South Coast boat on track for Sydney Hobart

SYDNEY TO HOBART

South Coast yachtsman Peter Tucker remains hopeful of divisional success in today's Sydney to Hobart race, even if forecasts for southerly winds eventuate.

Tucker's part-owned yacht, Ice Fire, is on track to better its 2011 result of 46th overall after extensive refinements to its crew and race strategy.

In a race dominated by southerlies, the biggest yachts in the 77-boat fleet will likely be afforded a comfortable advantage over smaller rivals.

But Tucker argued his 11-man crew's vast experience held them in good stead in the race to Constitution Dock.

"The boat's made to go down wind so we'd prefer to have it behind us or from the side of us - that way we get the full benefit of what the boat's designed for," he said.

"But that wind will turn up somewhere in the race because it can change so much.

"Some boats will go against the wind better than others and the bigger boats, because they move so quickly, they'll start putting some distance on the rest of the fleet and they'll sail different weather to what we will."

Ice Fire languished in light winds at the back end of last year's race, a setback made worse by Tucker not stocking ample food supplies.

The crew also battled a torn mainsail sustained off the coast of Eden, negating any chance the 45-footer had of a podium finish in the International Rule (IRC) division two standings.

Ice Fire will be raced under a friendlier PHS format (Performance Handicap System) this year. According to Tucker, the new category and better preparation boded well for his crew.

"There's quite a few contenders out there in our division this year - the Volvo 60 boats of Southern Excellence and Merit being two examples," Tucker said.

"A lot of boats that don't rate really well under IRC go into PHS for the simple fact that it probably balances the boats out a bit better, because a full-on measurement system doesn't handicap a boat to its proper potential.

"We raced under IRC last year and figured we would give the PHS a run this year and see how we go."

"Because we have internet on the boat we can check up on how everyone else is progressing and where the wind is when. Or whether we need to go somewhere else to get into a better wind pattern, which may suit us."

While the rest of the race's crews were busy with last minute preparations last week, Tucker was kicking his heels up on a beach at the Gold Coast.

The two-time race entrant said the tactic reflected his crew's preparedness for the voyage south, unlike previous years.

"Everyone's there ready to go," Tucker said.

"This is number three Sydney to Hobart for me. That bit of extra experience is pretty important.

"We go with two navigators this time, one on each watch. We had a selection of about 20 people for the race, and that's been cut down to 11 for the race, just so we don't have anyone we're carrying."

RACE TO THE DERWENT

How the Sydney to Hobart yacht race handicap system works:

Yacht racing handicaps are similar to that of golf, in that they’re designed to level the playing field between boats of different sizes and design.

Sydney-Hobart organisers use the IRC handicap system, the details of which remain secret to prevent yacht designers creating boats that could take advantage of the rules.

Under this rule, a yacht owner takes a series of fairly straightforward measurements of their yacht: the length, weight, overhangs and sail sizes, whether the boat has a fixed or canting keel, water ballast, carbon fibre or aluminium mast.

That information is sent to the Rating Office of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in Britain, which then issues a rating for the boat. This is essentially a multiplier of the boat’s elapsed time during a race.

Each hour the boat takes to finish is multiplied by its rating time handicap factor to produce its corrected time. The higher the rating, the bigger the multiplier and the bigger the difference between handicap time and elapsed time.

The numbers in the Sydney to Hobart:

Most line honours: Morna/Kurrewa IV with 7.

Most overall wins: Freya and Love & War – both 3.

Race record: Wild Oats XI – 1 day 18hours 40 minutes 10 seconds (2005).

Slowest finisher: Wayfarer – 11 days 6hours 20 minutes (1945).

Closest finish: Condor of Bermuda beat Apollo by seven seconds (1982).

Most races by a male: Tony Cable – 46.

Most races by a female: Adrienne Cahalan – 20.

Most races by a boat: Phillip’s Foote Witchdoctor and Bacardi – both 27.

Largest fleet: 371 (1994).

Average size of fleet (1945-2011): 81.

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