Sailing: Battle of supermaxis beckons in Sydney to Hobart race

The Sydney-Hobart race record faces a possibility of being broken in 2022 because of forecast northerly winds. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY – Forecast northerly winds could see the prestigious Sydney-Hobart race record challenged by the supermaxi yachts when the often-brutal bluewater classic sets sail on Boxing Day.

The big boats are predicted to get off to a flying start from Sydney harbour, with light winds becoming blustery, propelling them down Australia’s east coast before they tackle the notorious Bass Strait towards Hobart.

“For the most part, we are looking at northerly winds and having those northerly winds increase through the first half of the race with a trough coming through on Wednesday,” the New South Wales Bureau of Meteorology’s Gabrielle Woodhouse said in a long-range forecast.

It augurs well for the 100-foot supermaxis among the 109-strong fleet – Andoo Comanche, Black Jack, Wild Oats and LawConnect – as they battle one of the world’s most challenging ocean events.

They could feasibly make it to Hobart without any significant upwind sailing, while the rest of the fleet – slower mid-to-small sized boats – face two or more weather patterns with the trough shifting winds to south-southeast and rain developing.

Comanche holds the record for the 628-nautical-mile (1,200-km) endurance test of one day, 9hr, 15min 24sec, set in 2017.

Yachting meteorologist Roger Badham said it remained to be seen whether the time could be lowered.

“It’s a very good race record, that’s part of the reason it may not go,” he said.

“I think it will depend on the first six hours of the race and the last six hours, how quickly they can get into second and third gear going down the coast and what breeze there is at the end.”

Comanche navigator Justin Shaffer said the forecast was “generally good for us as we like going downwind”.

“We’ll have a good chance of being ahead (after the start)... by how much, we’ll see,” he added.

Michael Bellingham, who has sailed in 29 Sydney-Hobarts and will in 2022 navigate the mid-sized TP52 Patrice, concurred that “the big boats will probably do this in one weather pattern”.

“How this changes and pans out on Wednesday will affect how the (rest of the) fleet do in this race,” he added.

“It will be interesting to see what sort of wind strengths and sea conditions we get across Bass Strait.”

Black Jack took line honours in 2021 after a tight tussle with LawConnect, ending years of frustrating near misses to cross the finish line on the River Derwent after two days, 12 hr 37min 17sec.

Ichi Ban was the overall handicap winner, which takes into account the yachts’ sizes, pipping rival Celestial in a race where dangerous waves and weather conditions saw many withdraw.

International boats are making a return after the race was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the pandemic, and Covid-19 hit the fleet in 2021.

Entrants come from Germany (Orione), Hong Kong (Antipodes), Hungary (Cassiopeia 68), New Caledonia (Eye Candy and Poulpito), New Zealand (Caro), Britain (Sunrise) and the United States (Warrior Won). AFP

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