Will Oxley, navigator of Ichi Ban - the Overall winner of the 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, provides a weather report on the race.
The 76th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race began (12 months later than planned) in a 14-19 knot southerly under cloudy skies, with the fleet of 88 yachts, setting off from four lines in Sydney Harbour. The tracks of the divisional and Line Honours winners are shown in Figure One at the bottom.
The weather situation at start time showed a 1032Hpa High Pressure system south of the Great Australian Bight and a weak High Pressure northwest of NZ, with a series of troughs between the two highs. After five races with fast downwind conditions, the 2021 race was a different story!
A vigorous southerly change moved up the south coast of NSW on the morning of the 26th. Race day weather offshore was as follows: 100% Cloud cover with squalls and thunderstorms, 20-30 knot southerly winds with a 3m swell running: unpleasant to say the least! These tough conditions led to early retirements with Moneypenny one of the first with a damaged forestay. Other handicap contenders URM and Zen were also out early.
Strong winds and big seas continued into the evening. The southerly flowing current opposing the strong southerly winds created steep, short period waves and by 2330 a total of 18 yachts had retired including Gweilo, a handicap favourite, who suffered a forestay ram failure.
A large counter-clockwise current eddy was positioned east/south-east of Sydney with favourable south-bound current to the west of it. Nearly all the leading yachts in each division seemed to setup to make the most of this positive current (See Figure Two). It is interesting to note that there was nearly 100% cloud cover from 20th - 29th December.
Consequently, the position of this eddy was unclear at race time. The first clear image (29th December) showed the eddy had moved about 50nm south over four days. Both Quest and Celestial did a great job of using the SW corner of this eddy to move offshore.
The Line Honours leaders Black Jack, LawConnect and SHK Scallywag 100 passed south of the latitude of Gabo Island after 0800 on the 27th followed by Stefan Racing then Whisper. The strong southerly winds had resulted in 24 retirements by the morning of the 27th. The strong conditions had favoured the tough older generation yachts with Khaleesi, White Bay 6 Azzurro and the 43’ Wild Oats looking strong on handicap. The top 52-footers Celestial, Quest and Ichi Ban were still in the mix but, with the strong headwinds and seas, did not pass south of Gabo until after 1500 on the 27th.
On Tuesday 28th December the High Pressure began ridging across Bass Strait. The 100-footers slipped south but the chasing pack got caught in light winds east of Flinders Island.
The evening of the 28th saw the Line Honours leaders approaching Tasman Island while a tense battle developed on the NE coast of Tasmania between Quest, Celestial and Ichi Ban. Most of the rest of the fleet were enjoying reaching conditions in Bass Strait north of the east moving HP. Quest got caught up in an area of very light winds while Celestial and Ichi Ban continued to battle it out.
Black Jack crossed the line in the early hours of the 28th to take Line Honours followed by LawConnect then SHK Scallywag 100.
After close sailing for most of the race, Ichi Ban eventually crossed the line at 1643hrs on the 29th followed by Celestial. Celestial was the clubhouse leader; however, they were penalised 40 minutes for failing to maintain a listening watch on VHF 16. This saw Ichi Ban take Overall handicap honours for an historic third time, with Celestial second and Love & War third.
White Bay 6 Azzurro finished in a solid 4th place. The very well sailed Disko Trooper_Contender Sailcloth took out the inaugural Two-Handed Division (IRC) followed by Crux then Speedwell. In the end, there were only 50 finishers with 38 retirees: a strong reminder that this can be a tough race!
Figure One: A screen shot of Google Earth showing tracks of all IRC Division winners (Ichi Ban: yellow; Highly Sprung: pink, Disko Trooper_Contender Sailcloth: White; Love & War: Purple; Celestial: Blue; Chutzpah: red), and Line Honours winner Black Jack: Black. Positions are for 0500 on 29/12/2021.
Figure Two: Screen shot showing tracks overlaid on SST image (with altimetry current arrows) of Overall winner Ichi Ban (yellow), Two-Handed Division winner Disko Trooper_Contender Sailcloth (white), other IRC Division winners and Line Honours winner Black Jack (black). The SST image was sourced from the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) - IMOS is a national collaborative research infrastructure, supported by the Australian Government. (See imos.org.au). Positions are for 0900 on 29/12/2021.