Viet Nam News
SYDNEY — The favourite supermaxis led the fleet out of Sydney harbour heading for Hobart on Monday as a fine weather forecast brought a new record back into sight at the start of one of the toughest yacht races in the world.
Under a blazing azure sky, hundreds of leisure boats lined the course to the Heads watched by masses of spectators on the shoreline as a fresh north-easterly sped the fastest three yachts — all 100-footers — ahead of the 84 smaller vessels entered for Australia’s bluewater classic.
Skipper Anthony Bell’s Perpetual LOYAL was the first into open ocean followed by Hong Kong-owned Scallywag, and local race favourite Wild Oats XI trailed by the untested CQS of Finn Ludde Ingvall, who took line honours in 2000 and 2004.
They were flying south down the coast under spinnaker in freshening northerly winds before a weak southerly change moves up late on Boxing Day, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest forecast.
The southerly will be lighter than expected at around 10 to 15 knots, and on Tuesday winds will back around to the north again, far earlier than previously predicted.
In the race for line honours, conditions favour the slim Wild Oats XI, which set the record of 1 day 18hrs 23mins 12secs for the grueling 628-nautical-mile (1,163 kilometre) event in 2012 and is hoping for an eighth overall victory.
Skipper Mark Richards said he’s not thinking about records, but rival David Witt, at the helm of Hong Kong businessman Seng Huang Lee’s entrant, Scallywag, certainly is.
"If I had to write a forecast for us, it would be this one," he said.
"Light air just forward of the beam really suits us."
Witt said Scallywag could easily break Wild Oats XI’s race record. "Our routing puts us at the Iron Pot (mouth of Tasmania’s Derwent River) in 1 day 11 hours. That gives us 7 hours to do 14 miles and beat the record."
"I will do everything in my absolute power to win this race," he told his crew in a pre-race pep talk.
Rival Bell on Perpetual LOYAL, the leading challenger to Wild Oats, was less pleased with Monday’s forecast noting that his heavier and powerful super maxi needs as much time to windward as it can get rather than the light southerly now predicted.
"We’ll have to be a lot more tactical and bear more risk to use the better points of our boat. We’ll have to sail away from the fleet to find more power reaching that will give us better boat speed," Bell said.
In a bid to be more competitive, Perpetual has brought in half the world-class crew of last year’s winner, the US super boat Comanche, which is not entered for 2016.
Organisers at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia said the hardest part of this year’s race would likely be the Tasmanian Coast and the fickle Derwent River leading to Hobart’s Constitution Dock where windless holes can park a boat for hours, while others sail through on a breeze.
Line honours for the fastest vessel and the overall handicap winner could both be decided on a becalmed Derwent.
The weather forecast stood in stark contrast to 2015 when savage southerlies forced dozens of boats to pull, including Wild Oats.
Storms are a regular hazard, with six men dying, five boats sinking and 55 sailors rescued on a fatal night in 1998 when a deep depression exploded over the Tasman Sea.
Last year’s overall handicap winner, Australia’s 52-footer Balance, is hoping for a second successive crown for the TP52.
Among a dozen international vessels, five are from Asia with the Korea Ocean Sailing Club chartering a 52-footer and naming it Sonic for the nation’s first Sydney to Hobart.
China counts two boats for 2016 with Dong Qing back with Ark323 and a new crew after a stormy debut ended in early retirement for the country’s first ever entry last year. — AFP