The race for Overall victory in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race can often remain wide open for several days and hinge on the slightest and most unexpected shift in weather conditions.
But for the first time, this year the race for the Tattersall Cup will be more open, with entries in the Two-Handed Division now eligible to compete for Overall victory.
The fleet numbers 111 for the race that is organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and starts at 1pm on Monday 26 December. Of that number, 21 are two-handed entries.
The long-range weather forecast with a northerly wind for the start and the first two days of the race gives every indication that it will be a race for the big boats.
But there is still hope the forecast will change to better suit the mid-sized to smaller boats.
Brett Averay, skipper of the Petersen 44, Bacardi, that has sailed a record 28 Sydney Hobarts, says the expected downwind run would not suit the boat.
"She's a tough boat and has completed more Hobarts than any other," he said of Bacardi, loaned to Averay and crew by her owner, Martin Power.
"Its strength is when heading upwind, which we don't see too much of … unfortunately," he said of the Victorian boat.
"But there is still a fair bit of uncertainty about what's going to happen down the Tasmanian coast. It will be interesting to see how that pans out."
Likely to be in the fray among the smaller boats, should the forecast change, are the two-handed entries like Rupert Henry’s Lombard 34, Mistral, and Carlos Aydos’ S&S 34, Crux.
Henry, who is one of the world’s most credentialed sailors in short-handed racing, bought Mistral in early 2021. He is co-skippered by long time friend and sailing partner, Greg O’Shea. The pair won the recent Cabbage Tree Island Race overall.
"Double handed is a very important aspect of the sport," Henry said today.
"Whether a two-handed team can win Overall or not, remains to be seen. It's an important part of the sport internationally.
"The two-handed aspect of the sport is growing in Australia, which is really exciting and the CYCA has really accommodated it over the past couple of years.
"Most of the two-handed boats tend to be at the small end of the fleet because having a smaller boat allows two people to sail the boat to its maximum potential.
"You can sail a larger boat two-handed, but you end up sailing the boat at between 70 and 80, maybe 85 per cent of its true capability.
"So, the fact that the vast majority of the two-handed boats have small boats, means the weather has to align for us to do well on corrected time."
Interest in two-handed racing is growing. Ed Psaltis, owner/skipper of the Sydney 36, Midnight Rambler, is considering a switch after racing his 40th Sydney Hobart this year.
The 1998 Sydney Hobart winner said: "I was thinking about retirement after this. My body is not getting any younger. My crook knees and other issues are causing me concern.
"It's either retiring and growing roses, which I don't really want to do, or potentially [sailing] two- handed.
"I'm not committing to it yet. I just like the whole concept, the simplicity of two-handed sailing and also the challenge, because it's you and there's no one else out there."
Carlos Aydos has owned Crux since 2018 and will co-skipper with Peter Grayson. They placed second in the Two-Handed Division in 2021.
Aydos has since placed second in the Two-Handed Division of the 2022 Flinders Islet Race and more recently they were fourth Overall in the inaugural Tollgate Islands Race.
What is the attraction of two-handed sailing? Aydos says: "Management of a two-handed crew is a lot simpler. Sailing with a full crew is harder in terms of having everyone in sync and pulling a crew together."
The start of the race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and live-and-on-demand on the 7Plus app, as well as on the official race website - rolexsydneyhobart.com - for viewers around the world.
For the full list of entries and more information about the race, visit rolexsydneyhobart.com.
Rupert Guinness/RSHYR Media