Loss inspires Oats action
OCTAGENARIAN Syd Fischer's first Sydney to Hobart was in 1963, and it was almost his last.
He was in an 11m boat called Malohi which almost came to grief on rocks called the Hippolytes off Tasmania's east coast.
Thankfully the boat's owner, who was laying on the bow to keep a lookout, spotted the rocks at the last minute through a thick fog.
They were the days when the crew navigated by a compass in the bottom of the cockpit ... as well as a healthy dose of intuition.
Fischer has experienced everything Mother Nature can throw at a sailing fleet in the intervening years, including being turned back five times.
He also enjoyed the thrill of crossing the line first in 1988, 1990, 1992 and again last year with Investec-Loyal, and will be on board Loyal again in this year's race which gets underway at 1pm Sydney time today.
With the weather forecast being one of the best in recent years, Fischer was able to enjoy yesterday's Christmas lunch ahead of what could well be the fastest race in the history of the event.
"There's nothing in this forecast that poses any real threat to the fleet. It looks as though it's going to be a fairly easy race," he said.
"I don't think we're going to be knocked about too much."
Skippers and navigators from the 77 competing yachts have been told the race would start in a fresh sou-easter which will provide a spectacular run under spinnaker down Sydney Harbour.
The breeze is tipped to lighten off once the fleet makes progrerss down the NSW coast, before a 20-knot north-eastern swings in on Thursday morning which will allow for a lightning-fast run down to Tasmania for the bigger boats.
Unfortunately for the smaller vessels, the wind is forecast to swing westerly on Thurdsay night which will make it tough for them over the concluding stages of the race, and could even make it possible for the line honours winner to also take handicap honours.
The skipper of race favourite Wild Oats XI, Mark Richards, summed up the likely strategy of the supermaxis by saying, "It'll be peddle to the metal - don't back off - and take the shortest route to Hobart."