Written by Jane Austin/ORCV media
Photography by Michael Currie
28 December 2023
The 2023 Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race started in sunny conditions on Port Phillip Bay 27 December with competitors set for a quick race to Hobart.
The fleet started the 51st race in a steady 13 knot southerly breeze under blue skies but an eerie sea fog rolling over Point Nepean enveloped the boats soon after the start, reducing visibility for competitors and crews alike, as they made their way to the first turning mark near Shortland Bluff.
Double-handed entrant Joker x2, co-skippered by Peter Dowdney and Grant Chipperfield, representing the Mornington and Sandringham Yacht Clubs (MYC/SYC), had a fantastic start choosing the committee boat end of the start line and relished the benefits of the clear air.
The multihull Peccadillo, skippered by experienced campaigner Charles Meredith from the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, opted for the middle of the line but despite being way back on the start gun, soon found the front of the fleet.
Alien, skippered by Justin Brenan from the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria (RYCV), was the first boat to hoist a kite, with the yellow spinnaker adding some colour to the fleet, but they struggled to carry it at times on the shy reach while other crews opted for code zeros and were able to make a higher course.
As the boats approached Quarantine Station at Point Nepean, Peccadillo maintained her lead and was revelling in the reaching conditions, but an intense battle was underway behind her between last year’s runner-up and handicap favourite for this year’s event, Ginan, co-skippered by Cam McKenzie and Nigel Jones from MYC, Alex Toomey’s Sayer 12, Ryujin and Joker x2, with Ryujin in front at the end of Point Nepean.
Peccadillo was the first boat out of Port Philip Bay Heads followed by the monohulls, Ryujin, Ginan, Joker x2 and Andrew Neeson’s Runnalls 39, Jaffa, from the Royal Brighton Yacht Club.
ORCV Race Director David Schuller was happy with the clear race start and anticipates an exciting race ahead.
“The weather is going to throw a little bit of everything at our competitors in this race which promises to be very exciting with possibilities for a fast race,” said Schuller.
Assistant Race Director, Ray Shaw, also predicts solid sailing conditions across Bass Strait to King Island and a quick trip south to Hobart.
“All weather models indicate that east of King Island is the preferred path for the fleet.
“The fleet can expect a 15 to 20 knot southerly breeze as they cross Bass Strait.
“The winds will pick up on Friday evening as a strong low compresses below Tasmania which will provide more challenging conditions for the crews with strong west to south westerly winds of 30 knots, gusting to 40 knots,” said Shaw.
Cyrus Allen, skipper of White Spirit and Commodore of the ORCV, broadcasting from onboard his boat in amongst the thick pea soup that descended over the fleet, expects the wind to build overnight.
“Tonight, as we go down towards King Island, we expect the conditions to freshen a little bit before we face some pretty decently lumpy winds on the South West Coast [of Tasmania],” said Allen.
Several boats are in contention for line honours with monohulls Ginan, Ryujin, Joker x2 and Lord Jiminy, skippered by Jimmy Oosterweghel from the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, the boats to watch.
The prestigious Heemskerk Perpetual trophy will go to the handicap winner on AMS.
Handicap predictions for the 2023 race include Ginan, Jaffa, Alien and Vertigo, skippered by father and daughter combination Tim and Clare Olding from the RYCV.
Other prizes on offer include the Zeehan Trophy for the Navigator of the Heemskirk Trophy winner, the Wrest Point Abel Tasman Trophy for the winner on line honours, and the City of Melbourne Perpetual Trophy for first on corrected time on the performance handicap.
The Westcoaster, as the race is affectionately known, is one of the world’s great ocean races, covering 435 nautical miles from the start in Port Philip Bay to the finish line in the River Derwent in Hobart.
The race starts with a 125 nm passage across Bass Strait before the fleet sails 200 nm south down the West Coast of Tasmania, past Maatsuyker Island, east to South East Cape then turning northeast towards the more sheltered, but equally challenging waters of Storm Bay and the River Derwent.
Line honours contenders are expected to arrive in Hobart in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The fleet is carrying trackers enabling race followers to track the action from start to finish.
The monohull race record of 1 day 17 hours 28 minutes 59 seconds was set by Shortwave in 2008, winning the race with an average speed over the course of 10.49 knots.
The race is run with the cooperation of the Derwent Sailing Squadron.
Follow the fleet via Race Tracker.