Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race 2013 - 'Boat breaking'. That’s how Andrew Wenham, skipper of the VO70 Southern Excellence II described the seas off the Tasmanian coast when he arrived at Constitution Dock this afternoon.
'The sea is coming from everywhere; the north-west swell is joining up with the new south-west swell, so it’s very shallow, very choppy,’’ he said.
'Four and five metre seas, big waves, a lot of them breaking. I would be seriously worried about the smaller boats that are still at sea tonight and tomorrow.'
Wenham said that during the last hours of the race, Southern Excellence II was seeing consistent 30 knot winds, which is pretty much what they expected, but it was the gusts that made it tricky.
'We got up to 45 knots, possibly up to 50 if you watched it that closely,’’ he said.
Like all the skippers, Wenham was faced with the dilemma of how much sail to carry to power your way through the jagged, boat-stopping waves without having too much sail aloft when a gust hit.
'That’s the problem, especially on these sized boats,' he said. 'It takes so many people and it takes so long to change down. You have to program so far ahead and think so far ahead.'
The good news for the boats still at sea is that Matthew Thomas from the Bureau of Meteorology does expect things to get a little bit better, but still from the south west.
'Over the next six to 12 hours there’ll be 15 to 25 knots,’’ he said early this afternoon.
'As the boats get closer down to Maria Island winds will increase again. Currently there are gale conditions down there, wind speeds of around 30 to 35 knots for the southeast and lower east of Tasmania.
'There’s winds of 25 to 30 knots in Storm Bay, but they’re easing back and conditions will improve later today.'
Ironically for Andrew Wenham in the big, powerful Southern Excellence II, built originally for the Volvo Ocean Race, the cold, wet, uncomfortable, bone-jarring conditions didn’t come soon enough.
'If we had the last 24-hours for the whole race, we would have done extremely well,’’ he said.
'We started well. Thought we were smart going close to the NSW coast, but fell into a hole and 30 boats passed us. But that’s racing.
'The first few days have been a bit frustrating for us, but it did become a classic Hobart in the end.
'There was something of everything in the mix. We got the light winds, the heavy winds, the reaching, hard on the nose, swell, southerlies.
'A typical Hobart,' Wenham surmised