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A Sure Thing

by Mark Jardine 26 Dec 2022 09:00 GMT
Start of the 2022 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race © Carlo Borlenghi / ROLEX

Following the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race straight after the festivities of Christmas Day has become rather an obsession. Being in the UK, the start is not at a social time (1pm in Sydney is 2am in the UK), and requires dedication to get up for, but in my book it's worth it.

There are multiple ways to keep up to date with the race. The website's tracker is great, giving almost real-time information on where the yachts are, their boat speed, and distance to finish, as well as overlayed current forecast wind conditions but, as always, this is only half the picture. The Sydney Hobart is a complex race, and it's almost guaranteed to bring changes. Understanding what might happen and which boats prefer any given conditions is vital. It's all about insights.

This is where having Sail-World.com's Australian Editor John Curnow as part of our team comes into its own. A few hours before the start he wrote his predictions for the race, and one line really struck home with me: "The companionway hatch has not failed a Navigator yet, and is very much unlikely ever to do so." We, as followers of the race, are glued to the trackers, and on board a yacht it's all too easy to over-rely on the telemetry coming in to the nav station.

One of the great innovations this year is the livestreaming from onboard LawConnect. Christian Beck's supermaxi is giving all of us armchair navigators the opportunity to get our head out of the hatch and look around in real time.

Keeping a weather eye on what's happening around you is vital. Sydney Hobarts have been won and lost by fine margins in the past, and will again in the future. Turning the corner towards Hobart has seen leaders flounder in millpond conditions, while a zephyr allows a rival to sneak by. The ultimate frustration for one crew, wondering why they weren't further inshore, while another enjoys a small grin. Not too big a grin of course, they don't want to rub it in, and they're often aware the tables could be turned again...

At the front of the fleet the 100-foot leviathans of the sea are gybing their way down the New South Wales coastline, hitting 30 knots at times. It's a sleigh ride alright, and the feeling on board is a rush. The adrenaline is flowing, and the temptation is to continually push harder, wind up the rig just that little bit more and get every ounce of power out of those sails.

You can almost hear the thoughts of the crew... "Come on, why not? The race record is there for the taking! We can do it! We need to push now as the wind will drop as we approach Tasmania. If we get there faster, we may stay ahead of the light stuff." This is where the wise heads need to keep their cool. Yes, keep the boat flying, but watch those load cells, look for early signs of wear and, probably most important of all, keep an eye on when the helm needs switching out.

Driving a cutting-edge race yacht hard downwind is taxing on the mind. Push too high and you broach, too low down a wave and you're in danger of a Chinese gybe. Keeping in that sweet spot between the two is of course the goal, and when it's all going well it is addictive. The last thing any sailor will want to hear when they're on the wheel or stick is that it's time to have a break. This is where you almost hear the thoughts of the helm... "Why should I stop now when everything's going so well? I'm so dialled in now. What could possibly go wrong?" Indeed...

John Curnow discussed all of this in his preview referenced above, and far more besides. As I write this andoo Comanche is powering away from the other supermaxis. It's easy to say it's ideal conditions for them, but the reasons are far more nuanced. For John the build-up to the Sydney Hobart doesn't start the week before with skipper interviews and predictions, it's a continuous process, and relies on knowledge gained over many years. Go back and have a read of his August editorial 'Beginning a Winning' and you'll see how a deep understanding of a campaign is acquired, as well as what it takes to win.

Right now, the crew of andoo Comanche will be very glad that they count some of the greats of 18ft Skiff racing in their ranks. Of course things can still go spectacularly wrong, and as with any machine designed to race at the very edge of what is possible it's always at the back of your mind, but the team has some of the best sailors, and the best managers, on board. They are in the business of winning, but they know the inherent risks better than anyone.

So, will the race record fall? Maybe. Will the leaders enjoy that downwind sleigh ride all the way to Cape Pillar and Tasman Island? Possibly. There's no such thing as A Sure Thing in the Sydney Hobart. All you do as a competitor ahead of the race is make ready as best you can and be aware of what can happen. 'Prepare for the worst, hope for the best' is the stoic proverb which comes to mind.

Above all, we at Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com wish all those taking part safe passage. Great sailors and great friends who are no longer with us are always in our thoughts, and we remain mindful of the quote: "The sea is like a cruel mistress. You can love her, you can hate her, but you can never trust her."

Stay safe on the sea, enjoy your sailing, and wherever you are we wish you fair winds. There will always be storms around, and navigating them is tricky, but the benefits of being out on the water are so great for mind, body and soul. Now I must go check the race tracker again!

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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