In the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, soft overnight conditions in Bass Strait have frustrated the front runners all night, especially the heavier Perpetual Loyal, which has watched the lighter, leaner Wild Oats XI gradually inch away from her.
Wild Oats XI had opened up a 26 nautical mile lead, and at sunrise was getting at least some breeze while her rival appeared to be stuck in a hole.
If Wild Oats XI can avoid the windless minefields still dotting the northern Tasmanian coast this morning, Perpetual Loyal runs the real danger of losing contact for when the breeze does finally kick in later today. The next few hours will be crucial.
And just three nautical miles astern of her, Ragamuffin 100 continues to make a persistent bid for second place, though she too appeared to have sailed into Perpetual Loyal’s sunrise hole.
Further back in Bass Strait, it has been a disappointing night for the two VO70s, Giacomo and Black Jack, and the Hong Kong 80 footer Beau Geste. They are now nearly 50 miles from the leader and are struggling to stay in touch.
It is a much better story for the smaller boats still off the NSW south coast and entering Bass Strait though. The breeze has been much better and more consistent where they are, and the mid-sized boats can expect a very fast Bass Strait crossing later today, in stark contrast to yesterday’s soft conditions.
Pre-race forecasts given to the skippers at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia looked to be designed for the big boats, but reality has turned out to favour the back half of the fleet. The slower the race, the more it favours the littlies, and this has turned out to be a slow race for the maxis indeed.
The back half of the fleet has made a big charge in the handicap placings, and if the forecast winds do pan out, it will only get better for them.
At this stage, it is still a lottery, with the lead changing minute to minute, and the race leaders ranging from the Tasmanian 38 foot Martela and the smallest boat still racing, Illusion, to the big 82 foot Swan cruiser/racer, Nikata.
The mid-sized boats, 50 feet or so should steam across the Strait under spinnaker this afternoon, while the smaller boats will face more of a slog when gale force winds kick in tonight from the west. So the likely IRC handicap race should become clearer this evening.
At the front, the super maxis will want to stay well away from the Tasmanian coast. The wind will gradually pick up from the north through the morning and it will get stronger the further south the leaders get.
By this afternoon they will be clocking the sorts of speeds we associate with these giants, and it does look as though the Derwent River will provide a good breeze right through the evening.
So at last Perpetual Loyal will get her preferred conditions, but can she keep fighting off Ragamuffin 100, just one mile adrift, and can she hang onto Wild Oats XI in the meantime?
Rolex Sydney Hobart website
by Jim Gale
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10:21 PM Fri 27 Dec 2013GMT
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