‘There’s a lot of variables’: Unpredictable Sydney to Hobart looms after uncertain forecast

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It is going to take something special for the fleet in this year’s Sydney to Hobart race to beat defending champion Celestial.

But something special could be on the cards come Boxing Day, with the long-range weather forecast for the 628-nautical-mile race uncertain and team strategies up in the air less than a week out from the start of the sailing classic.

For Marc Michel, skipper of two-hander Niksen, the biggest challenge is getting out of Sydney Heads.Credit: Louise Kennerley

For Celestial owner and skipper Sam Haynes, a lot remains unclear and there are still many potential challenges.

“The greatest challenge for our boat, well, I think there’s obviously a lot of expectation when you’ve had the last two years that we have, and to be able to back that up is a massive challenge,” Haynes said.

“In the very immediate right now, I think getting the right strategy for the race is not clear, and that’s something that will probably be the main focus for the next few days, is how we’re going to approach the race, the weather, the oceanography, how we’re going to manage the boat.

“There’s a lot of variables right now, and that’s the area of focus for us at the moment.”

Contenders for overall winner (L-R) Max Klink, Sam Haynes, Marc Michel, Anthony Johnston and Simon Torvaldsen.Credit: Louise Kennerley

Despite an overall victory last year, and a second-place finish the year before, Haynes shrugged off suggestions there is a target on his back come Boxing Day.

“We’ve got this beautiful trophy, we’ve got the watch, the honour of winning the race, that’s the target,” he said.

“We all try and do the same thing. I don’t think anyone’s going to set up their boat specifically to try and challenge my boat. We all know where our boats have got their strengths and weaknesses, and we work on trying to improve weaknesses and maintain your strengths at the same time.”

Celestial was the overall winner of the Sydney to Hobart last year.Credit: ROLEX

Strategy and weather aren’t even the foremost concerns for Marc Michel, the owner and skipper of two-man boat Niksen. For him, the first challenge is getting out of Sydney Heads.

“I think our biggest challenge is just typically getting out of the Harbour,” he said. “When you’re coming off the back lines [for the smaller, slower boats] … the water is chopped up, it’s pretty frustrating.

“Spectator fleets all moving to chase the maxis, so [it’s like] a washing machine. Just be glad to get out of the heads, settle down, get into our rhythm.”

Meanwhile, for Anthony Johnston, the owner of URM Group, his greatest concern is making sure his boat gets to the starting line in one piece.

“We like to push the boat, so the challenge is to get it there without breaking something,” he said. “The Hobart’s always got a bit of misadventure.

“There’s always a challenge, and that’s why getting the boat there in one piece is always challenging … [but] it’s currently well prepared and in one piece ready to go.”

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