Rolex Sydney Hobart: Fickle Derwent River may decide outright winner

While the battle for line honours has moved from the water to the committee room, at sea the race for the coveted Tattersall’s Cup, awarded to the handicap winner, is still very much a contest between crews, boats and the elements.  And the elements, or more precisely, the wind on the Derwent River may yet be the final arbiter.

As Investec Loyal crossed the line in Hobart the race overall leader, Victorian Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll was still a hundred miles from Constitution Dock. Second placed Syd Fischer on his TP52 Ragamuffin still had 130 miles to sail, while in third place Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel/Pugh 63 Loki was fast approaching Tasman Island.

All have to negotiate the notorious Derwent River, and most will do it in the dark or in the early hours of Thursday morning, which is not often a good time to be there.

The Derwent River has a habit of shutting down after midnight, and even as Investec Loyal and Wild Oats XI duelled their way up the final miles, the sea breeze was already dying. It is shaping up as a long, frustrating night for already tired crews.

If Loki can sneak past Tasman Island and up the river before the breeze completely collapses, she will be well placed against her divisional rivals, but it will be a close run thing. The yachts arriving at Tasman Island after midnight will most likely struggle.

The best placed 50 and 60 footers have plenty of time up their sleeves. They can tie up in Hobart late morning early afternoon and still beat the maxis on handicap. But the longer they take to finish, the more they will be threatened by the smaller boats behind them.

Roger Hickman’s twenty six year-old Farr 43, Wild Rose, has had a sensational race.  The upwind slog that has characterised so much of the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart has suited the IOR veteran to a tee, and she has rarely been out of the top handicap placings. Wild Rose is currently in fourth place, behind Loki, and still had 170 miles to sail as the crew of Investec Loyal relaxed and started to pack up the yacht.

Wild Rose’s date with the Derwent is a still long way off and Hickman may find that he enjoys more wind on the run down the Tasmanian coast on Thursday than his bigger rivals saw today.

The same is true of the 40 to 45 foot Beneteaus around him.

By Jim Gale, Rolex Sydney Hobart media team

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