If the worst forecasted weather condtitions, estimated to bring gusts of up to 50 knots through the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet, do materialise after the first 24 hours, the 225 Clipper Race crew may well be the most prepared of all following their tough Bass Strait ‘warm up,’ on Race 4 of the global series from Albany to Sydney.

With four days until the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is pretty confident about the conditions the 109 entries will face for the first day of the race but what happens after that is more unclear, leaving lots of guessing work for Skippers and Navigators.

Speaking at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia this morning at the event’s first long range weather forecast press conference alongside super-maxi yacht skippers representing race hopefuls Wild Oats, Perpetual Loyal, Wild Rose, and Comanche, the Bureau’s Michael Logan said he expects the race to start in a freshening north-easterly, which should build throughout the afternoon until the fleet runs into a strong southerly change, with winds of 25 to 35 knots.

Clipper Race Chairman and Founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, also racing in the RSHYR alongside his Clipper Race fleet on board Clipper 68 Clipper Ventures 10, attended the weather briefing. He said: “During the last leg our fleet faced 50 knots of wind on the nose for three days or more so all our crew have experienced these big conditions and know what is coming. This is going to be an advantage to us in this race.

“We are heavy in comparison to others and the handicaps don’t really work for us but with these sort of conditions maybe we will get an advantage which may help us finish higher up the ranks. It this does turn out to be a heavy wind race, it will suit us.”

The bureau’s Michael Logan said it will be very choppy, wet and uncomfortable for the crews Saturday night.

He added there is still uncertainty about how quickly the front will move up the coast – it could come earlier, or a bit later – but it is going to come.

In other words, Clipper Race crew should enjoy their Christmas Day celebrations with caution, knowing that just over a day later they will be making a now familiar return to the uncomfortable, slamming conditions faced in their previous Bass Strait experience.

During Race 4 from Albany to Sydney, Garmin Skipper Ash Skett had reported feeling like “fighting a kangaroo whilst trying to balance on toblerones.”

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston described the forecast and its implications for the fleet in further detail. “We’ve got a north easterly beat out the harbour which will be a bit chaotic but then it looks like we’ll be able to get the spinnakers up and rush down the coast as much as possible before sometime during the night, the wind turns round completely and we start beating again into 30 to 40 knots of wind,” he said.

“It’s what happens after that that is a bit unknown but if a low does develop east of Tasmania it could get quite messy. There are some strong winds out there, could be up to 50 knots perhaps. On the other hand if that low doesn’t develop we might get something we really don’t want and that’s light weather. Our boats prefer the heavy stuff and we want them moving.”

It is a fair bet that a substantial number of non Clipper Race sailors, competing on the smaller boats, will be very happy if that feared low proves to be a figment of a weather model’s imagination

“We are working on a worst case scenario of 50 knots in Bass Strait,” said Juan Vila, the navigator on Wild Oats XI, winner of eight Sydney Hobart Races. He added the team doesn’t have a firm plan yet.

“We are still looking at all the scenarios, and the differences between them are black and white. It would be nice if the low doesn’t form.”

Not all the maxis are too worried though as Wild Rose Navigator Jenifer Wells said bluntly. “If your boat and your crew are not prepared for 40 or 50 knots in Bass Strait, or for that matter, along the coast, you should not be going. We expect it at least once, maybe twice.”

The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starts on Boxing Day, December 26, at 1300 AEDT (0200 UTC) and will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7 and live streamed via mobile.

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