Potential chaos on the harbour for Sydney Hobart start

Skippers, navigators and crews will all have to be on their game at 1pm today when the gun gets the 157 strong Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet under way.

Four start lines, a strong outgoing tide, a massive spectator fleet on both sides of the course and moderate north-easterly winds should all contribute to an amazing spectacle. But the tide, in particular, could cause problems by pushing across the line those who a bit anxious to get started.

“Clear start, clear start” will be the words those who are manning the radios will want to hear.

Once underway, the dramas will just be starting for navigators. The beat to the Heads will be chaotic and then the decision has to be made – sail the rhumbline or head out to sea hoping for more wind when conditions go light in the early hours of the 27th.

This year, the Eastern Australian Current may give less assistance than normal. Although running at up to 2 knots in places, there are strong back eddies that could actually work against the boat.

In the bar on Christmas Eve, opinions were divided on the best route. Some claimed “straight down the guts” while others felt the navigators would be “negotiating the minefield” and trying to place their boats for the overnight change.

To compound the problems for anyone trying to predict a winner, the forecast for Hobart is for very light winds at about the time the leaders should be approaching the Derwent River.

“It's not a lottery,” one experienced navigator told me. “If you're good, you'll be the right place at the right time.”

However, I do recall the words of an Olympic champion, who said that knowing where the wind is going to come from is one thing. “Being able to get to it is something else again.”

Skippers and navigators will get a final detailed briefing from the Bureau of Meteorology this morning. It may help, but if conditions continue to change, it may not.

– Roger McMillan

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