Sydney to Hobart 2021: Trio racing for line honours as others race for survival

The fleet leaders have picked up their pace and are looking for a Sydney to Hobart finish either late tonight or early tomorrow morning - for one of the slowest races in years.

Black Jack is one of the contenders for the line honours win.
Black Jack is one of the contenders for the line honours win.

Supermaxi skipper David Witt has revealed he and his Scallywag crew have been sailing “blind’, without electronic instrumentation that helps with boat speed and sail selection and also with gear damage that has caused them major grief at sea.

Witt led the Sydney to Hobart fleet up the harbour and out Sydney Heads at the start of the 2021 race before equipment damage within the first hour saw the team overtaken by rivals LawConnect and Black Jack.

On Tuesday afternoon Witt told News Corp from his yacht that there have been “many more issues’’ since the initial drama.

“From breakages to the motor, to electrical and no instruments,’’ he said.

“But the crew are dealing well. They never give up.’’

Scallywag sails up the harbour before the 2021 Sydney to Hobart. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Scallywag sails up the harbour before the 2021 Sydney to Hobart. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

Remarkably, Witt was still on course to finish the race in Hobart despite his setbacks.

“Sailed with no instruments, never fast and very difficult at night,’’ he said.

This would have seen the crew using torches to light up the tell tails (wind indicators) on the sail in the dark and the helmsman sailing by feel.

“What happened after the start with the J2 tack fitting has happened another two times just as we regained lost miles,’’ he said.

The J2 fitting is where the headsail is connected to the deck. When broken it severely impacts the speed of the boat.

Witt is competing in his 25th Sydney to Hobart and hoping for a line honours win. But his litany of damage may well have doused this dream.


Scallywag made a quick getaway before her first drama. Picture: Andrea Francolini/Rolex/AFP
Scallywag made a quick getaway before her first drama. Picture: Andrea Francolini/Rolex/AFP

A finish under the cover of darkness has been forecasted for the leaders of the Sydney to Hobart are now heading towards stronger winds off the coast of Tasmania after slowing down this morning.

Yachting meteorologist Roger Badham ran a routing for the frontrunners this morning which put them on the Derwent River at the finish late tonight or early tomorrow.

“It will all depend what time they hit the river and that looks like around midnight. And at that time there’s precious little wind,’’ Badham said.

Badham said the leaders - LawConnect, Black Jack and Scallywag - could have up to 20 knots pushing them home.

At 2.30pm, veteran navigator Adrienne Cahalan on Oroton Drumbeat gave an insight into life at sea this afternoon.

“We’ve got to just put another hat on … from having heavy weather and rigorous sailing the last few days, to now getting our light air hats on and having to work out how to navigate across Bass Strait and avoid all those light patches between here at the top of Tasmania,’’ she said off the boat.

“It is going to be a really big achievement to finish this race because we’ve had such a variety of conditions so far, and that’s only two days in.

“It’s a big test for all the boats, for so many skills.’’

Black Jack is among three Super Maxis contending for first across the line honours as the boats near Hobart. Picture: Andrea Francolini/Rolex/AFP
Black Jack is among three Super Maxis contending for first across the line honours as the boats near Hobart. Picture: Andrea Francolini/Rolex/AFP

Before the canon, Black Jack navigator Alex Nolan said he and crewmates will “push hard’’ to the finish of the Sydney to Hobart and are happy and well as they race in light winds down the east coast of Tasmania to a finish sometime later today.

The Peter Harburg owned 100-footer is in the box seat to take the line honours win, holding a small lead over the Sydney supermaxi LawConnect this morning.

Issues with trackers make it difficult to gauge the extent of her lead.

“We are looking forward to a good day,’’ said Nolan, who revealed winds had turned light in the early hours of the morning.

“Everyone is very well. Everyone is very happy.

“We are pushing it very hard.”

Sydney to Hobart supermaxis trio Black Jack, LawConnect and Scallywag have managed to dodge the dramas which have sent more than a third of the fleet to the sidelines to remain on track for a Tuesday finish to one of the most punishing races in recent memory.

It is more than likely the 100-footers will not arrive until well into the afternoon - and well outside the race record - and potentially in one of the slowest times since 2015.

This is unsurprising given the slow getaway of the trio due to strong headwinds the first night and morning of the race.

The fleet frontrunners at the start of the race.
The fleet frontrunners at the start of the race.

8AM: Black Jack and LawConnect have put distance between them and their third supermaxi rival Scallywag as winds lightened this morning, giving the entire fleet a welcome break from pounding their way to Hobart.

After a race for survival early, the race will now be one of navigating tricky conditions and light winds as they lead the battered fleet to the finish line on the Derwent River.

Issues with the tracking system have made it difficult to gauge the actual distances between the leading boats.

But Scallwag, racing in around eight knots, appears to have fallen well behind her rivals.

Only one yacht retired between 1am and this morning with Rogue Wave, a two-handed entry, the 36th boat to head to the sidelines.

This leaves 52 yachts racing to Hobart.

The last race to take over two days for the line honours contenders was back in 2015 when Netscape owner Jim Clark’s American yacht Comanche crossed the finish in two days, eight hours and 58 seconds.

Two years later, under a different owner in Australian Jim Cooney, the same yacht set the current mark of 1:09:15:24.

Scallywag had gear damage after the start which put her on the back foot and the tracker on LawConnect has not been working. But to date these are the only issues the boats have made public.

Scallywag is one of three supermaxis in the race.
Scallywag is one of three supermaxis in the race.

In contrast yachts further back in the fleet have had a punishing start to the race with 34 out by 7pm on Monday.

This boat dropout is one of the highest attrition rates in recent years and due to the hours of tough upwind sailing endured by many of the boats which resulted in gear damage, torn sails, electrical issues, injuries to crew and even hull damage.

Top meteorologist Roger Badham had good news late Monday, claiming the worse is over for the bulk of the fleet who could even face ultra light winds at some further stages of the race.

The 2018 overall winner Alive was one of the highest profile casualties with hull damage severe enough she issued a Pan Pan call to alert officials they had problems, but that they were not life threatening.

She was on Monday on her way back to Sydney.

David Gotze, owner, and David Allen, sailing master, of No Limit, at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Pic: Justin Lloyd.
David Gotze, owner, and David Allen, sailing master, of No Limit, at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Pic: Justin Lloyd.

A crewmen aboard the Victorian yacht No Limit was undergoing surgery on a badly injured shoulder after a bunk collapse, while the skipper of the Sydney yacht Zen, Gordon Ketelbey, was beside him in hospital with a fractured arm.

Incredibly, one of the world's most notorious stretches of water - Bass Strait - will provide the smaller boats in the fleet a break from the harsh conditions.

“It’s getting better and better,’’ Badham said.

“They won’t get punished.’’

Michael Billingham, aboard the overall contender Whisper, said conditions were abating late on Monday.

“We have reasonable conditions. It’s not as bad as last night,’’ he said.

“The seas we had were very rough.’’

Originally published as Sydney to Hobart 2021: Trio racing for line honours as others race for survival

Add your comment to this story

To join the conversation, please Don't have an account? Register

Join the conversation, you are commenting as Logout