Photography by Andrea Francolini
18 December 2023
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race crews face a tense week preparing for myriad race scenarios due the ‘significant uncertainty’ of the long range weather forecast each year.
In its long range forecast presented on Monday at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organisers of the 628 nautical mile race, Gabrielle Woodhouse, Senior Meteorologist from the NSW Bureau of Meteorology [BOM] said it is too early to make a precise indication.
That is due to the high temperatures and humidity across NSW in recent days that are also set to continue leading up to the 1pm Boxing Day start next Tuesday.
Woodhouse said the BOM should have a clearer picture of what’s in store for the 107-strong fleet by the weekend. She said the best indication now was for a light south-westerly wind at the start with rain and the chance of thunderstorms later.
A low pressure system is expected over the Tasman, but when that hits is also uncertain.
“It’s too hard to say. The spread of scenarios is too huge,” Woodhouse said on Monday. “At this stage, it’s most likely that the race will begin with some kind of south or south-westerly wind, and during the race, probably we will see some rain and some thunderstorms.
“There’s significant uncertainty, and with that prospect of a potential low pressure system, somewhere over the Tasman Sea.
“What we’ll see at the moment, for at least the next few days, is quite a bit of movement in some of those forecasts. And we’ll start to narrow that down during the weekend.”
For every boat in the 100-plus strong fleet, the huge question mark over the forecast calls for a busy time in the coming days for the navigators to be prepared for anything.
For the David Witt-skippered Dovell 100, SHK Scallywag, the situation could well vindicate the decision to have two navigators on board – Juan Vila and Chris Wild.
The Hong Kong registered boat is one of four maxi yachts in this year’s race in which they are traditionally the Line Honours favourites. The other maxis are the defending Line Honours champion Andoo Comanche, along with LawConnect and the new Wild Thing 100.
Asked about the decision to have two navigators on SHK Scallywag, Wild said: “Navigation is a little bit like a department than a role. There’re multiple facets to it, especially on a maxi.
“With [uncertain] conditions, it’s a good call to have that capability, especially for the second half of the race.
“You do a lot of planning before you leave and then you get to stay on your toes in the second half of the race.”
Adrienne Cahalan, navigator of the Phillip Turner owned and Duncan Hine skippered Reichel/Pugh 66 Alive, said: “We will really have to look at all the different scenarios, including some of the worst ones.
“I can’t really think of a year when it’s been, you know, so much rain, so much moisture, and so much uncertainty in the forecast.
Alice Parker, navigator of the Reichel/Pugh 72 URM Group, said of the BOM forecast: “It’s such a moving picture.
“I find it a little bit exciting when the forecast is this uncertain because anything can happen and there’ll be opportunities for little boats and opportunities for big boats.”
Kathy Veel, owner/co-skipper with Bridget Canham of Currawong 30 Currawong said that for the race in the Two-Handed division, she was not overly concerned about the uncertainty.
With Currawong being last to finish last year, Veel is used to handling numerous systems.
“I made a point really of not looking too closely at the weather until a couple of days out, because you can’t control it, you’re not going to change it,” Veel said.
“There’s a lot of other things to worry about. So why worry about the weather a week out?”
David Henry, owner/co-skipper and navigator of the two-handed entry, the Sydney 36, Philosopher, is also preparing for the long haul.
“The only thing we definitely know at this stage is we don’t know. I’m just hoping for more good news at the end,” he said.
“We don’t have one weather system to worry about, we probably have at least two weather systems to get through.
“We have double trouble when it comes to trying to predict what the weather is going to be.
“What we see on Boxing Day is one weather pattern. A day or so after that, we’re looking further down the track, because we’ll probably take three or four days to get there.”