Super-maxi yacht Wild Oats XI looks set to secure its sixth win in Australia’s Sydney to Hobart yacht race, but southerly winds and cyclone-related swells mean its race record is likely to stay untouched.
Eighty-eight boats are due to make the grueling 628 nautical mile (1,163km) dash from Sydney Harbour tomorrow, down the southeast coast of Australia to the Tasmanian state capital Hobart.
Success in the famously unforgiving ocean race, which takes crews across the notorious Bass Strait and up the maddening calm of the Derwent River, often comes down to weather.
Catastrophic conditions claimed six lives and sank five yachts in 1998 and vessels are routinely unable to complete the race, with just 69 of 87 starters last year finishing the course.
Coastal currents and the rapidly changing weather make the Sydney to Hobart one of the world’s most challenging races, and a cyclone brewing to the northeast is set to whip up some challenging seas for this year’s edition.
“[There will be] two different wave trains, one from the south and one from the northeast, that will make for fairly erratic conditions,” weather forecaster Rob Webb said.
Tropical Cyclone Fina will see favorable northerlies and swell for the race’s start on Boxing Day, but a southerly front is expected within the first 12 hours, bringing strong headwinds likely to persist until Wednesday.
The conditions will favor the 100 foot (30.5m) Wild Oats XI, with one bookmaker so confident the super-maxi will bag a sixth line honors victory from seven starts he paid out a win on Thursday.
Wild Oats navigator Adrienne Cahalan said the forecast meant its 2005 race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds looked safe.
“I’m afraid it is out of the window, there’s too much southerly in this forecast,” Cahalan said of the chances the record would fall. “I can’t see any record breakers here.”
The race awards line honors for the first boat across the finishing line as well as a handicap honors, which takes into account each boat’s dimensions, including its sail area, whether it has a canting or fixed keel, and age.
Fellow 100 foot yacht Investec LOYAL is seen as Wild Oats’ major rival for line honors, having nabbed second place last year, along with 98 foot Wild Thing, 2003 line honors winner.
Lahana, a 98-footer, is also in the mix and while the super-maxis were faster boats, technician Carl Crafoord said he was confident of challenging them in the handicap stakes.
“If we can stay in their weather pattern and they park up, or have a quiet time in the Derwent, and we are in their time zone, we can beat them on handicap,” Crafoord said.
Midnight Rambler, a new yacht yet to be tested in rough conditions, is also among handicap favorites and skipper Michael Bencsik said his involvement in the disastrous 1998 race had instilled the importance of preparation.
“I think that sort of experience you have never leaves you,” Bencsik said, adding that success was equal parts preparation, crew and the elements. “If we can sort of look after the first two parts of the equation, we’ve got as much of a chance as any of the other competitors in the race.”
Tony Kirby, who will be competing in his 27th Sydney to Hobart on the Patrice Six, came agonizingly close to winning handicap honors two years ago, only to see boats cross after him with a quicker time overall because of better winds after he finished the race.