Meteorologists have predicted that this year's Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be a "classic" with conditions forecast to be rough all the way south to Hobart - one of the signatures of this challenging international offshore yacht race.
The adverse weather means that yachts will not necessarily attempt to break records, they will just try to keep from suffering any breakdowns in the predicted tumultuous seas and high winds. Almost all participants have indicated that just getting to Hobart will be their main goal.
At this morning's official race briefing at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia - compulsory for each boat entered - the Bureau of Meteorology provided a race outlook to skippers and crews, telling them that they should prepare for tough conditions. Michael Logan from the Bureau said, "Things will change very dramatically on Monday evening with the arrival of an old fashioned southerly buster off the New South Wales coast."
For those without local knowledge, the southerly buster is a phenomena caused by the east Australian current running at one to two knots against the southerly breeze, very quickly resulting in a confused sea state and big waves.
Logan continued, "There is a 20-30 knot southerly wind expected to be around Wollongong at 8pm [on the first night] and that will herald a period of strong winds and rough seas for the next 36 hours or so."
The notorious Bass Strait - where cold wind from the Southern Ocean meets the warm water and air of the Tasman Sea - should be in full force when the front-runners approach on Monday. Conditions should temper by Tuesday, which would slow the boats at the back of the fleet, potentially taking away their chance to be rewarded for the hard slog south, once finishing times are corrected to produce the overall winner.
Conditions aside, this year's race, like nearly all before, sees a wide range of international yachts and sailors joining the offshore challenge. One such participant is world-famous yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. In 1969, he became the first man to complete a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the globe, doing so in his 32-foot (9.8-meter) boat Suhaili.
Surprisingly, this will be Sir Robin's first Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. He revealed, "It's one of the major races that I haven't competed in and I've always wanted to do it. I mean, after all, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is one of the world's toughest and well-known classic yacht races."
Knox-Johnston thinks he and his crew aboard the British registered Swan 68 Titiania of Cowes definitely have a challenge on their hands. The salty, grey bearded sailor explained, "We're a cruising boat, not a racing boat. If the winds are favorable to our type of vessel we'll do well. If the winds are against us, it will be hard going."
When asked how old he was, Sir Robin gave a smile and asked, "You mean how young am I?
" About whether age is a problem, the 71-year old added, "No, not at all- age is all in the mind. Besides, I keep fit. I love the challenge. Remember, it was only four years ago that I sailed around the world."
(In 2006 he became, at 67, the oldest yachtsman to complete a round-the-world solo voyage in the VELUX 5 Oceans Race.)
Another international team joining the 66th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart are the father and son team Bill and Will Hubbard. Bill Hubbard's son, Will, sailed their Baltic 46 Dawn Star from San Diego last February to be in Sydney for the race. This will be the first Rolex Sydney Hobart for the pair.
The American sailing duo has always wanted to compete in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Bill said, "There are a couple of reasons. My grandfather was Australian and we have a number of relatives here. Over the last ten years we've competed in a number of world-class races, including the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge and the Newport Bermuda Race, and have done well. The Rolex Sydney Hobart was a natural and we thought we must add this race. It's one of the premier, if not the premier, rough ocean passage races of the circuit. We thought, what the heck, let's do it."
Asked if the weather conditions predicted for this race are a cause for concern the younger Hubbard said, "It doesn't worry me too much.
" With a slightly worried look in his face, Will's 76-year-old father added, "I'll fare less well than him."
The 26 year-old Will continued, "And the boat will fare better than all of us. Dawn Star is built to a standard that has been long forgotten. She's probably stronger than 90 percent of the fleet out here. She'll look after us better that most boats would. Don't worry, we'll get there."
Another international racing team joining this year's race is the Russian entry Vamp (Corby 49), which sees an unlikely alliance in champion Australian offshore yachtsman Roger Hickman and well-known Russian International Dragon sailor Mikhail (Misha) Muratov. This will be Hickman's 34th Sydney Hobart while it will be Muratov's first.
The two sailors met while racing Dragons in Europe and became close friends. When Hickman announced he was participating in this year's race he invited Misha to join him. Muratov explained, "As an ocean sailor, the Rolex Sydney Hobart is one of the world's most well-known races. I had to do it. To bring your own boat from Europe to Australia is not cost effective and takes a long time. By teaming up with Roger, he offered us a turnkey solution that would allow us to participate in this race."
Hickman said about the conditions, "Even though I've done 33 races so far, I haven't seen all the conditions, just the ones I've been in.
" He continued, "One of the sayings the yachties' have is 'to win the Rolex race to Hobart, first you have to get there.' It sounds like a silly statement, but this race is so tough that just getting there is an achievement, let alone winning it."
While the Rolex Sydney Hobart has an international appeal it is not easy to forget that this is an Australian event. Most punters are betting on the Australian maxi yacht and four-time winner Wild Oats XI as a good bet for Line Honours, because of her seasoned, professional crew.
One of those experienced crew aboard the 30-metre maxi is Adrienne Cahalan, professional sailor and veteran of 18 previous Rolex Sydney Hobart races. The internationally acclaimed ocean-racing navigator, Australian Yachtswoman of the Year 2004-2005 and mother of two, is one of the most experienced and qualified sailors in this race. She sees this Rolex Sydney Hobart as, "definitely a big challenge."
When asked what it is like to be one of only two women aboard Wild Oats XI's crew of 17 she said, "Oh, we all have our jobs. I don't do much heavy lifting but take care of navigation and the electronics; we all get along really well. We're a well-oiled team."
Asked if she's worried about the squalls, giant waves and high winds, that have been forecast for this year's race, Cahalan explained, "To be honest, yes. It can be a little terrifying at times, but still I'm looking forward to the race. While we won't be trying to break any records, we will be trying to keep the boat in one piece during our race south."
Three boats have retired, Wild Rose, Sassy and Pappilon, bringing the total of entries to 87 yachts that will be on the start line in Sydney Harbour at 1300 AEDT, on 26 December 2010. The Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet will include six international entries from the USA, UK, Italy, France, as well as two partly-crewed Russian boats and entries from seven of the eight Australian states and territories.
Official race website www.rolexsydneyhobart.com