68th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart

The 68th edition of the Rolex Sydney Hobart promises nothing less with a weather forecast mixing fast running, reaching, beating and moments of calm. As is tradition, the 628 nautical mile race starts from Sydney at 13:00 AEST on the 26 December.The forecast 48 hours out identifies two significant transitions. A 15-knot south-easterly heralds a spinnaker start. The wind strength will increase a little as the yachts exit the Heads, but then, during the first night, there will be a shift to fresher winds from the north-east. A sequence of fronts will pass through the race area, beginning early on 28 December, bringing westerly wind. Periods of light and calm, between progressively stronger surges in breeze will add complexity to the decision-making around this development.

Four 30.48 metre (100 foot) maxis form the headline act this year. Last year’s protagonists in the battle to be first to finish, Investec Loyal and Wild Oats XI, are back once again. The former has a new management, racing as Ragamuffin Loyal under the stewardship of Australian yachting legend Syd Fisher. Meanwhile, her archrival has undergone a programme of upgrade aimed at improving her performance.

The maxis and chasing pack of 19 – 22 metre (60 - 70 foot) mini maxis are hoping the predicted north-easterlies hold out for an extended period before the wind goes west. Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI, highlighted the reason: “The big boats can do 20 to 30 knots in a northerly, so if it hangs in for a couple of hours longer than expected you can be an extra 60 miles down the track."

No one is talking with any confidence of breaking the record, but if one of the front-runners puts the puzzle together correctly it could be on.