Rolex Sydney Hobart - At a time when bowsprits, bumpkins and prodders proliferate on everything from singlehanded dinghies to 30 metre Supermaxis, you might be forgiven for wondering whether the humble spinnaker pole has had its day.
But for some of the skippers whose crew are still wrestling with this foredeck hardware, the forecast for this year’s Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is bringing smiles to their faces. Roger Hickman, who will be sailing master aboard Alan Brierty’s Corby 49 ‘Limit’ in this year’s race believes that there will be some real advantages to a spinnaker pole if the forecast for predominantly northerly winds holds good.
‘In a nor’easter Hobart is directly downwind from the start, so the ability to sail deep is a real plus’ said Hickman after today’s press conference for some of the possible handicap winners.
Expanding on his comments in the conference on the virtues of poles versus bowsprits in the conditions predicted, Hickman explained his perspective.
‘With a pole we can sail 160s (160 degrees off the breeze) and that’s perhaps 10 degrees lower than others like the TP52s or downwind flyers like Chutzpah with their asymmetricals set on bowsprits’.
‘Boats with asymmetrics may have more speed, but there’s an important distinction here between planing and surfing.
We may be a knot or two slower and while they may be 'heating up' and planing across the waves we can soak down, get more depth and surf more easily. If they run too deep their spinnakers die; so in the end we think our VMG (Velocity Made Good) will be better.’
‘The other consideration is the forecast change of wind direction to the northwest; when it follows a nor’easter that change can kick up an awkward quartering wave under the stern of the lighter planing boats. If you can’t run deeper that can result in more wipe outs when the breeze is up.’ Mike Green, sailing master aboard Graeme Wood’s TP52 ‘Wot Yot’ has a different perspective.
‘Sure, boats with poles can run a bit deeper’ said Green later ‘but I don’t think the advantage will be that significant. In those conditions TP52's are running only two knots under windspeed. We’ve also had a larger spinnaker made for the race and reckon that will make a difference for us’.
‘We think that one of the biggest factors in the speed equation is crew fitness and endurance. These boats are really demanding to sail at these speeds and with no canting keel we also need weight on the rail as much as possible. So you need a younger fitter crew’.
‘We’ve done a lot of work on sleep deprivation management, especially around diet. For instance we’ve been finding out what the effects of carbohydrates are when you’re tired’.
‘I’ve been off coffee for days just so that when I do drink it during the race its effects are maximized’ added Green, making a face that suggested a coffee would be very welcome right then.
On one matter a number of the skippers agree; they’ll be heading offshore on the first afternoon to get out to the current which, despite running very wide and weakly off this part of NSW coast will nonetheless help the run south and also set up a good bearing for a straight run across Bass Strait, assuming north west changes materializes.
That bearing may also allow them to get a slingshot effect off one of the current eddies southwest of Green Cape.
‘You don’t want to be the wrong side of that one' added Green.
Poles or no poles all of the skippers at today’s conference agreed that the competition gets no easier from one year to the next. South African Mike Joubert, bowman aboard the American TP 65 'Rosebud', which has enjoyed handicap success in this month’s Rolex Trophy and Big Boat Challenge, added an international perspective to the rivalry that surrounds this race.
‘We came here anticipating getting beaten up; the Australian sailing scene really is fiercely competitive. But this is a race that everyone has got to do.’