Perpetual Loyal will be one of the main contenders for line honours in the Sydney to Hobart.

Perpetual Loyal will be one of the main contenders for line honours in the Sydney to Hobart. Photo: Nic Walker

A classic spinnaker start to the Sydney to Hobart on Thursday is unlikely, if a change in the forecast for the big race prevails.

While north-easterlies for the 1pm start were predicted last week, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday has changed its forecast to east to south-easterly winds at 10 to 15 knots with rain a possibility.

Andrew Treloar from the bureau said the forecast for further into the 628 nautical mile race as it heads south remains the same as what was predicted last week, with winds switching to the north-east and strengthening.

Then on Saturday, he said, a cold front is expected through Bass Strait ''and with possibly gale force winds in its wake'' which should make for a rough, bumpy and unpredictable ride for most of the 94-strong feet.

Adding to the mix and sense of uncertainty over what will eventually prevail is that there are two currents on the route, a main one heading south off Narooma with a second pushing north off Montague Island.

''Last week we flagged there would be a low pressure trough to the north of Sydney,'' Treloar said on Tuesday.

''Now it looks like that trough will be closer to Sydney and we could have a low pressure system off the coast.

''The good news is that the system seems to be moving away ... quite quickly and so for the start of the race looking for East to south easterly rather than a north-easterly.

''Following that, the conditions are pretty much what we talked about last week [with] the winds tending round to the north-east as the boats head down the coast, freshening up in strength; and then on the Saturday a good cold front moving through Bass Strait with possibly gale force winds in its wake.''

Veteran Sydney to Hobart skipper Syd Fischer, whose maxi Ragamuffin is an outside chance of challenging the two main favourites - Wild Oats XI and Perpetual Loyal - smiled when he was asked about the forecast.

"It's a race ..." Fischer said laughing. "It's basically what it's all about."

Mark Richards, skipper of Wild Oats XI which has won line honours six times and last year in a race record and on handicap, said: ''It's going to be a very, very tricky race ... To the death. Ragamuffin is going to be there. Perpetual Loyal is going to be there. Beau Geste is going to be there. Wild Thing is going to be there. It's going to be fantastic to watch.''

For Anthony Bell and his crew on Perpetual Loyal, the latest forecast - which has cruelled the chances of the race record being beaten - should serve them well.

However, like most skippers and their navigators who are assessing various permutations, he is readying further changes to the forecast.
''We say all the time, 'Don't rely too much on the forecasts'. For us the big thing from the latest news will be keeping the boat going – keeping the boat in one piece, keeping the crew in one piece. It would appear it's going to be a race for the navigators.

''There will be a lot less certainty coming up. We are happy to go out there and have a crack.''

Bell admitted Tuesday's forecast was better for his boat, but he would not label it ideal, saying: ''Uncertainty is the big issue.

''I think we are in for a proper boat race. We were little bit depressed a couple of days ago as to what the forecast was saying.

''I guess from this point we have moved from depression to uncertainty. It's not the worst thing.''