Conditions for the 71st Sydney to Hobart race are expected to play into the hands of favourite Wild Oats XI as she challenges for a ninth line-honours victory.
The updated forecast issued to crews on Thursday ahead of the Boxing Day start is less severe than what was received earlier in the week.
The southerly buster expected on the opening night of the race will not be as bad as first thought, but will still “pack a bit of punch”.
New South Wales Bureau of Meteorology’s Michael Logan told the 109-boat fleet on Thursday that a relatively easier 25-35 knots is now expected.
“It’s not a really strong one, but it does pack a fair bit of punch with it,” he said.
“It does fringe into the lower end of the gale warning category. It will make for rough conditions.”
A thunderstorm will accompany the strong winds making for an eventful first night at sea. Winds will ease on Sunday morning becoming light by Monday.
Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said the latest forecast sets up a text-book Sydney to Hobart race.
“A beautiful nor-easter to start the race followed by a southerly front on the first evening where you have to tough it out until morning,” Richards said.
“And then a tricky last half of the race [in light winds], a challenging race for everyone.”
The earlier forecast had thrown up the possibility of a powerful low-pressure system confronting the fleet in the Bass Strait, evoking memories of the fierce 1998 storm when six sailors lost their lives in the race.
“I’m glad it’s not going to be like the other day’s report,” Richards said.
The updated forecast of light winds as the boats head towards Tasmania on Sunday worry Comanche skipper Jim Clark.
The American super-maxi Comanche finished runner-up to Wild Oats last year and struggled in light conditions.
“Light air is not our friend,” Clark said.
“The last bit of the race there is supposed to be fairly light, so that will be the challenging part.”