|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(23-12-2004) The 60th Anniversary Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht race looks set to be firmly in the tradition of its predecessors.
The Hobart has a well-earned reputation as one of the toughest ocean races in the world, and early indications are that 2004 will test the crews and their boats thoroughly.
Barry Hanstrum, the Regional Director (NSW) of the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology has issued a preliminary outlook that is full of southerly winds.
Spectators should see a spectacular spinnaker start in light to moderate southeast winds, and these will turn northeast during the afternoon allowing the yachts to rehoist their chutes for a downhill run along the New South Wales coast. It will be a wonderful day for sailing.
However, Hanstrum says that on Monday the conditions will deteriorate, with freshening north to northwest winds ahead of a gale force southwest change reaching the far south coast of NSW during the morning, about the same time that the front runners should be getting ready to launch themselves into Bass Strait. The change will extend up the coast, reaching Sydney Monday evening.
Southwest gales with stronger rainsqualls will welcome the lead boats off the Tasmanian coast on Tuesday, with very rough seas and a heavy swell.
These would not appear to be conditions conducive to a record run. An initial straight line dash on day one for the three supermaxies fighting it out for line honours will become a whole new race, where tactical decisions and the ability to avoid breakages will be just as critical as straight boatspeed in determining the ultimate victor.
The forecast would appear to be good news for the Volvo 60ís though. Water ballasted and built for the southern ocean, they will relish the lively conditions, especially if the supermaxies are forced to sail conservatively. A lot will depend on just how much distance they give the bigger boats on that first day.
For the smaller boats it is going to be a very uncomfortable ride. They will have more of the gale to sail through but will hope that, as compensation, they get northerlies after the big boats dock in Hobart. That would turn the 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart into a small boat race.
Unfortunately the preliminary forecast doesnít predict that far out.