A battle of wits and minds is expected in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, based on the long range weather forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology released today.
The forecast of southerlies and possible thunderstorms early after the Boxing Day start, and a series of transitions afterwards, have all but erased expectation of a record-breaking race.
According to Gabrielle Woodhouse, forecaster from the NSW Bureau of Meteorology, a trough is expected on Christmas Day, or later on Boxing Day, when the 628 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart starts at 1pm.
"For the race start, it seems most likely we will see a southerly, but depending on the timing of that trough, we could end up seeing nor’ easterly winds turn southerly early," said Woodhouse, adding that some showers and storm activity could follow.
Woodhouse said the race could meet a ridge of high pressure on Boxing Day, or on 27 and 28 December, that could see winds turn easterly.
She was speaking at the long range weather forecast press conference at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney this morning.
Listening eagerly were four navigators in this year’s 76th edition of the race.
They were Chris Wild from Seng Huang Lee’s 100-foot maxi SHK Scallywag 100; Michael Bellingham from David Griffith’s JV62 Whisper, and Wendy Tuck and Michael Bell from the respective Two-Handed Division entries, Speedwell and Kayimai.
Wild said the forecast makes for a challenging race where the 100-footers will find it hard to jump to a huge lead over the fleet early in the race.
"It’s an interesting forecast, lots of uncertainty," he said.
"In terms of getting distance on other boats, if it’s upwind, that allows us to start to stretch out. That will allow us to put a bit of a gap on some of the smaller maxis, but I imagine it will be quite tight up front. There is uncertainty.
"There’s going to be lots of transitions that make opportunities for the other boats to come to us."
"It doesn’t look like record breaking conditions, particularly when you have those transitions," Bellingham concurred with Wild.
Whisper’s navigator added that the forecast could see many entries sail to their handicap.
"That means coming into those transitions is about how you position yourself and see if you can get some leverage on your competitor."
Tuck was equally at odds as to whether the forecast was favourable or not for her and the rest of the two-handed entries in the fleet, who are racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart for the first time in that configuration.
"At the moment it is, but it is not [favourable]," she said. "The forecast on the second day is all over the shop."
Tuck welcomed the day one forecast, saying: "It will definitely play out for us, especially being on a small boat. We will be able to sail to our handicap."
However, day two is a concern for her, especially if the winds turn easterly.
"We don’t have sails for easterly winds," Tuck said. "We want it hard on the nose or hard behind us. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does play out for us."
Bell, who has been taking a master class in navigation from yachting legend, Adrienne Cahalan, is bracing himself for easterlies.
"My belief is we are going to see more easterly in this race than perhaps what people are telling us now," Bell said.
"I think we are going to do a rhumbline course and stay slightly to the west of it and also sail to the current. It’s going to be a mish-mash."