Rolex Sydney Hobart set to be a giant game of nautical chess
Early weather forecasts for the Rolex Sydney Hobart delivered to a panel of skippers this morning have ruled out a record run for the super maxis.
There will no straight line dash, foot planted on the throttle from the 1pm start on Sydney Harbour to the Derwent River for the crews of Wild Oats XI, Investec Loyal and their rivals. Canny navigating and getting the balance right between boat speed and boat preservation will be key.
This will be equally true for the rest of the fleet battling for the Tattersall's Cup as they shape up for a classic tactical Rolex Sydney Hobart where smarts, not brute strength will carry the day.
The good news is that Bureau of Meteorology regional director Rob Webb isn't predicting huge winds this year, but nor is he forecasting a pleasant or sunny cruise.
"We think the race will start in a 10 to 15 knot north easterly breeze, so there will be a tailwind over the first 6 to 12 hours," Webb says, "but a southerly will move in during that first evening.
"It probably won't have that much push to it at first, maybe 15 to 20 knots, but overnight it will build to 20, perhaps 30 knots. Over the next day or two it will be on the nose, with south and south west winds affecting the fleet."
The timing of that first southerly shift will be crucial, especially if the big boats are going to contest the handicap race. The various forecasting models are undecided at this stage.
Some are saying the shift will come about 6 hours into the race, while Adrienne Cahalan, co-navigator of Wild Oats XI, hopes the American model, which pushes the change back to 12 hours, will turn out to be right.
"If we can just get 6 or 8 hours of running down the coast that makes a big difference to us in terms of overall [handicap] possibilities," she says.
The longer the northerly lasts the bigger the distance the maxis can put between themselves and the 50 and 60 footers that most threaten them on handicap, both in terms of shear distance, and in terms of racing in a different and perhaps advantageous weather system compared to the boats further back up the coast.
"If we get 12 hours of running we're close to Gabo Island that makes a massive difference. But there is too much southerly in this forecast for the big boats [on handicap]," Cahalan added. She prefers the prospects of the 50 to 60 foot grand prix yachts this year. "For the middle boats, the TP52s, this is a classic Hobart forecast."
Adding to the mix is Tropical Cyclone Fina, currently off the Queensland coast. Rob Webb doesn't expect Fina will directly affect the race, but it will produce a strong northerly swell.
Over time the southerly winds will build up short sharp wind waves running in a different direction to the swell, and this will make conditions very uncomfortable as waves cross in different directions over Bass Strait's shallow rock shelf. Think of a washing machine on a three to four day cycle. The game starts to shift from maximising boat speed to preserving equipment and the boat.
"Once the boat starts to get beaten about by a seaway you have to reassess how you sail the boat," says Cahalan, which is usually code for pulling back on the throttle. When the wind does shift to the south, it will not then settle into a steady, straightforward direction. It is expected that it will swing around a lot between the south and the south west.
The race will evolve into a giant chess game. Picking the shifts and being on the right part of the course to take full advantage of them will be the job of the navigators and tacticians.
Mike Broughton, British navigator of the Cookson 50, Jazz, says tactics will be especially crucial in the intensely competitive middle of the fleet, where the overall winner is likely to come from.
"The big wind shadow of the Tasmanian coast will be crucial," he says. "We'll probably spend more time in south westerlies than south easterlies as we approach Tasman Island, and how we deal with the wind bending around the corner will be quite hard. Do you go close to the shore to get out of the sea state?"
Jazz finished second overall last year and owner, Chris Bull, doesn't want to be a bridesmaid again.
I have an owner who has the Hobart disease bad. He's come overall twice, and has no interest in coming second again. For him, second overall is a failure.
Stan Honey, who will navigate Anthony Bell's 100 footer, Investec Loyal, the 628 nautical miles to Hobart, sums up the forecast succinctly.
"The tricky part of this race will be being in position for the wind shifts. The cross sea will be about not breaking the boat, and backing off as appropriate."
At least four crew from each of the 88 yachts entered in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's blue ribbon event must attend Saturday's race briefings (9am and 11am) where the Bureau of Meteorology will deliver its official race forecast.
At 8.30am on race day, 26 December, skippers and navigators will attend a final weather briefing before heading to the start line for the 67th edition of the southern hemisphere's most famous ocean race.
By Jim Gale/Rolex Sydney Hobart media centre
December 26, 2011
Smooth sailing so far in Rolex Sydney Hobart
The 88 yachts in the Rolex Sydney Hobart are still experiencing pleasant downwind sailing conditions at 1800 hours AEST, with up to 16 knots from the north and north-east driving the fleet southwards, but the southerly is on the way, as expected.
Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI with Mark Richards at the helm continues to lead Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal by around 3 nautical miles with Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing from Queensland giving chase a further 3nm astern.
Wild Oats XI reported just before 1800 hours that Ian Smith and John Hildebrand had repaired their main winch and the super maxi was sailing along at 15-16 knots under spinnaker in pleasant conditions around 45nm off Nowra on the NSW South Coast.
According to Mark Richards, the biggest challenge was to fix the winch before the southerly hit the fleet later this evening. Repairing bashing into the wind and squalls would have made the job almost impossible.
Richards said that with no moon out tonight and a lot of cloud cover, the crew would keep their heads out of the boat and keep a look out.
Tactician, Grant Simmer, said that if Wild Oats XI could get around the change and the next low, he feels they could win the race overall.
Further back in the fleet, the fight is also on for the overall win. Tony Kirby reported from his X-41, Patrice Six: “We had a great start at the pin end and a few tacks later we were sailing in clear air. The sea state is good now, it’s relatively flat and we’re happy with our lot,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the Sydney 38 Dodo, skipper Adrian Dunphy said they had also got a great start near Patrice Six and the only mishap they had suffered was to blow up one of their Dodo bird spinnakers. “It’s now an extinct Dodo,” he quipped.
Aboard the Beneteau 45, Balance, owner/skipper Paul Clitheroe reported: “All quiet as the southerly approaches. Balance had a very nice start, avoided trouble (for a change) and made the rounding mark third behind Victoire (Balance’s near sistership and race favourite) and a Volvo 60 (Merit from Queensland).
“We and Victoire have pushed out to sea more than most of our division. It does not look so great now, but we hope to get leverage as the southerly hits. We are bumbling along together at around 9 to 10 knots,” he said.
“The crew are eating early; some taking sea sickness tablets and donning wet weather gear and PFD's. We know what is to come; we did the bashing into the wind thing for three days going to Lord Howe last year. Shortly we will get a big drop in pressure which will give us a chance to get the kite down and prepare a small headsail and our reefing lines.
“It will look a little odd being all reefed down before the southerly hits, but better to be ready early, I destroyed two sails in one night a few Hobarts ago, and that is a bad plan. We and the Beneteau 45 love hard on the nose conditions and we hope to be looking in good shape as tomorrow unfolds.....and not in Eden,” said the Money Man who has been renamed the ‘Funny Man’.
There have been no retirements to-date and no major damage reported, but that could turn around if the predicted southerly hits as hard as some skippers think.
By Di Pearson, Rolex Sydney Hobart media team
December 27, 2011
Former Overall Winner and Youngest Skipper Retire
Matthew Percy’s Beneteau 44.7 Alacrity and Chris Bowling’s Davidson 34 Illusion are the two latest retirements from the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Alacrity has retired with rigging damage and is in Eden while Illusion, a former overall winner, retired with hull damage that is not major, and is heading for Sydney.
The youngest skipper in the fleet, 18 year-old Queenslander Chris Percy said, ”We were heading down the coast, off Eden, and we went to tack back and then there was a huge bang. We jumped into action and pulled the sails down.
“We have minor damage to the D1, but the mast is still up. Everyone's fine,” reported the disappointed youngster.
There is great rivalry between Chris and his younger brother Luke, a state swimmer. When asked what his brother would say of this unfortunate turn of events Chris said: "Probably better luck next time."
There are now 81 boats still at sea and Investec Loyal is within sight of Wild Oats XI with less than one nautical mile between the lead boats.
Wild Oats XI co-navigator Adrienne Cahalan said tonight, “We were expecting the race to start again and it has. It’s going to be a long and tough night.”
By Pip Daly, Rolex Sydney Hobart media team
December 27, 2011
Make or Break Night Ahead
At 1640 local time (0540 UTC) the leading maxi boats in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race were just over half way across Bass Strait, having spent the day making reasonable progress in southwesterly winds that have been slowly dropping off from the 30 knots they saw last night and into this morning.
Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns, co-navigator on line honours leader Wild Oats XI reported this afternoon there being 10-15 knots of wind from the southwest and this was allowing them to point “around 20 degrees low” of the Tasman Light (marking the entrance to Storm Bay still some 250 miles away). As a result they were further east than they might otherwise be. “It has been pretty good so far. We haven’t been becalmed or even slowed down. This is pretty much the lightest wind we have seen so far this trip.”
However Burns added that they were preparing for a most difficult night ahead. “It is going to be really really tough because we have a patch of light wind to fight our way through to get to the Tasmanian coast.” This is likely to involve a hitch west, which will happen if, as forecast, the wind backs into the southeast. Burns says they will then be aiming for a narrow band of favourable northerlies off the Tasman coast. Alas, there is one problem. “Between us and them there is a large 50-60 mile wide stretch of no wind and how we negotiate that and how that moves is really going to decide what we get.”
In addition to this since leaving Sydney Harbour yesterday Wild Oats XI has had a constant thorn in her side in the form of Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal maxi. Over the course of today Loyal has dropped back to being 18 miles astern (in terms of distance to finish) but this is because she has been heading further east, with around 20 miles west-east split between the two yacht’s tracks this afternoon.
“It is going to be really difficult,” continued Burns. “Knowing the guys on Loyal as well as we do - Stan Honey and Michael Coxon - we know they will be throwing everything at us if it goes light, because when you are leading and the wind stops, the boat behind has a bunch of options to go around either side. I can see those guys plotting and scheming all evening to put us in a tough spot, but we will all be working our absolute hardest to keep things going. The guys are right now all concentrating on getting some rest while the boat is sailing along nicely to make sure we are in good shape tonight to throw everything at them that we need to.”
Tonight will be a lottery, or “nervous times” as Burns puts it. A couple of knots of difference in wind strength with a maxi can mean the difference of stuck at 0 knots or making 5 knots. Burns anticipates their arrival in Hobart tomorrow night before sunset, however if tonight does not go well then it could be Thursday morning, in which case Wild Oats XI’s seventh Rolex Sydney Hobart could also be her slowest ever.
Preparing for Bass Strait
Meanwhile the bulk of the fleet, from the 52 footers back, have spent the afternoon tight into the New South Wales coast. This is to enable them to set out into the powerful southwesterlies as they embark on their crossing of Bass Straight tonight, on the best possible course.
“Right now we have got about 16-18 knots and we are close reaching, with the no2 and full main, approaching Gabo Island, about another 40 miles from here,” reported Dirk Johnson, navigator on Rives Potts’ 1969-built Carina. “We have a number of boats around us, all paralleling each other, waiting for the southwesterly breeze to come around the corner.”
According to Johnson, last night was bumpy, but in terms of wind strength he doesn’t remember seeing more than 29 knots. “It was a little uncomfortable. There were some bigger waves than we are used to seeing, but everyone did good and we held on and we had a good night.”
Johnson was looking forward to getting into the favourable current offshore tonight, but anticipated the wind generally getting lighter while a large meteorological question mark hangs over the rest of the race. As he states: “The situation changes dramatically from day to night and depending on where you cross the Strait, at different points on the Strait you can have different conditions. We are ready for everything I guess.”
While earlier the maxis were leading under IRC, as they have slowed so the smaller boats have pulled up the handicap standings. With Carina – which just four and a half months ago on the opposite side of the world, won her class in the Rolex Fastnet Race - up to third, so Roger Hickman’s 1985 Farr 43 Wild Rose is back in front again, from Stephen Ainsworth’s much tipped Reichel Pugh 63, Loki in second. The Beneteau 40 footers - Lunchtime Legend, Balance, Two True and Victoire - currently just north of Eden this afternoon, remain in the top 10.
Fans of 18 year old Australian solo round the world sailor Jessica Watson will also be pleased to hear that her teenage team on Ella Bache is the top Sydney 38 under IRC (albeit fourth in class). Her crew of eight, including fellow youth solo round the world sailor, Britain’s Mike Perham, have been training for the Rolex Sydney Hobart for the last three months, a schedule that included a dry run, sailing their pink boat from Sydney to Hobart and back three weeks ago.
“We are quite excited because the forecast is similar to the forecast we had for our practice run,” says Watson, shortly before leaving yesterday. “So we’ve experienced almost those exact same conditions.”
Watson and her crew are aiming to be the youngest crew to complete the Rolex Sydney Hobart. However Watson says she has higher expectations. “We put a lot of time and energy into this, so we’ll be here to perform as well as possible particularly within our own division.”
This afternoon has seen four more retirements, leaving 81 boats still racing. The GP42 Duende pulled out after crewman Tom Wormald suffered a dislocated shoulder and was dropped ashore. Later Sam Chan’s Hong Kong-based TP52 Ffreefire 52, skippered by Anthony Day, headed back to Sydney after suffering mainsail problems. Finally Matthew Percy’s Beneteau First 44.7 Alacrity suffered rigging damage and was putting into Eden while Jonathan Stone’s Davidson 34 Illusion had hull damage and was returning to Sydney.
By Key Partners
December 28, 2011
Investec Loyal’s line honours win under protest in the Rolex Sydney Hobart
Investec Loyal’s line honours win is under threat following a protest by the Race Committee of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race this evening.
Investec Loyal crossed the finish line of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s (CYCA) 628 nautical mile race at 19.14.18 AEST in the time of 2 days 6hr 14min 18sec. Shortly after Anthony Bell’s super maxi crossed the finish line off Constitution Dock, a representative of the Race Committee, Howard Piggott, delivered the protest to Bell aboard his yacht.
The Race Committee is protesting Investec Loyal under Racing Rule of Sailing 41 that states: “The sail number of a boat which receives outside help will be notified to the Race Committee with details of the incident and a hearing may be held (if required) to determine any penalty. The penalty for Rule 41 shall be at the discretion of the Race Committee.”
The description of the incident on the protest form is as follows: “Audio recording of conversation between ABC helicopter and Investec Loyal seeking information from the helicopter of the sail plan in use on Wild Oats XI. In particular information as to whether Wild Oats XI was flying a trysail. This is assessed to breach 41 by soliciting help from an outside source.”
The Protest Hearing will be held by the International Jury at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania at 10.00 AEST tomorrow (Thursday).
Dockside after the race finish, Garry Linacre, the commodore of the CYCA, told the assembled crowd: “Some minutes ago I received this copy of a protest form. It is a protest form for the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2011, the organizing authority of the CYCA.
“The Race Committee, which is chaired by Tim Cox, has protested that rules may have been infringed on the 27th December at 06:30 hours, 30 nautical miles south of Merimbula. There is an ABC chopper pilot that is a nominated witness.
“I am very sorry about this event, I can assure you. Unfortunately, that has stopped our celebration here, as the result comes provisional until the protest is heard tomorrow,” he said.
“I would like to congratulate Investec Loyal on their magnificent sailing in this race, and also Wild Oats XI.
By Di Pearson, Rolex Sydney Hobart media team