Fast spinnaker sailing for Launceston to Hobart fleet

With fast spinnaker running conditions forecast for all the way from Low Head to Tasman Island, the entire 24 boat fleet in the Launceston to Hobart Yacht Race could finish by Monday evening, with a race record also on the cards.

The fleet had a fast run under spinnakers in Bass Strait along Tasmania’s north-east coast throughout today and by early last evening every boat had sailed through Banks Strait, the tricky passage between the north-east east of the state and the Furneaux Islands and into the Tasman Sea.

The leading boat, Gary Smith’s Bakewell-White 45 The Fork in the Road, was abeam of St Helens by 7.30pm and in line for its fourth line honours win in the 285 nautical mile race. She was seven nautical miles ahead of Peter Cretan’s newly acquired Marten 49 Tilt.

“If the forecast north-west and westerly winds are maintained I think we will have the entire fleet finished during Monday, perhaps even a race record,” Derwent Sailing Squadron sailing manager Mike Denney predicted this evening.

To break the course record of 1 day 16 hours 44 minutes and 18 seconds, set by Helsal 3 in the 2011 race, the first boat must finish before 1:31am on Monday.

The fleet in the National Pies Launceston to Hobart race has had excellent wind since today’s 9.30am start at Beauty Point in the Tamar River, beating to windward now the lower reaches of the river before entering Bass Strait at Low Head.

From there the boats have enjoyed a fast spinnaker run along the north-east coast of Tasmania and by 7:30pm almost every boat had sailed through the Banks Strait, passing just to the north of Swan Island.

At that stage The Fork in the Road was well to sea of St Helens, with less than 120 nautical miles to sail to the finish. Tilt, being raced by Hobart yachtsman Peter Cretan for the first time since he bought the boat in Perth recently, was in second place followed by a group of yachts that included Infinity, The Protagonist and Allusive.

The forecast for tomorrow is for north to north-westerly winds of 15 to 25 knots, shifting to the north-east, which will enable the fleet to continue to carry spinnakers overnight and through the day.

One of the smaller boats in the fleet, Paul Einoder’s Beneteau Oceanis 37 Off-Piste won the start off Inspection Head Wharf and although overtaken, firstly by Greg Prescott’s Buizen 52 Infinity and then by Tilt and The Fork in the Road, has been well placed throughout the day.

Off-Piste won the AMS corrected time short dash from Beauty Point to Low Head while Malcolm Cooper Snook 30 Kaiulani, celebrated its eighth L2H race by being placed first on PHS corrected times.

UPDATE: Record definitely on the cards.

The leading yacht in the National Pies Launceston to Hobart ocean race, The Fork in the Road, could finish the 285 nautical mile course before midnight tonight, smashing the race record. The fast Bakewell-White 45, skippered by Gary Smith from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in Hobart, has opened up a commanding lead of 20 sea miles from Peter Cretan’s Marten 49, Tilt, from the same club.

To break the race record, The Fork in the Road must cross the finish line off Hobart’s historic Battery Point before 01.31am on Monday morning and the Derwent Sailing Squadron’s Ocean Tracker has given an ETA of 11.26pm tonight.

At 5.30am this morning The Fork in the Road was on a close spinnaker reach, heading inshore towards Maria Island, with the sailing instructions requiring all yachts to sail through The Mercury Passage between the elongated island and Orford on the Tasmanian East Coast.

Tilt, which was south-east of Bicheno, headed a tight group of yachts close inshore, with the Port Dalrymple Yacht Club entrant Lawless, skippered by Stephen McElwee, bringing up the tailend of the 24 boat fleet, abeam of St Patrick’s Head.

Although the winds have eased overnight, the fleet continues to maintain good boat speed as the yachts run south under spinnaker towards Maria Island.

The breeze is expected to again freshen to more than 20 knots during the day as the yachts continue south towards Tasman Island and Storm Bay, where the smaller boats may encounter headwinds and lumpy seas.

– From Peter Campbell 

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