Sydney-Hobart forecast favours smaller boats as super-maxis to sail into a hole

When Andrew Treloar from the Bureau of Meteorology delivered his long-range forecast for the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race this morning, it was all bad news for the five 100ft super-maxis.

According to Treloar, a pre-frontal trough that will pass over Sydney on Boxing Day morning will deliver light airs for the start then a strong cold front will hit during the afternoon, bringing rain and strong to gale-force southerlies on the first night. This is likely to make conditions unpleasant for all crews, and anyone susceptible to sea sickness is advised to pack their ginger.

But the worst news for the super-maxis comes on Saturday, when they sail into an area of very light winds in Bass Strait, caused by a high pressure zone. While Wild Oats, Comanche, Perpetual Loyal, Ragamuffin and Rio 100 are wallowing in big seas and less than five knots of wind, the rest of the fleet will enjoy reaching conditions off the south coast of New South Wales, causing the whole race to condense.

Jennifer Wells, the navigator on one of the handicap favourites, Wild Rose, said it is going to be a very complex race. “The southerly at the start suits us well. There will be quite a bit of current and swell – it won't be a comfortable night. Then the bigger boats will be in the light air while we're still in breeze.

“I think the race will be won off the coast of Tasmania. We'll have to decide whether to stay inshore of go off the coast.”

Tom Barker, the young navigator on another handicap favourite, St George Midnight Rambler, agreed that the forecast start conditions play into the hands of the smaller boats.

“The fact that it's a tough start is not a bad thing for us. We've got a very experienced crew who will handle those conditions well. We'll be reaching and running while the big boats are in light airs. We like that,” he said.

Big Boats

The navigators on the big boats were all agreed that the forecast wasn't ideal for them. And because there is such a diversity of design across the 100 footers, it is hard to predict a winner if the forecast proves accurate.

“Upwind early will be good for us,” said Tom Addis who is navigating Perpetual Loyal. “But the boats are so different you can't match race. All you can do is make gains when you can, when you're in your conditions, and try to minimise the damage when they suit the others.”

Stan Honey, navigating the brand new US yacht Comanche said that the light airs forecast for Saturday worry him. “We expect Oats could go well in those,” he said. With the wind expected to go light again as the leaders approach the Derwent, he warned that both areas of light winds would be critical for line honours.

“It’s never fun smashing your way upwind in this race, particularly in a big yacht,” said Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards on hearing the forecast. “It’s going to be really challenging for the first 12 hours or so; the result could well be decided by who keeps their boat in one piece and doesn’t make mistakes. It’s going to be about going fast, but not so fast that you damage your boat.”

BOM's forecasts over the past few years have been remarkably accurate and if this race delivers the changes at the times predicted, it will make for an exciting three or four days. The big boats will obviously finish first and no-one can really predict in what order. Then we could be waiting with baited breath as the smaller boats approach Hobart, to see whether they can get across the line quickly enough to take the handicap honours.

It's a race not to miss!

– Roger McMillan, Editor

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