ll be faced with. That will be the first call. In terms of the breeze coming in, all the suggestions are it will be quieting down as the sun goes down but time will tell. There are an awful lot of holes in the forecast all the way down and that means a lot of opportunities to make big gains and to lose a lot of places’, Bruce finished with. Chutzpah did go offshore for a little bit before then coming right in along the beach at Wollongong.
Currently leading the six TP52s and all but Living Doll in the 50 somethings, is Jason Van Der Slot and John William’s, Calm. Richard Grimes is the navigator on board, undergoing his 24th trip to Hobart.
On how he felt before the event he said, ‘This is the question here. Thoughts, feelings and actions are all sort of tied in together and we have got the boat here for this race better prepared, with most of the same crew and we’re looking to the same tactics that did last year, when we were out to give it a pretty good crack. Unfortunately we did some damage to the new carbon aerofoil rigging and that dropped us back about 10 miles.’
‘With the forecast offering a little bit of unpredictability towards the end, it’s sort of suiting the 60 footers, but it is a Hobart race, so you can break stuff and things change, constantly. Our aim is to win our division amongst all the 50s. If we win our division and if the weather Gods are happy, then we will be on the podium when we get in. To do that though, there is a lot preparation, boat speed and tactics needed. We reckon we have pushed our ability to get the boat through the water by about 5%, so we are looking for about a five nautical mile gain in every 100.’
‘We are looking to have about a 30 mile buffer available by the time we get down to Tasman Island, which gives us the ability to meet the river with leverage, because that’s where the race restarts. We have got a lot of Tassie guys onboard and some double digit Hobart guys that have multiple wins, both on corrected time and on handicap, so we are pretty happy with how we are going to get up that river in any condition’, said Grimesy.
Our immediate goal is to focus on just getting a clean start. The race is not really about the start, it is about the finish. We’ll just sail to target speeds and angles and try to get 90% of the tactics right. I spoke with Roger Badham this morning regarding the weather. There are really two critical areas for us. It’s moving down to New South Wales coast where we get about 12/15 hours of front sail and as we move into that coloured stuff we want to position ourselves for that next front off the Tasmanian coast, which is about a day of running, and it is not that clear where to be.’
‘We will be making that decision about this time tomorrow (0900 on Thursday), as we approach Gabo Island and that will set us up nicely for the Tassie coast, which is difficult at best. It is pretty close push to be in for our 1pm finish, maybe plus or minus a few hours, as it is pretty much a three-day event for us.’
‘It is the southerly that is on the back and South side of the high that is going to be dominating for couple of days down there, but that suits us for going up the river’, Richard finished with.
This dedicated crew of Calm, and indeed all the sailors out there for the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, deserve our wishes for fair winds and no breakages.