While Ireland basks in unusual January sunshine, in the alleged Southern Hemisphere summer the normally picturesque approaches to Hobart in Tasmania have seen dull, damp and drifting conditions for the groups of legendary Australian and international racing machines struggling to finish the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2016 writes W M Nixon
After magnificent sunny sailing conditions for much of the 628 miles down from Sydney had been able to sweep local hero Anthony Bell’s hundred foot Perpetual LOYAL to a new course record, the fair winds kept up only for long enough to bring New Zealander Jim Delegat’s Volvo 70 Giacomo (ex-Groupama) in to conclude a superb performance which put the Kiwi contender firmly into the Best Corrected Time slot.
At that time, the fleet overall leader on corrected time for most of the race had been Matt Allen’s TP52 Ichi Ban, with Ireland’s Gordon Maguire as sailing master. In such a fast moving race, it says everything for the way that Maguire and his crew have got to grips with this smaller boat in a relatively short time. After two years of campaigning the Carkeek 60 of the same name with mixed success, the 52ft Ichi Ban was able to open up prodigious leads of thirty miles and more in the race from Sydney on her closest rival, Paul Clitheroe’s TP52 Balance, overall winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race 2015.
But that was only when the going was good out in open water. With a low pressure area developing to the northwest of Tasmania, just seven minutes after Giacomo had swept across in such style, the rain came in and the wind took off. The already tortuous approaches to the finish line in the heart of Hobart at the head of the Derwent Estuary became the Waterway of Wasted Hopes. Big boats and then not-so-big boats came sweeping along to within forty miles or less of the finish, and then hit a complete blank wall of total calm and mind-numbing drizzle, such that at one stage three maxis were kedged within a mile of the finish.
But none suffered more in overall terms than Ichi Ban. As Sydney-Hobart veterans, they well knew the problems they faced, for although they led on paper, they’d to sail the last sixty miles in six-and-a-half hours if they were to maintain the exalted winning position they’d held for more than a day.
For Hobart Race aficionados and Gordon Maguire-supporters worldwide, it was agonising last night to see it all fade away with the speed down to less than a knot at one stage, yet all the time out to sea, comparable rivals such as Balance and the Chinese Cookson 50 UBOX were making hay in a still brisk breeze.
When you’re first into the calm, there’s always the added pain of knowing that boats you’d seen off a day or two before could come up with a new wind and actually pass you. But at least Ichi Ban managed to avoid this, though only just. She made it across the line still ahead of Balance by 48 minutes, and had 54 minutes in front of UBOX.
Both were within hailing distance. Yet only 24 hours earlier, they’d been very invisible from Ichi Ban, far beyond the northern horizon astern. But to provide the final downer, as both had marginally lower ratings, they moved into corrected times ahead of the Matt Allen/Gordon Maguire team.
In what has become a big boat’s race in the style reminiscent of the Volvo Round Ireland Race back in June, the overall winner is the Volvo 70 Giacomo, but thanks to those Hobart calms, the new record holder Perpetual LOYAL now lies second overall, while UBOX is third, Balance is fourth, and Ichi Ban is fifth.
In theory, some smaller boats still at sea could change this, but they’ll have to sail fast and steady to do so, and the conditions aren’t too favourable for that kind of showing. As to other Irish hopes, the JV62 Chinese Whispers, which has Shane Diviney in her crew, made a better showing than most of the slow finish, and crossed the line 18 minutes ahead of Ichi Ban, which had led her on the water for much of the race. However, Ichi Ban stayed ahead on corrected, as the larger Chinese Whispers was calculated into 9th overall.
Out at sea, Barry Hurley and Kenneth Rumball on the First 40 Breakthrough still have 198 miles to race, and currently are 13th in Division 3, but the way this event has panned out, many things are still possible for them before they get to Hobart.