Southerly buster forecast

Skippers look forward to Boxing Day's Rolex Sydney Hobart

Friday December 24th 2010, Author: Lisa Ratcliff, Location: Australia

Image above courtesy of Tasman Bay Navigation Systems (Expedition) and PredictWind

A hot and humid Boxing Day will give way to a traditional thundery, southerly buster during the first 24 hours of the Rolex Sydney Hobart - the Bureau of Meteorology gave its race outlook to skippers and crews today at the official race briefing, which must be attended by four crewmembers from each boat.

When the 1pm gun sounds on Sunday, the 87 boat fleet can expect a light harbour start to their 628 nautical mile journey. The first of several fronts is expected to hit the fleet during the first night, with winds dialling up to 35 knots and squalls driving the wind strength higher.

The bureau’s NSW regional director Barry Hanstrum told media that crews should prepare for tough conditions: “Things will change very dramatically on Monday evening with the arrival of an old fashioned southerly buster off the New South Wales coast. There’s a 20-30 knot southerly wind expected to be around Wollongong at 8pm and that will herald a period of strong winds and rough seas for the next 36 hours or so.”

Conditions should temper by Tuesday, which will slow the boats at the back of the fleet and potentially rob them of a chance to be rewarded for the hard slog south with a trophy haul at the finish, once finishing times are corrected to produce the overall winner.

The 60th anniversary Rolex Sydney Hobart in 2004 was the last time the fleet hit the brick wall of a southerly buster during the first night. From 116 starters just 59 completed the course and, for the smaller boats, 56 hours of pounding headwinds took their toll.

Two years later the fleet started in a southerly which intensified on the first night, claiming early high profile scalps Maximus and ABN AMRO One, plus seven other boats, all within the first 24 hours.

Since 2006 the fleet has had an easier time and some might have developed a false sense of security, but the seasoned sailors, including Investec Loyal skipper Sean Langman and Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards, have never let their guard down.

“It’s not the best of forecasts but a classic Sydney Hobart,” said Richards today. “People forget that in 2006 we spent eight hours in 45 knots of breeze - the boat has been there before.”

Sean Langman was positive about the forecast and the potential for Investec Loyal as long as he can protect the assets – the 100 footer he co-owns with Anthony Bell and the crew he needs to deliver it to the finish line. “I believe it’s going to be a good leveler for the front running boats,” said Langman. “With this forecast we are a very good chance because of the way Investec Loyal was constructed.”

Langman agrees the conditions could mean the race to get to Hobart first may take a back seat when the weather turns. “There is a time when boat racing stops and seamanship takes over and certainly with the big boats there will be more seamanship than boat racing until we get the other side of this thing [the southerlies],” he said.

For the highly experienced Will Oxley, navigator on Bill Wild’s RP55 Rodd & Gunn Wedgetail, which was built for this particular forecast, the practicalities are as important as plotting the best course to Hobart.

“We will eat early [on the first night] and eat well because the next time we will be able to eat well will be off the Tassie coast,” said Oxley. “We have changed around the meal program so that we can cook when it is easy to cook and the rest of the time it’s freeze-dried.”

19 year old Lachlan Hunter, crewman on Rod Skellet’s Pogo 40 Krakatoa II, embodied the ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling which is building amongst near 1000 competitors making final preparations. When asked his thoughts on the forecast, Hunter responded with laidback charm.

“I’m just really excited,” he said. “I’m not really phased [by the forecast], I think it phases my mum more.”

The 16 foot skiff sailor admitted his friends are a touch jealous, and that going south isn’t hurting his chances with the ladies either.

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