Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Santa delivers another sleigh ride to Hobart

Niklas Zennstrom, Barry Hanstrum, Mike Slade at the long range weather forecast. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Lisa Ratcliff

The 65th Rolex Sydney Hobart is shaping up as another uncharacteristically straightforward sleigh ride south for the big boats with the weekend’s forecast nor’easter putting Wild Oats XI on track to finish four hours ahead of its own race record, according to at least one forecast model.

“It seems like a long time since we’ve seen what we think of as a typical Rolex Sydney Hobart,” CYCA Commodore and skipper of Ichi Ban, Matt Allen, admitted today. “2004 was the last long slog upwind, which we think is the norm.

“RÁN, ICAP Leopard and [my boat] Ichi Ban would like some of that upwind work, because I think we’d sort out some of the other boats on first across the line and handicap. I think it’s going to be a fast, pleasant race,” he surmised.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Barry Hanstrum this morning delivered the long range race forecast, suggesting some inconsistency in the models with regards to the start at 1pm on Boxing Day, 26 December, due to the path of ex-tropical cyclone Laurence’ s inland track south east.

Following morning showers on Boxing Day, the 100-strong fleet is due to start in either the remnants of the Christmas Day southerly, or they will be greeted at the two start lines north of Shark Island by the beginnings of what is expected to develop into a decent 20-30 knot sea breeze on Sunday - putting the race record of 1 day 18 hours 40 minutes 10 seconds in jeopardy.

The lead boat has to cross the finish line off Hobart’s historic Battery Point by 7.40am Monday morning, 28 December, to break Wild Oats’ record set in 2005 when the Sydney maxi took the treble of line honours, fastest course time and the overall handicap win.

On Monday night, once the front runners are tucked up safely in Hobart, a 20-30 knot westerly change is due in eastern Bass Strait, leading skippers and organisers to speculate that this year’s chase for the coveted Tattersall’s Cup (handicap winner) will be fought amongst those in the small to mid fleet.

ICAP Leopard’s skipper Mike Slade, who hinted today this might be his last Rolex Sydney Hobart as an owner, said: “I like what we are seeing now. If we get 25 knots off Gabo island, that’s going to be very quick. We’ve got a big wide surfing boat, well built for that sort of slide.

“You’d say that a bash, like it looked like we might get yesterday, would favour us, but in your heart of hearts you think ‘Jesus, that’s not going to be much fun’.”

“Critical time will be on either side of Bass Strait, when you go left or you go right, and if you are in the lead you’d better get it right because the others can see you when you get it wrong.
“This looks like it will be a handicap race to me. It won’t be one where the big boats just burn off the smaller ones,” added this year’s Rolex Fastnet line honours winner.

ICAP Leopard is one of five maximum sized 100 footers preparing for the ocean classic that will start from Sydney Harbour this Saturday.

Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom is the owner of the UK JV72 RÁN, touted as one of the form boats going into this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart following the crew’s Rolex Fastnet Race handicap victory.

When asked about the local competition, he responded: “What’s really nice is there are lots of competitive boats here. The more competition, the better you’re going to sail your boat, and that’s what you’re here for, to race, not just to sail around by yourself.

“What we’ve seen during the Rolex Trophy, boats like Loki and Limit are going to be very competitive. If we have a lot of upwind work we will be favourite, but if it is light downwind it will be them. We don’t like light wind. It is our Achilles heel. We have more weight in the bulb and a fuller hull so we struggle.”

The Bureau will deliver its race forecast to all skippers at the official race briefings this Thursday at the host club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the first starting at 9am and the second starting at 11am (repeat of the first briefing).

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

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