The last 24 hours in the Henri Lloyd Hobart to Whitsundays Race have seen the fleet getting a bit of a battering from a developing low with unstable and unpredictable conditions. LMAX Exchange has repositioned after tackling the Scoring Gate and is among the front-runners which have entered the Ocean Sprint some 850nM from Airlie Beach. But Da Nang – Viet Nam has lost the lead in the process.

“We have not tacked since the Derwent River. I’m sure one leg is getting longer than the other…We are now more like a dog chasing its tail,” said Skipper Wendy Tuck.

In contrast GREAT Britain Skipper Peter Thornton reported: “We have been trucking up the coast…It's certainly been wet sailing so far with a good amount of spray across the decks at maximum angle. Coupled with gale force rain squalls…I think the next 24 hours will be interesting on the Race Viewer.”

Clipper Race Meteorologist Simon Rowell confirmed that the weather charts are having trouble keeping up with the rapidly changing nature of the developing low. In his latest report to skippers he says: “There are very different wind directions across the relatively small area of the fleet. Once the low moves a little further away from the coast the GRIBs (forecast charts) should catch up with it…but for the moment the teams will need to depend on their own observations more than ever.”

All the yachts want the two valuable extra points up for grabs for the fastest team between the two designated lines of latitude in the Ocean Sprint. Inshore vs offshore tactics will have a bearing on performance in the Ocean Sprint in addition to progress to the finish line, final positions in the fleet and associated points.

Race Director Justin Taylor feels the offshore teams may well have the advantage but light winds due in the next 24 hours will hamper the progress of the fleet. He said: “The western boats which are closest to the coast seem to be converging near Port Macquarie. The East Australian Current forecast shows it quite strong at this point. I expect those boats to suffer a bit. The offshore boats might just gain a nice advantage.”

GREAT Britain, Derry~Londonderry~Doire and ClipperTelemed+ all stayed offshore after going for the Scoring Gate, but LMAX Exchange headed inshore. Skipper Olivier Cardin explains his decision: “The last 24 hours were pretty tough…Our progression is quite good despite the strong current we had to cross. In fact, after the gate, we chose to go by the shore. There we are expecting less current and a good shift due to the low.

“Skipper Peter and his GREAT Britain team chose the offshore side of the current. It's less stressful than watching them on the AIS (Automatic Identification System) but we know that these guys are dangerous.”

Although Da Nang – Viet Nam was first to start the Ocean Sprint, GREAT Britain has now overtaken them on the leaderboard with just over 800nM to the Whitsundays as at 0800 UTC. LMAX Exchange is in third place with 832nM DTF (Distance to Finish).

Derry~Londonderry~Doire has moved up to fourth place with PSP Logistics also up, in fifth. “Ideally light and variable winds will slow the progress of the front runners while south easterly winds filling in inshore will help us catch up if we make our way across the current to meet them,” hoped Derry~Londonderry~Doire skipper, Dan Smith.

PSP Logistics Skipper Max Stunell says. “Having stayed in deeper water it has allowed us to sail a little freer but as we head towards the Ocean Sprint we expect the wind to transition and ideally to swing around to the south. The wind against current induced sea state will determine when our kite goes up.”

Garmin has slipped to sixth with Mission Performance in seventh, but only a couple of nautical miles DTF separates fourth to seventh places. Qingdao, ClipperTelemed+, IchorCoal and Unicef are within 5nM DTF of each other with Visit Seattle less than 10nM behind them.

But with less than 65 nautical miles separating the entire fleet as at 0800 UTC it is going to remain very competitive according to Race Director Justin Taylor: “It’s going to be another nail biter. I think the wind will decrease as they go further north and also go into the south east which means as the fleet heads north west they will have to play the gybing angles inside the Great Barrier Reef as sailing downwind will not be an option.”

Follow the fleet’s progress to the Whitsundays here.

All positions correct as of 0800 UTC.

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