The 'southerly buster' forecast for the start of Sydney Hobart is now predicted for further offshore 24/12/06

The ‘southerly buster’ – an intense depression typical of a boat-breaking Rolex Sydney Hobart – forecast earlier in the week is now set to be further offshore from Sydney for the Boxing Day start of the annual 628-mile race south to Hobart.

Due to this, the Tuesday start will not be in a 30 knot breeze as previously forecast, but in a more sedate 10-12 knots from the south-west or south decreasing over the first 24 hours of the race, according to Rob Webb from the Bureau of Meteorology.

While the wind may have dropped, of concern for the 78 yachts taking the start line will be the residual swell from the south driven by the 40 knot winds blowing across the southern Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand on Christmas Day. These will clash with the warm current flowing south down the coast of eastern Australia, creating an uncomfortable lumpy seaway, more than capable of damaging the finely-tuned race boats in the south-bound fleet.

Most race pundits believe the latest forecast reasserts Bob Oatley’s line honours, handicap winner and record setter from 2005, Wild Oats XI, as this year’s line honours favourite. The 30 knot headwinds and lumpy seas previously forecast were thought to favour the two Volvo Open 70s, ABN AMRO One and Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban, both built to be raced hard around the world and that could be pushed in the tough conditions while the crew on the 98ft long Wild Oats XI would have to back off or risk breakage, as occurred to two of the leading maxis in the Rolex Sydney Hobart two years ago.
Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI has never agreed with this theory. “If you see 35 or 40 knots we’ll start thinking about backing off but you have to see pretty extreme conditions first,” he says. “We’ve been training for these conditions. Wild Oats is a very fast boat and so is ABN for her length. If it gets very rough then it might be a boat for boat situation, but I think we’ll have the legs on most people.”
Richards says he won’t believe the forecast until the morning of start day although he admits that the present forecast indicates a good tactical race rather than one of survival.

Sydney boat-builder Sean Langman normally campaigns maxis in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, but this year he is racing one of the smallest boats, the 70 year old 9m long gaff-rigged classic, Maluka, which he has lovingly restored. Out of the running this time for line honours, Langman still believes the leftover sea state will cause some casualties among the racing fleet, but backs Wild Oats as the form boat. “The Wild Oats team are going to be very difficult to beat. I’ve had all the boats out at the boatyard and Wild Oats and ABN AMRO are by far the most immaculately prepared teams. I like the job that Wharro (Grant Wharington, skipper of the Skandia maxi, line honours winner in 2003) has done on his boat, but I think she is not powerful enough. Wild Oats has got to be the favourite.”

While the wind is set to get lighter during the race, the weather conditions over the duration of this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart remain complex. Most believe the forecast at present either favours the biggest boats or the smallest, the mid-fleet set to be hurt worst by an area of high pressure set to extend across the fleet on Thursday.