The forecast gale-force conditions has made good for the bulk of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet with yachts experiencing 40-50 knots of gale to storm-force winds from the west-southwest - together with massive seas.
Nine yachts have retired, some with severe damage, but all crews were reported in good shape.
At 1542 AEDST, Ludde Ingvall's 27-metre Yuuzoo
retired from the race with structural and rigging damage. Exact details were unknown but the yacht had reached a safe port in Eden by 1800.
Within the hour of the maxi's retirement, a string of yachts followed suit with the Sydney 38 Swish, the 46-foot Reichel/Pugh Shamrock
, the Volvo 60 Southern Excellence
and the Nelson Marek 52 Wot Eva
abandoned the difficult race due to damage in the unbelievably rough seas and extreme wind conditions.
Nick Athineos' Dodo
headed to Eden to drop off an injured crewman who had sustained a broken arm, but was not retiring. Crew onboard the yacht recorded gusts of 45-50 knots.
Martin Power's 44-footer Bacardi
snapped its mast 35-nautical miles east of Batemans Bay, midway down the Australian New South Wales coast. "Search and rescue options and assets are being arranged as I speak, if needed
," reported Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's Commodore Gary Linacre, who had just arrived in Hobart.
At 1820, Rob Reynolds' 14-meter yacht Exile
sustained steering damage and retired. Shortly after, Jim Cooney's supermaxi and pride of Australia, Brindabella
, dropped out after suffering damage to her mainsail in the severe conditions. At 1905, Jarod Ritchie's Beneteau 57 Alchemy III
was out with damage to their boom and was headed to Sydney.
Earlier, via an 1830 phone interview (listen here) with Ian Burns onboard Wild Oats XI
, race favourite and current line honours leader, reported from the treacherous Strait, "There's still quite a messy seaway leftover from that earlier blow we had. But things are finally settling down. In a couple hours we should be in flatter seas, and probably 10 -15 knots (of wind)."
He continued, "This morning around Gabo Island, it was pretty arduous going, very hard to slow the boat down enough to keep it in one piece. We had to get down to very, very small sails and work at keeping the boat slow, so we weren't crashing off the tops of waves too much - it was pretty rough going. We had many gusts up to 40 knots, and when it gets that windy in Bass Strait, you've got a bit on."
"The crew have done a fantastic job. It's a pleasure to watch. In pretty trying conditions up on the foredeck, often pitching two to four feet underwater. The guys are up there are hanging on to sails and getting them up and down, without a murmur of a problem."
Burns concluded, "The crews are really settled into it now, the second half of the race is really getting starting now."
The forecast for tonight is for winds west to south-westerly at 25 to 35 knots and locally reaching 40 knots in the east then moderating to 20 to 25 knots later in the night overnight, with squalls, associated showers and big seas. Seas are expected to abate overnight, down to 2 - 3 metres later in the evening.
Current overall handicap race leader is Stephen Ainsworth's 63-footer Loki
, currently 80 miles southeast of Gabo Island.
The remaining intrepid Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet continues battling it's way to Hobart. The remaining 77 boats 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 for all the latest and full race tracking.