|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(25-12-2004) The Victorian yacht Terra Firma today withdrew from tomorrow’s 60th anniversary Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, leaving a fleet of 116 boats expected to line up on Sydney Harbour for what promises to be a rugged race south.
However, forecasts issued by the Bureau of Meteorology this afternoon indicate that conditions as the fleet sails down the New South Wales South Coast and across Bass Strait to Tasmania may not be as severe as indicated earlier this week.
Terra Firma, the Overall winner of the Sydney Hobart Race in 1995, is the only late withdrawal from the fleet, which is still the largest in a decade and double those of the past two races. Owners, Nicholas Bartels and Martin Vaughan from Sandringham Yacht Club in Victoria, cited “lack of crew” their reasons for withdrawing.
The 628 nautical mile race gets under way from the Harbour at 1.10pm tomorrow, Boxing Day, using a two-line start, the larger and faster boats starting from the front (northern) line.
To compensate the boats on the back (southern line), the bigger boats will have to sail an extra distance to a rounding mark at the Heads before heading to the sea mark and turning south for Tasmania.
Ray Richmond, 85, the sole surviving crew member of Rani, the line and overall handicap winner of the inaugural Sydney Hobart Race in 1945, will fire the starting cannon while two other first race veterans, Geoff Ruggles and John Gordon, will fire the warning and preparatory signal cannons.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s forecast for tomorrow’s spectacular start from Sydney Harbour is southwest to southeasterly winds of 5-10 knots in the morning, tending north/north-east at 10/15 knots in the afternoon.
These winds, which should give the fleet a fast spinnaker run down the NSW South Coast, Are forecast to freshen from 15 to 25 knots by midnight, with the Bureau issuing a strong wind warning for the Illawarra Coast and South Coastal waters from Port Hacking south to Gabo Island.
Further down the Illawarra Coast towards Jervis Bay, the Bureau predicts the north/north-easterly winds could reach 25-35 knots in the evening with seas rising to 2-3 metres.
By the early hours of Monday morning, northwest to northeasterly winds along the NSW South Coast should reach 20/30 knots offshore ahead of a 25/30 knots S/SW change.
However, behind the initial front the winds are expected to increase to 35-45 knots by late morning, with the strong southerly winds continuing through Tuesday as the fleet heads across Bass Strait and down the Tasmanian East Coast.
From Monday morning onwards, the 60th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race looks to be a hard slog to windward for almost the entire fleet, conditions that will favour the bigger boats.
The forecast for Tasmanian coastal waters is for southwesterly winds of 20-30 knots east of Flinders Island on Monday, freshening to 35 knots on Monday evening, with southwest to southerly winds on Tuesday of 25-35 knots, grading to 35-45 knots well offshore on Tuesday.
Generally, seas throughout the race are expected to 3-4 metres on a 2 metre swell, but reaching 4-6 metres well offshore on a southerly swell of 2-3 metres, 4 metres well offshore.
The Bureau of Meteorology will give the skippers of the 116 boats in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race a final weather briefing at the CYCA at 8.30 tomorrow.