Oats v Loyal

Rolex Sydney Hobart leaders embark on their Bass Strait crossing

Tuesday December 27th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

At midnight UTC (1100 local), Wild Oats XI was leading the drive south in the Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race. She was just setting out to cross Bass Strait with Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal 11 miles astern. These two have now broken away from the fleet with Peter Millard’s Lahana third, 39 miles off the lead.

Further back still, Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss is fourth on the water, doing well to fend off the advances of Stephen Ainsworth’s all conquering Reichel Pugh 63, Loki.

Yesterday evening local time, the fleet saw the wind clock around through 180 degrees as the front passed overhead, the wind kicking in with some violence from the south, putting the boats hard on the wind.

As Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz recounted: “The front passed last night with quite a punch, with pelting rain that lasted for about 40 minutes, but kept things busy for Andy Hudson and the bow team, as we quickly had to change sails.” The rapid change in wind direction, and with the wind now counter to the south-going current, has kicked up an evil sea. Broughton described this as being 3-4m high, short and confused.

In the all-important IRC handicap battle for the Tattersall’s Cup, nothing clear is transpiring yet. At the time of writing Wild Oats XI, the biggest fastest boat in the fleet, had eased ahead, but previously leading had been the 1985-built Farr 43 Wild Rose, winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1993 and skippered by race veteran Roger Hickman. The smaller Beneteaus were also performing well – in particular Darryl Hodgkinson’s much tipped Beneteau First 45 Victoire, Paul Clitheroe’s 45 Balance and Andrew Saies on his 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart winning First 40, Two True.

At present the bulk of the fleet are still hugging the New South Wales coast where the wind is in the south and they are hard on the wind.

However conditions have momentarily improved for the maxis out in Bass Strait where the wind, currently blowing 25-30 knots, has veered into the southwest allowing the boats to head south on starboard tack. But the forecast is indicating stop-start progress for the 100 footers. The wind is due to fizzle out this afternoon (local time) as a small bubble of high pressure eases east off the coast of Tasmania. But once the high gets offshore, some northerly pressure could build close in to the Tasman coast, allowing the big boats to forge south once more.

Despite a first testing night at sea, to date there have only been three retirements from 88 starters. Just before midnight local time Sam Haynes’ Rogers 46 Celestial withdrew having suffered a broken gooseneck, while Marc and Louis Ryckmans GP42 Accenture (Yeah Baby) pulled out with unspecified gear failure.

Hot off the press is that 2003 line honours winner, Grant Warrington‘s Wild Thing is the latest retirement, having suffered sail damage. At the time of her pulling out she was holding third place on the water.

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