|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(26-12-2005) Just hours before the start of the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race the Bureau of Meteorology has told the 85 skippers and their navigators that they can expect fast reaching and downwind conditions for most of the race.
The race will start in a light south-easterly which, depending on how much south there is in the wind, may allow the yachts to stage a colourful spinnaker start down Sydney Harbour. However the winds are expected to swing to the north during the afternoon, freshening to 20 to 30 knots as the boats make their way down the New South Wales coast.
It is a forecast tailor made for the five biggest yachts, AAPT, Konica Minolta, Skandia, Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats XI, all of which are capable of beating Nokias 1999 race record. Indeed, the forecast suggests the front runners will enjoy the best conditions seen since 1999.
It is also possible that in these conditions the canting keel maxis will open up such a large lead over the rest of the fleet that the first across the line could also take out 1st place on handicap. The only other time a yacht has won the treble: line honours, the record and handicap, was when Captain John Illingworths Rani won the first race in 1945.
The maxis will benefit from a forecast change to the west in Bass Strait on Wednesday, when the race leaders will already be in Hobart. The Bureau expects Wednesday to be the toughest of the race, with gale force winds and four metre seas on a two metre swell. This will particularly affect the fifty and sixty footers that in recent years have dominated the handicap results. They will still be in Bass Strait on Wednesday and the change, while it will only last around twelve hours, could slow them down enough to cost them handicap time on the big boats.
The smaller boats further back on the racetrack, many of them still on the mainland side of Bass Strait will not be as badly affected by the change and they will be able to make up a lot of time on their bigger cousins when the wind is again expected to swing round to the north. The strength of that second northerly push, and how long it lasts, will be the big factor in determining whether the small boats can do enough to knock off the maxis on handicap.
So while the race for line honours this year may be a short one, it could be four or five days before the more important race for the Tattersalls Cup, awarded to the handicap winner is resolved.