The flash of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet is with the record breaking monohulls that challenge the 628 nm course, but an absence is felt this year by one iconic 100-footer.
While leading skippers in the 76th edition have urged Wild Oats XI to return to the race, the super maxi pulled out in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns. This year marks the first time since 2005 that the fan favorite and nine-time line honours winner will not compete. Last year’s event was cancelled due to the virus.
The Oatley family, which owns the famous vessel, said last year that they did not wish to participate in the race out of respect for their employees and business partners who had been affected by COVID-19. Skipper Mark Richards chose to do the same this year as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc.
Thus, the spotlight turns to the remaining bigs, but the forecast of strong southerly winds and rough seas will prove a challenge for these rides that like to fly with the sails eased.
Best positioned for the conditions may be Christian Beck, the owner/skipper of the 100-foot LawConnect. His boat, the former Perpetual LOYAL which won line honours in 2016, is the heaviest of the three big boats – the others being Black Jack and SHK Scallywag 100.
Because of its build and weight, LawConnect is regarded as the best suited of the three maxis for conditions like what the Bureau of Meteorology of NSW forecasted for the start.
“That’s our best conditions. We love a good hard southerly,” said Beck. “It gives us an ability to get out into the wind. Obviously, we don’t want the boat or any boats to break, but our boat has bashed through so much of that stuff, it’s pretty unlikely to break.”
The fleet is bracing itself for a rough and tumble race, judging by the latest forecast.
The forecast for the start on December 26 is for cloud cover and 10-15 knot southerly winds, increasing to 25-30 knots outside the Heads. Showers are expected with possible thunderstorms later.
The first night at sea is expected to be a bumpy one, with the winds turning to the south/south-east at 15 to 25 knots and one to two metre waves on a sea-driven swell.
David Witt, skipper of SHK Scallywag 100 and sailing in his 25th Sydney Hobart, believes the first 24 hours will be crucial for the maxis.
However, this close to the Boxing Day start at 1pm, Witt said that his mind is focused on hoping all of his crew are cleared to start the race. COVID-19 protocols require all Rolex Sydney Hobart crew and staff to undergo a PCR test within 72 hours of leaving for Tasmania.
“The first step is to get through the PCR test. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing,” said Witt. “We’ve got 18 crew. So, you know, any of us could get dropped out, testing positive, and that’ll throw a massive spanner in the works. That’s probably the biggest thing.
“As far as the weather goes, 100-footers don’t like to go upwind in 25 to 30 knots. So, I think you’ve got to stay in the race for the first 24 hours. That is probably the biggest part. Then see what happens.
“Hopefully ours doesn’t [break]. Hopefully [all the maxis] don’t. It would be good for the three of us to go up the Derwent together.
“It’s going to be a question of where you put the pedal down… in the first part of the race and let it break, or you don’t put the pedal down enough and fall behind.”
Mark Bradford, skipper of Black Jack, is the only one of the three 100-foot skippers to have tasted line honors success in the Sydney Hobart, but as crew on Investec Loyal in 2011.
He believes the three big boats are all different to each other, and for that reason will be suited to varying points of the race.
“Christian’s boat should be the best performer in the first 24 hours of the race,” Bradford admitted. “Then it will be a question of who can play catch-up the quickest after that.
“But the boats are built for different things all together.
“Ours is the best light air boat. Christian’s is the best heavier boat. And Witty’s boat sits right in the middle of both of us. So, yeah … luck comes into that.”
The 628 nm Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be the 76th edition in 2021 with a fleet of 91 boats that include three international entries. One hundred fifty seven teams set off in 2019 for the 75th edition, but since then the 2020 race was cancelled due to the pandemic and uncertainty has hovered this year.
From the start in Sydney Harbour, the fleet sails out into the Tasman Sea, down the south-east coast of mainland Australia, across Bass Strait (which divides the mainland from the island State of Tasmania), then down the east coast of Tasmania. At Tasman Island the fleet turns right into Storm Bay for the final sail up the Derwent River to the historic port city of Hobart.
Source: RSHYR, SMH