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it’s nail bitin’ time

Welcome to the agonizing ritual that begins every year after the line-honours contenders have crossed the finishing line and tied up at King’s Pier Marina (not “Constitution Dock” as so many in the ignorant media would tell us). Any dingbat can understand who won the first-to-finish contest but establishing the handicap winner is a far more complex, and protracted, matter.

Through the combined magic of on-board trackers and on-shore computing power, the IRC standings are updated by the race organisers every 10 minutes. That’s simple enough to follow while everyone is still at sea, but once the boats in the 50-60 foot range start arriving in Hobart the guessing games and nail biting sessions get serious.

Everyone starts sweating on their ‘Time to Beat’, the projected elapsed and finishing times the yachts still racing must better to claim the overall handicap win. Those fatal numbers are helpfully added (in red) to the ‘Standings’ list for every IRC yacht on the race website. The moment they finish or the maths make it impossible for them to win, their yacht’s ‘Time to Beat’ data disappears from the results.

It’s brutal, but hundreds of eyeballs will be glued to that page for the next 30 hours.

Not surprisingly, crews still at sea pester their navigators endlessly for comparative ranking updates accessible via laptop or mobile phone. (Not so long ago this would, of course, have been grounds for an instant DSQ under the “outside assistance” rule.)

Ashore, skippers cluster around computers as the minutes and hours tick by, all

secretly ‘death riding’ those rivals who could still finish in time to displace them from a podium result. In light weather this unique form of slow torture can go on for days. For example, Midnight Rambler’s current TTB is 22:00hrs on 29 December while Gun Runner has until 10:30hrs on 30 December to finish.

So how do things now stand?  

The virtually identical Reichel/Pugh 66-footers Wild Oats X (with an all-female crew) and Alive had a stirring toe-to-toe battle across Storm Bay and up the Derwent River. In the end Alive crossed just 13 minutes in front and reminded us of how close one design offshore racing can be, as demonstrated in the last Volvo. Behind that pair came Voodoo, Winning Appliances and Ichi Ban, followed by Naval Group.

On IRC, last year’s winner Ichi Ban is now very well placed to claim 1st spot again – at least for the moment. But there are plenty of chasing yachts that, given a favourable breeze through the third night, could still challenge. Among the more likely contenders are St Jude, Grace O’Malley and the US entry Privateer. The 40-foot Chutzpah is also in the mix. Victorian owner Bruce Taylor, sailing in his 38th Sydney-Hobart, is surely due for his first win.

But win, lose or draw the bar staff at the Custom’s House Hotel and Shipwright’s Arms will be pulling plenty of beers until closing time.

– Anarchist David