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Rolex Sydney Hobart - The Weather Gate


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  25 Dec 2016


Rolex Sydney Hobart - The Weather Gate

Wild Rose - 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race  © Rolex / StudioBorlenghi / Stefano Gattini
In order to win the iconic Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race under IRC or ORCi rating, there are three things you absolutely need to have accomplished. Two of these you can certainly do something about, whereas the third is entirely out of your control.

Firstly, you have to get there. Sounds simple, but it means a well-prepared boat, and hardened crew that extract what they can from the vessel and themselves, all the while ensuring that they and the gear survive whatever may be thrown at them during the journey South.

Secondly, you have to win your division. The big end of town will be long gone after the gun and in reality; the boats may be headed for the same port, but rarely in exactly the same seas and almost always in different conditions due to the elapsed time difference between them.

Your division has boats of similar speeds near you and many a race has seen combatants almost able to read the dials on the boat next door. Night time is where the big gains can be made on your opposition, or in the case of some fierce combatants, the times of which epic battle stories that last a lifetime are forged.

KLC Bengal 7 passing the Iron Pot - Rolex Sydney Hobart 2012  Crosbie Lorimer

Finally, you have to hope that Huey, the God of Wind, allows your division to get the correct weather window that will allow you to proceed at the best possible speed down the New South Wales coast before leaping across to Tasmania and on to the corner at Tasman Island. At the same time, it is hoped that those ahead of you do not receive favourable conditions, and then also that the weather pattern closes down behind to hamper the progress of the vessels to your stern.

So then, what you have when looking at trackers, out will come computer driven predictions for the 628 mile Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. These are based on the vessels' ratings, which take into account things like their age, size mass, and hull form. What the computer kind of ignores is the fact that most races are won and lost in the last 40 miles from Tasman Light, then across Storm Bay, up past the Iron Pot, and into the River Derwent proper to make Battery Point.

As we have explained over the years, every ten minutes or so during the race, the computers spit out a new number set, with ranking. At best, these need to be taken with a tablespoon of sea salt. Now in this maze of numbers, there is one which is far more important than all the others when deciding if the figures are, 'back of the boat fantasy land stuff', or not.

In lightish weather, this number is the ETA. Turn Tasman Light at 2000hrs, and Huey says, “Good that you could come, and thank your mother for the fish”, or words to that effect.... And the reason is the factor that has caused possibly more heartache and grief in the last 71 Hobart races than anything else. Namely, the Derwent goes to sleep at night, just like most humans.

80 year old Maluka of Kermandie passes the Iron Pot at the entrance to the Derwent River, Hobart  Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

11 nautical miles from the finish is a marker called the Iron Pot. A boat arriving there may have averaged ten knots from Eddystone Light and across Storm Bay. However, it may take two or three, even four hours to go that last 11 miles, depending just how tired the Derwent is. It seems most Hobart sailors have a story to tell, and year after year, they look for sympathy from other sailors, but they don't get it.

Many a boat has been absolutely famous at 2000hrs, but at 0300 is still drifting up the Derwent. Indeed, just a couple of years ago, one particular vessel reported in at around 2100hrs that they were “just passing the Iron Pot with an ETA of 2300hrs.” Only about five minutes later the same crew radioed in to say that they were “once more passing the Iron Pot”, only, this time it was backwards!

You see Huey uses the Sydney Hobart race to remind us mere mortals that most things in life are about timing. So it's way too early to decide an overall winner, which is most easily done when all the boats are tied up in Constitution Dock.
Early afternoon is an excellent time to finish. The 2008 Tattersall's Cup (IRC overall) winner, Bob Steel's TP52 ‘Quest' (now defending champion Balance), finished a wee tad after 1400hrs. In 2010, Geoff Boettcher's Reichel-Pugh 51, Secret Men's Business 3.5 (now racing as Primitive Cool), finished at an almost perfect time - 1342hrs.

Balance is the defending champion - Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race  © Rolex/ Stefano Gattini

Of course there are weather gate exceptions if there is sufficient gradient breeze. The 2013 Tattersall's Cup winner, Darryl Hodgkingson's Cookson 50 ‘Victoire' (also now racing, but with a new owner), finished at 0800hrs and the 2014 winner, the late Roger Hickman's 43-footer, Wild Rose, finished at 2000hrs, after the passage of a heavy Southerly change had her reaching across Storm Bay at speed.

Note however, that if conditions lighten off, then the Weather Gate will rule. Not just a few sailors have had the Weather Gate slam in their face; just about every one of us has had a 'Derwent experience.'

Here's a Sail-World tip. Use a lighted candle in a winch socket to find the breeze. It's more sensitive than cigarette smoke, and it also winds up the smokers an absolute treat. For on board a non-smoking vessel, they may have seen their best chance yet to inhale a few more addictive gasps, and the dream of using that to ‘assist' the crew in the unfortunate hours of the night, had been playing on their mind for the last 610 nautical miles.

So then, we are not going to spend every night during the Hobart race writing feverishly about the half hourly changes in Handicap positions, we are going to have a few Tasmanian James Boags or Cascades, and do what the River Derwent does – shut the gate and go to sleep!

Sodebo Ultim  © Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Sodebo

A quick reminder then. The Hobart is not the only thing going on at the moment. Many races, regattas and Australian Championships either get underway today or very soon too. Zooming out a little further still and there is also so, so much going on with Colville's new record, the Jules Verne, and also the Vendée. So go for a wander to review the proverbial plethora of material for you to explore on the site.

Now don't forget to get your club or association to send in your news via the submit function, just up in the top right of the Sail-World home page. In the meantime, do keep a weather eye on Sail-World. We are here to bring you the whole story...

John Curnow

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Alex Thomson Racing,
Thomson's time to Cape Horn beats the previous record set by Francois Garbart in the 2012-2013 edition by 3d 6hrs 10mins. This is the first time in the race's history that skippers have rounded this landmark by Christmas.... [more]

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Beau Geste's Christmas wish for Rolex Sydney Hobart
Lisa Ratcliff,
On Christmas Eve morning competitors in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race received the Bureau of Meteorology's official race forecast, indicating a fast start on Sydney Harbour in north-easterlies likely to strengthen throughout the afternoon as the fleet sprints down the NSW coast. A more traditional Hobart race with a decent upwind slog is the preference for Beau Geste's sailing team... [more]

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Vendée Globe – Thomson's festive dinner at Cape Horn-
Vendée Globe,
As Queen Elizabeth II delivers her 64th Christmas Speech at 1500hrs GMT, addressing the British nation and the 52 member states of the Commonwealth, Alex Thomson, the British skipper lying second in the solo round the world race should be passing Cape Horn.... [more]

Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Sharpening the Swiss Army Knife
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The stunningly pretty, devastatingly quick, and super well-sailed Reichel-Pugh silver pencil earned herself the nickname, the Swiss Army Knife, quite sometime back now. It paid homage to all the underwater appendages she had on her. Of course, she now has one less, with her version of the DSS being taken off only a little while ago, but there are still more than enough to get the point.... [more]

UBOX-Dongfeng Race Team gears up for Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
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Challenge charts a new course to Hobart
Team Challenge28,
For the first time ever only one Sydney 38 has been entered in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Challenge, from the Sandringham Yacht Club, will be proudly flying the flag with an international crew within a fleet of 89 yachts.... [more]

Vendee Globe - Le Cléac'h's Islands route in light airs
Vendee Globe,
Due to the light westerly winds which have been with him since he rounded Cape Horn, the Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac'h has taken a passage close to some of the small islands of Tierra del Fuego and this morning is passing just seven miles to the east of Isla de los Estados (Staten Island from the Dutch Stateneiland).... [more]

Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – Left field, handshakes and buckets Pt.III
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Unobtainium keels, Einsteinium sails and Nobelium challenges ahead for the most radical supermaxi to ever start in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. The 98-foot CQS started life as the 90-footer known as, Nicorette. She is being campaigned by dual Hobart winner Ludde Ingvall (one of which was with this very vessel in her former life, back in 2004), and his cousin, Sir Michael Hintze.... [more]

2017 Sunfish World Championship NOR released
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Family ties in Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race
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It's been said before that sailing with your family is a great way of bonding – a leveler - and so it is for at least 34 boats taking part in this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, including New Zealander, Jim Delegat, who has two sons joining him for the blue water classic.... [more]

Santa may deliver a sleigh ride for yachts in Rolex Sydney Hobart Race
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Rolex Sydney Hobart Race - 89 yachts poised for great journey south
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Skippers and navigators of the 89 yachts competing in the 2016 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race have received their Christmas Eve weather briefing from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia this morning. BOM's Jane Golding has told them the forecasts produced by the various models that meteorologists use, have been pretty consistent in recent days... [more]

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Rolex Sydney Hobart Race – The Lazarette Pt II
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John Curnow,
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Dual Hobart Line Honours winner, Ludde Ingvall, and his billionaire cousin, Sir Michael Hintze, are tilting at the windmill in the 72nd Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. They started on a handshake watching the famous Boxing Day start two years ago, and now for the 2016 race, they have the most radical supermaxi in the event's history.... [more]

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Ninety boats have entered this year's Sydney to Hobart Race, but only one, Triple Lindy (USA 93310), skipper Joe Mele's Swan 44 from New York, will be flying the proud colors of Old Glory. I caught up with Mele ahead of the race to get his impressions of the event as a first-time contestant, and to learn more about his road to Hobart.... [more]

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