In the first afternoon of the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2011 race, just hours into the contest, Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI was powering south, 45 miles off the NSW coast, heading for New Zealand it seemed.
Why was she heading so wide? The answer was she was covering her rivals (courtesy of the yacht tracking system, which was providing accurate position reports on the boats in the fleet).
As the fastest boat in the fleet she can only be beaten, barring an equipment failure, by a boat taking a flier.
By race start time it seemed there were two sets of routing that made any kind of sense. One of those was taking a wide slingshot around the likely potholes in Bass Strait and on the Tasmanian Coast.
Grant Wharington, the skipper of the 2003 race line honours winner, was taking his Wild Thing wide. A gamble for certain, but a possible road to glory for a boat unlikely to otherwise win.
Once upon a time Wharro could have crept away, to perhaps appear again at Tasman Light maybe in the lead powered by current and stronger winds.
However courtesy of the Rolex Sydney Hobart event tracking system Mark Richards and his experienced Wild Oats XI team were covering them in real time.
While tracking allows everyone ashore to follow the race, it’s now a key tool for the tacticians as the 10-15 minute updates allow them to keep a close eye on their rivals.
As a result it seems that the line honours battle has become quite predictable.
In contrast, to keep the racing interesting, the Transpac and Volvo Ocean Race have tracking delays, to ensure the boats are ‘over the horizon’.
A few days ago Sail-World.com asked Iain Murray, the tactician aboard Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI, about the role of the tracker in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart.
He agreed tracking had changed the race. ‘When the trackers became predominant all of sudden in 2005, we pretty much had a match race, so it certainly has taken something away from the tactical side of the race.’
With Wild Thing now out of the race (due to sail damage), with Investec Loyal in her pocket and Betchoice.com Lahana not close enough to mount a challenge, all Ricko, Murray and team now have to do is keep the rig in the boat and match race Loyal to Hobart.
In the early days only the big boats had the technology to use the tracking all the way, but these days boats right through the Hobart fleet can follow their class rivals.
We are not criticizing the event organisers, the CYCA, but it’s become clearer and clearer that live tracking is making the racing more and more predictable.
RSHYR Tracking 2011 -
While tracking allows everyone ashore to follow the race, do you think it should be off the Internet menu for the racing fleet, or perhaps even delayed?
If the Volvo Ocean Race and the Transpac provide delayed tracking only, giving tacticians and crews back the chance to gamble... should the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race organisers now be looking seriously at taking that same path?
Below, after a brief summary of the pre-race weather, you can listen to what Iain Murray said in full.
Then please give us your views. Tracking Yes or No for the Race fleet?
While the line honours race looks a bit predictable right now, the REAL race is the handicap race this year, on both IRC and ORCi, and there are fascinating battles ahead.
Stay with Sail-World.com for our detailed coverage.