Words: Liz Rountree
The 17th annual Willie Smith’s Launceston to Hobart kicks off Wednesday at 11:30am. The 20 entrants start off Beauty Point before heading out the Tamar River and turn right, keep outside of Swan Island through Banks Straight, sail down the East Coast coming inside Maria Island then outside Tasman Island before turning up towards Hobart to complete the 285-nautical miles off the Castray Box in Battery Point.
And while the forecast may not deliver a race record performance (1 day, 19 hours, 30 mins and 52s set by Alive in 2020), the fleet packs a competitive punch in the line-up.
Gary Smith’s Fork in the Road is after a 10th Line Honours, but they will have to earn it from Paul McCartney’s Proco Rosso who have entered as the first step in their 2024 Sydney to Hobart campaign.
Four previous over-all winner skippers return to the start line, including Stewart Geeves on Footloose, Smith and Fork in the Road, Peter Haros who will crew for his son aboard Wings Three, and last year’s winners Alice Grubb & Tom Stearnes on Sundowner. No stranger to the podium, Matthew Keal’s Heatwave Fish Frenzy and Andrew Sinclair’s Kraken 42S will be in the hunt.
A few boats to watch: Orla Gray, skippering Lawless with the race’s first ever all-female crew including Launceston’s own Jodie Sullivan; another first-time entrant, Launceston based team of Just Farr Love skippered by Scott Lovell; long in the game, but with some new scrappy crew, Geeves takes on a few from the UTAS Sailing Club aboard Footloose; and finally the one entry from Victoria, Patrick Clarke with Yolla, sailing with the smallest crew of only 4 aboard. Any of these untested teams could surprise the competition.
The Dog House, skippered by Peter Coad, Haros’ Wings Three and Douglas Reid’s Mako all have sailors under 18 in their crew, an essential part of training the next hotshots in offshore racing.
All teams are fitted with live trackers that can be followed via the Launceston to Hobart website, as well as the Willie Smith Race Village at the Elizabeth Street Pier.