As predicted, the weather system sitting over the New South Wales coast has thrown everything it has at the fleet taking part in the 78thRolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. For the past 24 hours, thunderstorms, relentless rain, lightning and a 180° windshift under cover of darkness, have conspired to make life extremely difficult for the intrepid sailors heading south.
A fantastically close match-race battle has unfolded between the two 100-foot maxis LawConnect and Andoo Comanche at the head of the fleet. Neck and neck after deciding early on, like most of the bigger boats in the fleet, to head east, they have been able to get around the very worst of the troughs and storms and ride the healthy easterly wind for as long as possible.
The gruelling and unpredictable conditions have ensured that a record-breaking course time is out of the question for this edition of the legendary 628-mile offshore race, however speculation is rife that one of the current leaders could lift double awards. With the smaller boats being strongly penalised by light winds and bunched up along the coast, and the line honours contenders having stretched more than 100 miles ahead of their closest trailers URM Group, Moneypenny and Alive, they could be on track to clinch the win on handicap as well. Both yachts have been consistently travelling at more than 20 knots, but with a light south or south easterly set to move in this evening, progress on the final 200-mile stretch could be laborious.
The fearsome conditions have seen 11 of the 103 starting boats forced to retire, including Hong Kong yacht SHK Scallywag 100, one of the favourites for line honours heading into the endeavour, following a disastrous bowsprit breakage just hours from the starting line.
Family, friends and spectators eagerly awaiting the first arrivals in Hobart may have to wait until daylight tomorrow to welcome the line honours victor, while further patience will be required to understand who will lift the coveted Tattersall Cup.
Organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in conjunction with the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Rolex has been partnering the iconic Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race since 2002. Now in its 78th edition, the annual event is internationally renowned as one of the most arduous rites of passage in offshore sailing, and is a cornerstone of the Swiss watchmaker’s elite yachting partnerships.