Light winds might favor smaller boats in Sydney-Hobart race

SYDNEY — The four super maxis entered in this year's Sydney to Hobart race might not have it all their own way — favorable wind conditions could produce a record for medium-sized boats but might slow down the 100-foot yachts as they chase line honors.

The 73rd edition of the 630-nautical-mile race from Sydney Harbor to the island state of Tasmania begins on Dec. 26 and has 102 entries, including 30 international boats.

The super maxis entered — LDV Comanche, Wild Oats XI, Black Jack and InfoTrack — have all won line honors in the past.

Wild Oats XI achieved the treble (line honors, overall and race record) in 2012 and has won line honors a record eight times. Black Jack, formerly named Alfa Romeo, took 2009 line honors; LDV Comanche won in 2015 and InfoTrack (racing as Perpetual Loyal) won it last year, setting the race record of 1 day, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds.

InfoTrack will be skippered by Tom Slingsby, the 2013 America's Cup winner and London 2012 Olympic Laser gold medalist for Australia. He was on the boat last year when it broke the race record sailing as Perpetual Loyal.

Slingsby was only announced as skipper on Thursday.

"I wasn't planning on doing it this year," he said. "I was actually considering having a year off, watching it on the couch with a beer in hand and watching my friends go south. But I'll enjoy steering the boat and racing the boat as hard as I can."

The weather bureau said Friday that the race could start under an east-south-easterly breeze of around 10 knots, with the wind swinging around to the northeast just after the start next Tuesday and increasing from 15 to 25 knots over the following 24 hours.

There could be a southerly change on Dec. 28 or 29, but the leading super maxis are projected to enter the Derwent River in Tasmania late on the 27th, at a time when there's usually very little breeze.

"We're delighted with the forecast for now and it will get us down the coast in good shape, but it doesn't look good for us in the Derwent River," LDV Comanche navigator Stan Honey said. "We get there at exactly the wrong time and Comanche is not at her best in the light air, so we'll probably spend a fair amount of time in the river waiting."

Black Jack sails well in light winds.

"Some of these other boats might get a bit of a jump on us in the offshore stuff, but it looks like we could be coming to Tasman quite late in the day," Black Jack navigator Tom Addis said. "If Comanche and those guys start to struggle in the light, we might not be too far behind them."

Among the other entries is the Clipper Round the World Race fleet, which is including the Sydney to Hobart as Race 5 in its series.

"The signs are that it will be a swift downwind passage down to Hobart this year," Clipper race director Mark Light said of his medium-sized fleet. "Great conditions are forecast at the moment and we should see the spinnakers coming out very early and as soon as the fleet clears Sydney Heads."

The fleet was reduced to 102 on Friday when the 39-year-old Checkmate of Hollywood withdrew. The 50-footer, built in the United States, had on-and-off issues in the lead-up to the race after arriving just over a week ago in Australia and enduring a rough passage from the Gold Coast in Queensland to Sydney.

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