A strong southerly to southwesterly change sweeping up the Tasmanian coast this afternoon slowed the 87 yachts still at sea in the 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.
At 1600, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a strong wind warning for the lower east coast, from Wineglass Bay to Tasman Island for southwest to southerly winds of 30 knots in open waters at first, easing to 5 to 15 kn by late evening, with two to three metre seas and a southwest swell of 2.5 to 3.5 metres.
The winds would then tend northeast to northerly at 10 – 20kn during tomorrow morning before increasing during the afternoon to 20 – 30kn by evening.
For the yachts covering the remaining miles of the 628 nautical mile race, the forecast meant a bumpy, wet night of tacking upwind before the strong northerly picks up the fleet still at sea and propels them towards Tasman Island at a very fast pace on a wild spinnaker ride.
That scenario removes any certainty about the computer calculations of the likely winner of the Tattersall’s Cup for the overall IRC handicap winner.
But it is comforting for a leading contender for the Tattersall’s Cup, already tied up at the Kings Pier Marina in Hobart. At 1800, Niklas Zennstrom’s Judel/Vrolijk 72 Ran (UK), was showing up in 15th position on corrected time calculations.
Ran’s tactician, Adrian Stead, said: “We’re in good shape; we got Neville (Alfa Romeo) by 50 minutes or so, which is good and we sailed really well. All we can do now is wait and see how we shape up.”
Also at 1800, Tony Kirby’s X41 Patrice 6 was calculated to be leading IRC overall handicap from an eclectic mix of designs and sizes. She was 12nm east of Cape Sonnerat, between the coastal villages of Swansea and Triabunna, making seven knots with 96nm to sail.
Second was Andrew Saies’ Beneteau First 40 Two True, followed by Wicked (Mike Welsh), another Beneteau First 40. Then came the Spanish entry Charisma (Alejandro Perez Calzada), a 1970 Sparkman & Stephens IOR rule design that should revel in the strong upwind conditions.
One IRC handicap result that is certain is the win of Neville Crichton’s 100ft super-maxi Alfa Romeo, the line honours winner, in IRC division 0 for canting keel-powered boats and the second place in that division for Matt Allen’s modified Jones-design Volvo 70, unbeatable in second place on current position reports.
Allen said the Volvo 70 was a very good boat for upwind and in high-wind pressure sailing. In the sou’-wester of up to 25 knots on the first night, she worked up to within a half mile behind Wild Oats XI.
“We were not overly surprised to see that, but we knew the next night in the lighter airs and with the bigger sails the maxis carry, giving away rating, they would get through that first light-air gate. Only the three boats got through and the next morning we were there with all our fellow-sized boats stuck for five or six hours.”
Allen said that every night there were challenges. “You’d sail through the day, with quite a few wind shifts, but generally the night-time sailing was tricky. Every night we parked up. Tactically it was a very interesting race, because you had to work out where you were going to get through in the next transition.
“Last night we’d had a 30-knot nor’-westerly and we were doing 25 knots, white water coming over the boat. It lasted for an hour and-a-half and within minutes it went down really quickly: to ten knots, to five and then zero. So we went from having 30 knots to being in no wind with leftover swell and you could only go in one direction, with the waves.
“The big transition zones had the navigators really on their toes, playing the angles and trying to work out how to handle the next transition.”
With eight yachts finished, and five yachts retired, there are 87 yachts still racing to the finish in Hobart.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet has crews representing the USA, UK, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, and New Caledonia as well as every Australian state.
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