The skippers of the fancied supermaxis are predicting an especially challenging and unpredictable Sydney to Hobart race.
Long-time competitors are hard pressed to remember a Hobart race in recent times in which the forecast has changed so often in the build up.
“It’s really volatile … I haven’t seen it change quite this much for many years, so anything can happen,” said Midnight Rambler skipper Ed Psaltis, who will be contesting the race for the 34th time.
Muddying the issue is that competitors don’t all monitor the same forecasts.
“The forecasts are very confusing I can tell you,” said Ragamuffin skipper Syd Fischer.
“We use the overseas information and its quite different to the local,” added 86-year-old Fischer, who will become the equal oldest skipper in the race’s history.
Even the specialists are finding it hard to pin down the forecast.
“Just when you thought the outlook was settling, the latest computer models for the weather have caused a total re-think for the whole race,” said yachting meteorologist Roger Badham.
While there’s expected to be some favourable north-easters to push the fleet along, they may not last long enough to guarantee a fast passage for the supermaxis.
There’s expected to be at least one period of light breeze, while a change late on Saturday could result in the smaller and slower boats getting hammered by winds approaching gale force.
“It’s going to be a very very tricky race,” Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said.
“I don’t think the race record, really from what we can see, isn’t really (under) threat this year, but you never know.”
Anthony Bell, the skipper and owner of Perpetual LOYAL, the boat considered the biggest threat to Wild Oats bid for a record-equalling seventh line honours win, is a little more optimistic than earlier in the week.
“We were a little bit depressed a couple of days ago as to what the forecast was saying,” Bell said.
“At this point we’ve moved from depressing to uncertainty. It’s not the worst thing.”
While Wild Oats XI will be hard pressed to repeat last year’s treble of line and handicap honours and a race record, the bigger boats are again likely to figure prominently in the handicap battle.
“It’s definitely a big boat race, I’m just not quite sure how big you need to be,” said Matt Allen, the skipper of new 60-foot Ichi Ban.
The fleet of 94 includes 12 boats form the Clipper Round the World Yacht race, who are including the Sydney to Hobart as part of their event.
The Clipper fleet has boats representing six continents and has drawn crew from 42 nations.