Rolex Sydney to Hobart - Close tussle for line honours predicted

Super maxi skippers talk to the media after receiving the race briefing L-R: Syd Fischer – Ragamuffin 100; Mark Richards – Wild Oats XI and Anthony Bell – Perpetual LOYAL - Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2013
For the 69th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race there will be no race record according to the latest from the Bureau of Meteorology’s Andrew Treloar – although Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark Richards, said 'anything could happen.'

That’s the bad news, but the good news is a much closer tussle for line honours is predicted between Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s annual 628 nautical mile race.

Gone is the opening 24-hours of shorts and t-shirt sailing under spinnaker that the Bureau predicted last Friday, instead Treloar now expects a southerly start and possible thunderstorms.

Treloar also spelled some bad news for the smaller boats, which will likely face not one, but two southerlies, the second being gale force, as they trudge across Bass Strait long after the bigger boats have tied up safely at Hobart’s Constitution Dock.

Crews are expected to be donning their foul-weather gear as they head to the start line on Boxing Day, with a south-south-easterly wind of up to 30 knots predicted.

That will ease to about 15 knots down the New South Wales Coast, and tend east/north-east; it’s here where the maxis are expected to hit their stride and break away from the pack.

Conditions will remain much the same on Friday morning, but freshen from the north-east to about 20 knots, with a strong wind warning near Gabo Island off Victoria, setting the scene for the most crucial part of the race.

Crews will have to work hard to capitalise on every mile in the north-east conditions, which are predicted to prevail until Saturday, before gale force winds from the west-south-west hit hard from Saturday night through to Sunday morning.

A couple of days ago, this race looked tailor-made for the defending champion Wild Oats XI.

That’s not the case now. With a slow start, and so many shifting weather patterns on the track, this is fast becoming as much a race for navigators and tacticians as the boat drivers.

It’s a forecast that’s made Perpetual LOYAL skipper Anthony Bell a little more optimistic.

'Things are much more uncertain now, I think we’re going to be in for a proper boat race,’’ he said. 'We were a little bit depressed a day or so ago, now we’ve moved from depression to uncertainty.

It’s made Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards far more wary of his competitors.

'It’s going to be a very tricky race, don’t rip up your tickets until the death,’’ he said.

'There’s a big variation in designs, and each boat will have favoured conditions for themselves at some time and not so much down the track.'

With some of the 100-footers’ skippers admitting there will be times when they will have to throttle back to stay in one piece, the Volvo 70s Giacomo and Black Jack, as well as the Hong Kong maxi Beau Geste, will have a chance to have a good crack at them.

The downhill run is something the crew aboard the race’s wildest of wild cards, Karl Kwok’s new Beau Geste, is looking forward to most.

Driver/trimmer Dave Sweet said during the yacht’s first big sail, across the Tasman to the race start, she clocked up more than 30 knots boat speed downwind.

'We hit 30 knots a few times, and we had to rein her in,’’ he said. 'This thing is really going to be a different beast, she’s a big, powerful boat, and she’s going to go really well downwind.'

Having sailed in to Sydney relatively under the radar, the Botin 80 has remained somewhat of a mystery. Sweet reckons that’s an advantage too.

'We’re a bit of a dark horse to the fleet, but she is a dark horse to us as well, we don’t really know what the boat’s capable of, but we’ll find out in the race that’s for sure.'

Ragamuffin 100’s Syd Fisher gave no hint he’ll be backing off on his 45th race south.

'We’ll push the boat as hard as we can,’’ he said. 'We’ve got the gear for any weather; we’ll take it as it comes.'

While Wild Rose skipper Roger Hickman says his crew’s prepared for the second southerly because they’re used to copping 'dregs of the weather' in his 43-footer.

'The old girl goes nearly as fast upwind as she does downwind, so we don’t really mind which direction the wind comes from,’’ he said.

'But there is a lot of East Coast current running this year, so that helps us; because we’re slow and the current’s strong that really does give us a leg up.

'If you’re fast and the current’s strong, it’s a much smaller percentage of your speed.'

The scene at the race briefing this morning. Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2013