Light winds look set to challenge the tactical nous of competitors in the 2022 Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, which begins on Saturday 30 July.
The 384 nautical mile race, organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, is the opening race of the 2022/23 Audi Centre Sydney Blue Water Pointscore.
Speaking to competitors at the official race briefing on Thursday night, Bureau of Meterorology’s Senior Meteorologist, Hugh McDowell, advised light and variable winds will likely take the fleet towards Sydney Heads when the race starts at 1pm on Saturday, with a 5-10 knot southerly as they head offshore.
The fleet won’t have much to work with as they travel up the coast on Saturday, with the breeze shifting to the east-south-east but remaining light out to sea.
The gentle start means Wild Oats XI’s 2012 course record of 22 hours, 3 minutes and 46 seconds won’t be troubled by the three 100-foot maxis (Andoo Comanche, Black Jack and Hamilton Island Wild Oats).
On Sunday morning, the bigger boats will contend with wind from the east-south-east up to 15 knots, while upwind sailing will add a new challenge on Sunday.
Monday should see up to 15 knots from the north along the Coffs coast, with lighter winds again approaching the finish off Main Beach.
Much lighter and variable winds on Tuesday, possibly from the south, will make it a tricky finish for the bulk of the fleet, with the smaller boats preparing for up to five days at sea.
Tom Barker, navigator on Gordon Ketelbey's TP52 Zen, expects a close tussle between the 11 52-footers in the fleet.
"We actually perform really well upwind," Barker said. "It's an interesting forecast, it's going to be challenging.
"Probably a bit lighter than we all expected based on some of the earlier forecasts, but it's somewhat typical of this race - a little bit of upwind, a bit of westerly off the shore, choosing when to go in or go out.
"With a bit of reaching, upwind and some light downwind on Saturday afternoon, it's going to be really tight on the water.
"We need to focus on the TP52 group, but we can't lose sight of the bigger boats ahead of us. They could easily get a jump if the breeze shuts down and similarly with the smaller boats behind us, there are some really well sailed boats behind us that I think this forecast could suit."
Seasoned ocean racer Wendy Tuck, who raced two-handed alongside Campbell Geeves on Speedwell in the 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart, is the navigator on UBS Wild Thing.
She admits it's "not a good forecast" for Adam Lavis' Inglis/Dovell 50.
"The really light breeze at the start will hurt us," Tuck said. "An upwind race is not the best point of sail for us, so it's a shame the race didn't start today (Friday).
"However, all the crew are just looking forward to the race and getting to Southport after a few years' absence."
Carlos Aydos will race two-handed on his S&S 34, Crux, with co-skipper Tomas Kliman.
Crux was one of the standouts in the 2021 Rolex Sydney Hobart, finishing second across all handicaps in the Two-Handed Division.
But Aydos expects a tricky trip north: "Crux proved to be very competitive upwind, but the light breeze forecasted is definitely not good news for her!"
A weather briefing will be held for competitors at 8am on the morning of the race.
The Noakes Sydney Gold Coast returns for the first time since 2019, following consecutive cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
62 boats will be on the start line on Sydney Harbour, including the three 100-footers, as well as pocket maxis Moneypenny (Sean Langman), No Limit (David Gotze) and Whisper (David Griffith).
Two-handed entrants will compete in the race for the first time and are eligible to win the Peter Rysdyk Memorial Trophy, awarded to the overall winner on IRC.
There are 11 two-handed boats: Avalanche (PHS), Crux, Disko Trooper_Contender Sailcloth, Joker on Tourer, KD4, Local Hero, Philosopher, Rum Rebellion, Rumchaser, Shearwater (PHS) and Transcendence Crento.
The majority of the fleet is from NSW, with three Victorian boats (Chutzpah, Joker on Tourer and White Noise) and one from each of Queensland (Black Jack), Tasmania (Huntress) and Western Australia (Enterprise Next Generation).
View the full fleet list on the official race website.
The race start will be streamed live from 12.45pm (AEST) on the Noakes Sydney Gold Coast Facebook page and CYCA TV YouTube channel, as well as on the home page of this website.
Follow the race via the live tracker and standings pages.