A spinnaker start gave a colourful send-off to the Melbourne to Hobart Race yacht today, along with the sister fleet that set off for Devonport at the same time, as all yachts raced together to Port Phillips Heads.
Surprisingly, Hobart race favourite Oskana (Michael Pritchard) was edged out by the Devonport bound Dream (Robert Green) before the two fleets diverged out at sea.
Oskana then began pulling away from her Hobart competitors in the 10 knot breeze. Not far behind on southwesterly courses was Whistler (David Aplin) and Jaffa (Terry Posma), who both had more boat speed by then, reaching 7.1 knots according to the ORCV tracker. Some boats such as Addiction (Richard McGarvie) sought clear air on the Queenscliff side after a clean kite hoist at the start, while the bulk of the fleet went through the middle of the course.
Departing Portsea near the heads of Port Phillip Bay, the first challenge for crews was riding the infamous rip at slack water to enter Bass Strait for the 125 mile crossing to Tasmania.
Arguably Australia's most challenging offshore race, the 435 nautical mile Westcoaster, the Melbourne to Hobart will see a fleet of 12 this year. Their course will take crews across the west end of the infamous Bass Strait, threading the needle past the tidal waters around King Island then down the west coast on the edge of the Southern Ocean before turning east at the southern tip of Tasmania and arrival in Hobart.
Departing Portsea for the race to the heads of Port Phillip Bay, the first major challenge for crews was riding the infamous rip at slack water to enter Bass Strait. Then follows the 125 mile crossing before sailing up the Mersey River to complete the 195 mile course. Finishing yachts proceed up the Mersey to the marina at the Mersey Yacht Club; for the final race in the Bass Strait Series and the post race hospitality.
Bookies favourite, Michael Prichard's Cookson 50 Oskana (formerly Victoire) is a powerful canting keeler that could break the record held by Sydney boat Shortwave since 2008 – 1day 17h 28m 59s.
“We choose to do the Melbourne to Hobart race to do something different. The west coast of Tasmania is a wild, beautiful and a potentially dangerous place to be. But we think it will be a challenging environment, and we’ll learn lots about the boat, hopefully in reaching conditions,” said the Tasmanian based Pritchard, who is a member of both the Derwent Sailing Squadron and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.
There are no challengers in terms of LOA in the fleet, however if downwind conditions prevail the Archambault 40 Soiree Bleu of Douglas Lithgow and the First 44.7 Christine owned by Paul Bunn may challenge on handicap. Other interesting boats to watch on the ORCV trackers are the double-handed and four + Autohelm entries Maverick and Red Jacket respectively.
Red Jacket, the Radford 12.2 is skippered by Annette Hesselmans and features a female crew including 20 year-old daughter Sophie Snijders who will use the autopilot to help sail their course when the crew require rest or conditions are mild.
“Sophie has been sailing most of her life and sailed back from Osaka in Japan with me in May after I completed the double-handed race,” Annette told ORCV media. Her crew range in age from 20 to 60, including experienced double-handers Sue Bumstead and Robyn Brooke.
Completing the challenging 5,500 mile Melbourne-Osaka gave Annette's confidence a major boost, something she wants to share with other women and is one of the main reasons for attempting the Westcoaster. “I'm not really an assertive or confident person but I really want to encourage other women to get out onto the water,” said Annette, who is a commercially endorsed Yachtmaster. A major highlight is sharing the experience with daughter Sophie, something that land-based mothers of young women don't often get to do.
In the fully crewed division, one particular owner and yacht that knows the way south well is Richard McGarvie and his vintage Inglis 37 Addiction, a fast and fairly light design. Built in 1994 and owned by Richard since 2001 which he describes as “an oldie but a goodie”.
“It's my 13th Melbourne to Hobart so lucky I'm not superstitious; there should be a lot of down wind sailing which will suit our boat, but with lots of spinnaker changes,” said Richard who will take 10 crew. It's conditions he's often experienced on the Westcoaster. “Ten is our limit as it's the capacity of the liferaft so it would be unfair to take more than that – in case they reinvent 'the captain goes down with the ship' rule!”.
Finally, spare a thought for the double-handed crew on the lively Jeanneau Sunfast 3600 that will relish the downwind conditions but skipper Rod Smallman and crewman Thomas Vaughan will have a busy time sailing down the potentially wild west coast.
Building on their good start Dream(Robert Green) was followed by Merlion (Eddie Mackevicius's) and Afrayed Knot (Bruce Early). Backmarker Wingara (John Hall) was delayed by checking his HF radio, an essential safety device for the Category 2 race but by 3.30pm was well clear of the heads aboard his Zeston 40.
Once through the Rip, then follows the 125 mile crossing before sailing up the Mersey River to complete the 195 mile course. Finishing yachts proceed up the Mersey to the marina at the Mersey Yacht Club; for the final race in the Bass Strait Series and the post race hospitality.
The prestige of winning the The Rudder Cup is at stake. The Rudder Cup is Australia's longest standing ocean race and the fifth oldest organised ocean yacht race in the world, pre-dating the Fastnet by nearly 20 years and the Sydney to Hobart race by nearly four decades. Close racing is anticipated among the fleet of fairly similar 40-50 foot cruiser-racers that includes Eddie Mackevicius's First 40.7 Merlion. Also among the ten entries for the race – that are all from Victoria – are double-handers Bruno Carreto's Under Capricorn, a Borrensen 12 that is co-skippered by Brian Patterson
As we go to press the ORCV race tracker showed the largest yacht in the fleet, the Pacific 50 Dream doing 8.2 knots on a southereasterly course and on the rhumb line for the Devonport finish. Her record to beat is 19h 32m 56s set by Prowler in 1998 but mild conditions will probably prevent this.