The Bureau of Meteorology today told skippers of the 75 yachts contesting the 57th CYCA Sydney Hobart Yacht Race they could expect an exciting spinnaker start on Boxing Day.
The Bureau's Regional Director for NSW, Kevin O'Loughlin, predicted south easterly winds of 15 to 20 knots for the race start, freshening to 25 knots on the first night at sea as the fleet beat to windward down the coast.
The further south they sail, the fresher the winds will get, veering from the south-east to the south west and increasing to 30 knots as they enter Bass Strait, the Bureau said.
With a 2-3 knot current running south against the southerly winds, the fleet can expect short steep seas and, as they sail across Bass Strait, a 3-5 metre swell from the south-west.
While the Bureau and Cruising Yacht Club of Australia officials, along with competitors, believe it will be a tough and punishing race, they say conditions will be "average" for the 630 nautical mile blue water classic that has been held annually since 1945.
Nevertheless, the 260 skippers and three other crew from each of the 75 boats were warned of the possibility of encountering severe thunder storms with wind squalls and large hail off the NSW South Coast and Victorian South East Coast.
O'Loughlin pointed to the damage done by a severe thunderstorm in the Gippsland area of Victoria this week.
"We are not looking at the present low over Tasmania developing into anything like a storm, but the average windspeed could increase," commented the Bureau's severe weather conditions forecaster, Kenn Batt, himself a veteran of many Sydney Hobart Races.
"The Sydney Hobart is generally a tough race and the forecast is fairly typical of what the fleet encounters each year, except that they will not get a nor'easter early in the race."
They agreed that beating to windward into fresh to strong winds initially would benefit the bigger boats, particularly the maxis Australian Skandia Wild Thing, Nicorette and Brindabella.
However, according the forecasters and CYCA officials, the smaller boats could get the benefit of a north-easter late in the race, giving them a late fast spinnaker run to the finish and boosting the handicap chances of boats like the 40-footers Shipping Central, Another Challenge and Nips N Tux in the IMS Division and Cadibarra in the IRC Division.
A spinnaker start will be in contrast to the last three years when the fleet has started in a east to north-easterly which has seen them sail to windward down the Harbour and out to the seamark, one mile east of the Heads, before being able to set spinnakers.
From there on they have had an exhilarating sail down the coast at fast speeds before running into the inevitable southerly change.
CYCA Vice Commodore Martin James welcomed the prospects of a spinnaker start.."it promises to be a spectacular sight on Sydney Harbour.with the maxi yachts in hot pursuit of the Volvo 60 as they dash towards the Heads."
Vice Commodore James said there was nothing in the forecast to suggest any severe weather problems.
He added that the race would be a very tactical event, with navigators and tacticians having to decide whether to go out to sea to take advantage of the south running current or stay close inshore to get the advantage of the wind veering to the south-west.
There was little prospect of the fleet getting near the race record of 1 day 19 hours 48 minutes 02 seconds set by Nokia in 1999 in race in which the fleet sailed from the start to Tasmanian waters in strong north to north-westerly winds.
Meanwile, all yachts have satisfactorily completed the CYCA's documentation requirements, with Australian Skandia Wild Thing received a new valid IMS certificate required to certify her stability and a new IRC speed rating as her handicap in the IRC division.