Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race- It's Just a Matter of Weather or Not

Will Oxley at the nav desk on Ichi Ban today. "All bets are off".
For the deadline-pressured print journalists in the event’s media centre, today’s Bureau of Meteorology weather forecast for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was not what they needed for a quick story file and an early mark for Christmas.

The answers to questions that the journos were asking the skippers after the weather briefing gave them precious little productive copy for tomorrow’s papers,

‘Will there be a race record?’ ‘Not sure’.

‘What about a spinnaker start?’ ‘Can’t say’.

‘When does the heavy weather arrive?’ ‘Could be anytime’.

‘Is it a big boat or a small boat race?’ ‘Your guess is as good as mine’.

‘When do you expect to get to Hobart?’ ‘See all of the above’.

From the weather outlook, two days ahead of the Boxing Day start, the only certainty is uncertainty.

And with the weather pattern remaining – as international yachting weather guru Roger 'Clouds’ Badham put it the other day – 'very messy', the wise keep their counsel.


A quick straw poll of some of the most experienced navigators, skippers and the crew as they exited this morning’s weather briefing elicited wry smiles, shakes of the head and talk-to-me-on-the-day looks.

All that anyone was prepared to say was that the last two days have turned the weather on its head and now anyone could be in with a chance.

In brief synopsis a highly erratic Low at the start may give anything from light to strong winds from a SE-NE quarter, then there’s probably a period of building nor’easters down the NSW coast before it all goes ‘weird’ on the 27th.

There is any number of possible scenarios for Bass Strait and the Tasmanian Coast, but the one thing that seems most likely is a south or southwesterly bashing for anyone trying to round Tasman Island; the bad news for the smallest of the boats is that the pain will just get worse for those who take the longest to get there.


So, for what it’s worth the following is the little that could be gleaned from those who know a lot about such things and who also know better than to chance their reputations on the highly mercurial weather patterns currently wandering erratically over Australia’s eastern seaboard.


Ian ‘Fresh Burns’ (Wild Oats XI’s tactician)
'There’s a lot of different arrows going a lot of different ways! It looks like two years ago. There’s generally going to be more pressure offshore. Certain boats will get nice northerlies down the Tasmanian coast, the bigger boats will miss out on that and the smaller boats will get hit with the following front.' Burns suggested that perhaps the 45-50 footers might do well out of this forecast.


Mike Green (Patrice’s helmsman, and about to start his 35th Hobart Race)
'I think there’s a little bit more east than what they’re talking about (the BoM) for the start. The rich will get richer because the north easterlies will build from the south. I think we’ll have 18 hours of fairly reasonable running and then the ridge will start to take effect; for us that will be anywhere from Montague Island to Green Cape, maybe 20 hours into the race.'

Daryl Hodgkinson (Victoire’s skipper)
'There was a bit of confusion when the southerlies down the line came into it this morning; we’ll have to talk to our experts about that. We’ll have a couple of reefs on and our main decision will be whether the line’s in for the third reef!'


Roger Hickman (Wild Rose’s skipper)
'All I can say is that after the forecast from earlier in the week that favoured the big boats, it’s now seems to be open to us all', said with Hicko’s characteristic broad smile.

Ed Psaltis (AFR Midnight Rambler’s skipper)
'I think we might be on the too-small end of the possible winning division from this forecast.' Midnight Rambler has got new and larger sails, so they get a small rating penalty, but should be able to box a little further up their ‘weight bracket’. Psaltis thought the 50-60 footers were favoured.



Lindsay May (Brindabella’s navigator)
'The tricky thing is what we’ve got on the 27th; we've got a really lazy little high (over the NSW South Coast and Bass Strait) that we get from time to time; there will be no pressure in the middle of it and around it you get transitions from northerlies to south easterlies. They can be very frustrating, you’ve been going so well and than you’ve got to get around it. I think the boats that are really optimised for upwind are going to do well, the 50-60 footers will do well with the current under them.'


Will Oxley (Ichi Ban’s navigator)
'All bets are off really until the day (Boxing Day). The timing of getting to Tasman Island and the second front is going to be key for most of the fleet. What happens to this low at the start of determines how quickly we get away.'


Sir Robin Knox Johnston (Creator of the Clipper Yacht Race, with 12 Clipper 70s racing and racing to Hobart on one of the two previous generation Clipper 68s)
'It’s becoming more of a test of seamanship for the Clipper fleet with the south westerlies coming in. The big boats might get less of it. But bear in mind my crews have been through three storms in the southern ocean and they’ve sailed all the way from England to get here.'


And my guess? It’s Christmas, so I’ll follow the counsel of the Wise Men and add nothing more….

…save to say, that if Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns’ recollections of the race two years ago are re-enacted, expect to see and hear some weary skippers in Hobart telling tales of the holes they sailed into before they copped a lashing!

Merry Christmas everyone.
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