Big boat battle

Could we see all four 100 foot yachts fighting each other up a sulky Derwent River on Wednesday night? That tantalising climax of the race for line honours has been more than hinted at by the weather patterns taking shape in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race over the next few days.

25 December 2017


The Bureau of Meteorology’s Jane Golding told the skippers and navigators assembled at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia this morning that they will start the 73rd running of the race in a light easterly breeze on Sydney Harbour, with a bit more south in the 15 knots waiting for them offshore.

So a bit of a work for everyone in the first couple of hours, but as the afternoon wears on, the wind will shift to the north-east, to around 10 to 15 knots. By midnight that breeze is expected to have built to 15 to 20 knots, perhaps a little stronger towards the bottom of the NSW coast.

The leading boats will be pushed across Bass Strait on Wednesday morning in strong 15 to 25 knots.

On Thursday, the wind will swing around to the north-west as the fleet stretches across Bass Strait and along the Tasmanian coast. It will drop out as the day lengthens, as a modest south-west/south-easterly front makes i’s way up the Tasmanian coast, reaching Storm Bay late morning.

By that stage, though, line honours will have been decided, and most, if not all of the 100 footers, and perhaps the 80 foot Beau Geste and the V70 Wizard as well, will nestle safely in Hobart.


This is a undoubtedly a good forecast for the line honours favourite, LDV Comanche, which will likely power away as the strong northerlies hit, but there is something for all the super maxis in this mix.

“You couldn’t ask for a nicer, more comfortable forecast,” a relaxed and smiling Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said this morning. Despite a lightning strike to its tall mast on the weekend which caused havoc to the boat’s electronics, ‘Ricko’ declares his silver-grey thoroughbred is “ready to go.”

Jim Cooney, LDV Comanche’s owner looked equally satisfied. “There are certainly periods of time which will be very good for Comanche.  The conditions are good for all of us and there are different parts of the race where one boat will shine more than the others. I think it’s too tough to call who is going to be where at what time. We’re looking at one of the most intense and exciting races for a long time.”

Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford says: “We are hedged towards light weather, so the first bit will suit us. Hopefully the end will suit us as well.”

And the end bit, up the Derwent River, is shaping up as the defining stage of the line honours battle this year. Pundits say Comanche will round Tasman Island first, but when she turns into the Derwent, this big, beamy monster of a boat expects to find precisely the fluky conditions she does not like.

It can be a real drifter on this pretty waterway after midnight, and the narrower, finer hulls of Wild Oats XI and Black Jack are just quicker when it is soft. Will Comanche have enough distance on them as she crosses Storm Bay to hold them out on the Derwent?

Comanche is the 100 footer with the most amount of muscle,” Bradford says, “but the downside is she is weak in light conditions and during the transitions.”

“This is Wild Oats XI’s 13th Hobart. In only one have we been able to see another boat as we finished, whether first or second. This year there could be four boats in the pond,” Mark Richards says.

That sluggish Derwent leg could not only decide the line honours result, it could also prove vital in determining who wins the race outright. While the maxis struggle up the River, the 40, 50 and 60 footers behind them will still have plenty of offshore wind, and they will cross Storm Bay in daylight.

“This is a perfect TP52 forecast and the Oatley family also has the 66 foot Wild Oats X in the race. I don’t think the big boats will have a chance this year on handicap,” Richards concedes.

The only potential fly in the TP52/Cookson 50 ointment could be how quickly the nor-wester drops out on Thursday morning, and when the southerly reaches the fleet. An early arrival will slow them down offshore, but if they are already in Storm Bay, a brisk sou-easter will scoot them up the Derwent.

So the 100 footers and the fast planing boats are loving this forecast. The all-rounders and displacement cruiser/racers will be a little disappointed. As far as the Tattersall Cup is concerned, they would have liked a lot more wind from the south so that they could take some time out of the high flyers. But at the divisional level, everybody is on the same racecourse, and this will be a fun race, not an ordeal.

The race starts on Boxing Day at 1300hrs AEDT and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia.

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