Line honours favourites brace for another Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race thriller

The line honours race in the Rolex Sydney Hobart is tipped to match last year’s thriller when the first four boats were within sight of each other going up the Derwent River to the finish.

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 75th race is poised to become a tactical scrap in light of the Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast of light conditions for the major line honours contenders.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecast was for a north-to-nor-easterly 10-15 knot breeze for the 1pm Sydney Harbour start on Boxing Day, followed by a mild southerly. Smoke haze is unlikely; “It depends on output from wild fires,” the BOM’s Gabrielle Woodhouse said at the CYCA’s Compulsory Race Briefing today.

There will be wind shifts throughout the race, but conditions are forecast to remain light throughout for the frontrunners.

Jim Cooney, skipper and co-owner with Samantha Grant of 2017 line honours winner and race record holder, Comanche, which finished third over the line last year, believes the race, which starts on Thursday at 1pm, will be decided by Saturday morning.

“It's pretty unlikely this year,” said Cooney about the chances of a line honours record time. “We're thinking sometime early to mid-morning on the 28th is about the earliest (arrival). The challenge is getting through the transitions. Each boat has different regimes for the different weather scenarios.”  

But Cooney still predicts a tight battle all the way to the finish off Castray Esplanade in Hobart.

“There’ll be a blanket over us by the time we get to the bottom of the course,” he said.”We will all be very close. The Tattersall Cup (awarded to the overall winner) will be a different matter. There is a lot stronger breeze (forecast) further up the track for the smaller boats.”

Mark Richards, skipper of the defending line honours yacht, Wild Oats XI, owned by the Oatley family, is chasing their 10th win. He said: “You'll see a very, very close race. I don’t think there is one owner or skipper or crew here today who would actually think they have this thing in the bag.”

Richards said Wild Oats XI has pulled up well in a compulsory 24-hour qualifying sail after repairs to her mast and deck, damaged that occurred in the Cabbage Tree Island race on November 8.

“We had a really good 24-hour qualifier in some really good southerly conditions – plenty of breeze – 30-35 knots of breeze,” Richards said. “We really put the boat through its paces, and because of that, we got a lot of confidence back in the boat. The area that failed, we have re-designed and made it 35 per cent stronger.”

Mark Bradford, skipper of Peter Harburg’s Black Jack (representing Monaco this year), that finished  runner-up on line honours last year, believes each contender will its chances to make a potentially winning move.

“Everyone will get an opportunity … probably more so than last year. The goal is going to be just to maximize your opportunities,” Bradford said. “For sure we're going to be five deep at the corner (from Tasman Island).  

“I am happy we’re on the lighter side of things, for the light patch in the middle, which would be the most difficult part of the race probably … in terms of the most testing on your brain.”

Chris Nicholson, contesting his first race on InfoTrack (she finished fourth on line in 2018), believes the Christian Beck owned super maxi has the ability to keep up the pace of her lighter rivals.

“It still looks like fairly fast run down to Hobart,” Nicholson said of the forecast. “It seems like a typical Hobart… with a transition of manoeuvres. We’ll try to hang with the leaders and be there at the finish on Storm Bay with the front couple.

“There were four boats in sight of each other at the finish (last year). I don’t expect it to be too much different. It'd be nice to do the spoiler. We proved in the last Hobart to be competitive in conditions that weren't for us,” Nicholson ended.  

By Rupert Guinness, RSHYR media

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