The bulk of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet experience 40-50 knots of gale to storm-force winds

With yachts experiencing 40-50 knots of gale to storm-force winds from the west-southwest and massive seas, today’s toll now sits at nine yachts retired, some with severe damage. All crews were reported to be in good shape.

At 1542 AEDST, Ludde Ingvall’s 27-metre Yuuzoo retired from the race with structural and rigging damage. Exact details were unknown but the yacht had reached a safe port in Eden by 1800.

Within the hour of the maxi’s retirement, a string of yachts followed suit with the Sydney 38 Swish, the 46-foot Reichel/Pugh Shamrock, the Volvo 60 Southern Excellence and the Nelson Marek 52 Wot Eva abandoned the difficult race due to damage in the unbelievably rough seas and extreme wind conditions.

Nick Athineos’ Dodo headed to Eden to drop off an injured crewman who had sustained a broken arm, but was not retiring. Crew onboard the yacht recorded gusts of 45-50 knots.

Martin Power’s 44-footer Bacardi snapped its mast 35-nautical miles east of Batemans Bay, midway down the Australian New South Wales coast. “Search and rescue options and assets are being arranged as I speak, if needed,” reported Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Commodore Gary Linacre, who had just arrived in Hobart.

At 1820, Rob Reynolds’ 14-meter yacht Exile sustained steering damage and retired. Shortly after, Jim Cooney’s supermaxi and pride of Australia, Brindabella, dropped out after suffering damage to her mainsail in the severe conditions. At 1905, Jarod Ritchie’s Beneteau 57 Alchemy III was out with damage to their boom and was headed to Sydney.

Earlier, via an 1830 phone interview with Ian Burns onboard Wild Oats XI, race favourite and current line honours leader, reported from the treacherous Strait, “There’s still quite a messy seaway leftover from that earlier blow we had. But things are finally settling down. In a couple hours we should be in flatter seas, and probably 10 -15 knots (of wind).”

He continued, “This morning around Gabo Island, it was pretty arduous going, very hard to slow the boat down enough to keep it in one piece. We had to get down to very, very small sails and work at keeping the boat slow, so we weren’t crashing off the tops of waves too much – it was pretty rough going. We had many gusts up to 40 knots, and when it gets that windy in Bass Strait, you’ve got a bit on.”

“The crew have done a fantastic job. It’s a pleasure to watch. In pretty trying conditions up on the foredeck, often pitching two to four feet underwater. The guys are up there are hanging on to sails and getting them up and down, without a murmur of a problem.” Burns concluded, “The crews are really settled into it now, the second half of the race is really getting starting now.”

The forecast for tonight is for winds west to south-westerly at 25 to 35 knots and locally reaching 40 knots in the east then moderating to 20 to 25 knots later in the night overnight, with squalls, associated showers and big seas. Seas are expected to abate overnight, down to 2 – 3 metres later in the evening.

Current overall handicap race leader is Stephen Ainsworth’s 63-footer Loki, currently 80 miles southeast of Gabo Island.

The remaining intrepid Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet continues battling it’s way to Hobart. The remaining 77 boats include six international entries from the USA, UK, Italy, France, as well as two partly crewed Russian boats, and entries from seven of the eight Australian states and territories.

WILD RIDE FOR WILD OATS – The latest report from the current race leader

Adrienne Cahalan, supermaxi Wild Oats XI’s co-navigator and the most capped female in the 66 year history of the Rolex Sydney Hobart race, tonight described the crossing of Bass Strait as possibly the worst she has experienced.

Cahalan, a mother of two young children who has 19 Hobart races to her credit, said the only way to describe the punishment the 30-metre long Wild Oats XI had been dealt by a south-westerly gale was ‘violent and awful’.

‘We have spent the entire day trying to protect the yacht from damage and the crew from injury,’ Cahalan said via satellite phone. ‘It’s been an enormous challenge and every one of us has been roughed up. The wind has reached 40 knots – gale force -and the seas have been between four and five metres, so we’ve spent the day in damage control for boat and crew.’

Cahalan said that Wild Oats XI’s skipper, Mark ‘Ricko’ Richards had done a remarkable job maintaining a conservative approach to the race during the rough weather. She said that while everyone knew when they left Sydney on Boxing Day that things were going to be tough, it was not until you are out there that you realised what ‘tough’ really meant.

‘Because of Ricko’s approach we’ve had no breakages and everyone is OK – a bit battered and bruised, but OK,’ Cahalan added. ‘Wild Oats XI is 100 feet long and in these conditions it’s extremely difficult keeping a boat this size and this fast from not launching off one wave and crashing into the next. When you do it’s like a truck hitting a wall. That’s when the damage happens to the yacht and the crew, so preventing this from happening has been our priority.

Tonight the sailing conditions were improving for Wild Oats XI, which is owned by winemaker Bob Oatley. The wind had dropped to between 20 and 25 knots and the waves were down to three metres. At last report she was still racing under greatly reduced sail about halfway across Bass Strait and nearing the halfway mark on the 628 nautical mile course. The yacht is the Sydney Hobart race record holder and is going for her fifth line honours this year.

Wild Oats XI was then leading Investec Loyal and Wild Thing by about 15 nautical miles.

Race Tracker

Official race website: