by Rob Mundle
Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race 2013 weather outlook, in just 24 hours, has gone from having the potential to deliver a new race record time for Wild Oats XI, to the opposite - a brutal race, not because of too much wind, but because of the lack of it.
Heading for Hobart: Rolex Sydney Hobart Race record holder, Wild Oats XI, powers her way south in the 2012 Rolex Sydney Hobart race.
Throughout today the nucleus of the crew of Bob Oatley’s 30-metre supermaxi, Wild Oats XI – the current race record holder – has been developing a new strategy for the 628 nautical miles classic, simply because the weather forecast has changed so dramatically. For much of the time the winds will be soft.
'A record race is out the window on today's forecast,' said yachting meteorologist, Roger Badham, adding that the first yacht to finish could be up to 10 hours outside Wild Oats XI’s current record of 1 day, 18 hours, 23 minutes, 12 seconds.
'The only thing for certain is that the start and finish will be relatively easy,' said Wild Oats XI’s tactician, America’s Cup yachtsman and Olympian, Iain Murray. 'What’s in between will be far from that. It’s going to be bloody tricky – more like mental hell. The race weather forecast for the waters off the Tasmanian coast indicate just one thing – minefield!'
Murray said that the current forecast for those waters meant it would be quite easy for one yacht to sail into a calm and stop while another, just a few miles away, stayed in the breeze and continued south at 20 knots. That could mean a gain for them of 40 nautical miles in just two hours.
'There is no doubt this year’s race is going to be an enormous mental challenge – much more so than last year’s race,' Murray said. 'We are going to see an extensive variation in sailing conditions, which means it will be a race where you will have to take well calculated risks and string a whole many of them together successfully if you are going to be first to Hobart.'
Murray said that the influence the light winds would had on the big boats become apparent in the current course plot that had been developed for Wild Oats XI. To stay in the best breeze and get to Hobart in the fastest possible time means they will need to sail more than 100 nautical miles to the east of the rhumb line – the straight-line distance between Sydney and Tasman Island, 44 nautical miles from the finish. This looping course will add at least 120 nautical miles to the distance to be sailed, but even so, it is predicted to be the fastest route.
'It’s going to be very difficult when you’re out there to convince yourself you’re doing the right thing because there’s no coming back towards the coast,' Murray explained, 'even if you suddenly realise the yachts inshore have found breeze and are sailing faster.'