The entire Clipper Race fleet will compete in famous Australian bluewater classic the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race (RSHYR) which starts today, 26 December, at 1300 local AEDT (0200 UTC). Auditors have signed off all the yachts as meeting the stringent entry standards of this notoriously challenging race.

The fleet will slip lines from the CYCA marina from 1000 (local AEDT/2300 UTC December 25) before a Parade of Sail in Sydney Harbour at 1100 (0000 UTC), and then the race starts at 1300 Local Time (0200 UTC) with the Clipper 70s on the second of the three start lines.

The prestigious 628 nautical mile RSHYR doubles as Race 5 in the Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race meaning teams will race each other as normal for the standard Clipper Race points. In addition however they will compete against professional teams in the wider Sydney Hobart Yacht Race for overall line honours in the IRC 2 class, and will also be part of the special division Clipper 70 class.

Two Australia-based Clipper 68 Events yachts will also compete, with Clipper Race Chairman and Founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on board Clipper Ventures 10 as Navigator.

Sir Robin said the crews are fully prepared for the RSHYR having already sailed past Tasmania and across the Bass Strait once during Race 4 from Albany.

“The crew are used to the weather and what to expect having sailed the Southern Ocean on three separate races now. They have seen the power it can unleash during the Bass Strait crossing on Race 4 to Sydney. The greatest challenge is between them themselves as competing teams.

“Fear is of the unknown. The first time you get into a gale, you’re frightened. And to a certain extent the crews have seen what the weather can be like, they know the boats are tough and can take it, they know they can deal with it. Our crews are possibly less apprehensive about the race than perhaps some others are,” Sir Robin added.

Following a spectacular start in Sydney Harbour with Australia’s pedigree racing yachts and a 150,000-strong crowd, the fleet will sail out into the Tasman Sea.

The Clipper Race fleet leaving Sydney in December 2013. Image: Rolex/Daniel Forster

Today, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology predicted that the race will start in 15 knots of north-easterly breeze, which will build to 25 knots offshore during the afternoon.

By Saturday evening a front with winds of around 25 to 35 knots will work its way through the fleet with rain and thunderstorms. The gusts around those thunderstorms could hit 45 knots.

Wind against the south-flowing East Australian Current will be very uncomfortable.

The southerlies will continue into Sunday, but contrary to early long range forecasts, far from 50 knot winds in Bass Strait, the breeze will then moderate, and by 1700 the Bureau of Meteorology expects light winds along the Tasmanian coast

And by late Monday the winds around Tasmania and in Bass Strait will be really light.

The big issues will be getting through that first night aggressively but undamaged, and choosing the best angle down Tasmania to Tasman Island.

The Bass Strait (nicknamed the Paddock) has a dangerous personality. It can be dead calm or spectacularly grand. The water is relatively shallow and the winds can be strong. These two elements combined often create a steep and difficult sea.

After racing down the east coast of Tasmania, the fleet turns right at Tasman Island. It is a mistake to think the race is almost over at this stage. The winds are often fickle and can vary in strength and direction within a few miles. The teams will also battle strong currents as they pass through Storm Bay for the finish up the Derwent River before they berth in Constitution Dock, Hobart.

Today (Christmas Eve) final work was being carried out by teams, including the loading of sails and food onto the yachts.

Drake Forney, a round the world crew member from Texas, competing on board Unicef, said his team’s race preparations were going well.

“We’ve worked hard on our boat to finish jobs and all get Christmas Day off which is good. I’m not nervous about the Sydney Hobart race but I can’t imagine there being more than 100 boats competing as I think twelve is a lot! It’s going to be wild. I’m excited and looking forward to a shorter race,” Drake added.

Louise Thomas, a round the world crew member on IchorCoal said some people were panicking about the potential weather storms, but her team feels quite prepared for it having already experienced those kind of conditions on the way to Sydney from Albany.

“We’re now really understanding the scale of this event. It’s going to be a big spectacle and something we’ll remember forever,” she added.

To view the departure live from 1000 local time (2300 UTC), including interviews with Skippers and crews, follow our periscopes on our @ClipperRace Twitter feed.

There will be no live stream of the start on the Clipper Race website, but the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7 and live streamed via mobile.

Whilst the UK office has a well-deserved Christmas break, Skipper blogs and the Daily Update for this race only will be issued in local timing so approx 11pm – midnight UTC. Crew diaries will be issued as we receive them.

Main image credit: ROLEX/Steffano Gattini.

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