On Christmas Eve morning competitors in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race received the Bureau of Meteorology’s official race forecast, indicating a fast start on Sydney Harbour in north-easterlies likely to strengthen throughout the afternoon as the fleet sprints down the NSW coast.
A more traditional Hobart race with a decent upwind slog is the preference for Beau Geste’s sailing team, but it’s unlikely their Christmas wish will be fulfilled this year.
“Beau Geste would prefer a more traditional Hobart race with some solid upwind sailing,” admits tactician Gavin Brady, a 12 time Sydney Hobart competitor. “If it was a typical upwind we’d be on the hammer of the big boats. The four supermaxis have the extra waterline length and the forecast suits them. Beau Geste has given up 20 feet of waterline length and the Volvo 70s 30ft. It’s still on the cards we could get more southerly flow than is forecast.”
Of most concern in terms of finishing the race is hitting an object Brady warns. “In the back of everyone’s mind is hitting a sunfish or ocean debris at speed. We saw it in last year’s Sydney to Hobart and the guys doing the Vendee Globe have had issues. There seems to be more things to hit these days and doing 20 knots in these big boats, 90% of the time you won’t know what you ran into.
“With the warmer ocean temperatures we are seeing more marine life closer to the coast around the world… whales, sharks and sunfish…and seeing more ocean debris. Sailors are watching the wind and waves all the time and have a better idea of what’s happening to our oceans than most.
“Given Beau Geste’s twin rudders and dagger boards, my big concern is running into a floating object.”
Twelve New Zealanders who make up the majority of the Cloudy Bay sponsored 80-footer Beau Geste will farewell their families and head back across the Tasman Sea Christmas Day afternoon to join the Sydney component, including skipper Aaron Rowe and food stylist Donna Hay, and make final preparations for a forecast that’s been consistent for close to two weeks.
Speaking from Auckland Brady suggests that despite the steady forecast competitors can still expect the 628 nautical mile challenge to throw up its usual surprises, especially during the light patches. “The bluewater classic’s unpredictability in real time is famous worldwide.”
Brady says like the rest of the big boats Beau Geste is set up for multiple weather scenarios and on his guess for the pacesetters: “I expect there will be an early breakaway pack with the nor’easter, including us, and whoever makes one mistake will drop out.”
He predicts Beau Geste’s driving/trimming teams will be the busiest, particularly in the first phase given Beau Geste is like a big dinghy downwind and the trimmers and helmsman have to be in sync at all times.
A downhill sleigh ride is great news for Hay who is in charge of the galley and keeping the crew of 17, including herself, well fed and hydrated. Karl Kwok’s 80-footer will stay relatively flat and won’t be pounding into waves with the breeze behind, though crews can expect a southerly change to swing through Monday evening bringing 15-25 knot winds that will make things uncomfortable by comparison.
Winds are then forecast to return to the NNE and a warm and dry race is welcome news for the 900 or so sailors.
Whatever the eventual conditions Brady has his money on strong corrected time results for the medium size boats. “The second half of the race is unknown. No-one’s got a good handle on the last 200 nautical miles in any size range, and if they think they do they are kidding themselves.
“It will be the final 200 miles that sorts out the handicap winner.”
Beau Geste is the fifth largest among the now 89-boat fleet and carries one of the most experienced sailing teams including Olympians, America’s Cup and around-the-world sailors who will head to the starting area on Sydney Harbour from Woolwich Dock on Boxing Day morning.
Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes will be a guest of Cloudy Bay and will be on board Beau Geste prior to the 1pm start.
by Lisa Ratcliff