A NORTH versus South element has been introduced into today's Launceston to Hobart Yacht Race, with two near identical yachts from the Tamar Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania expected to be strong contenders for overall handicap honours.
Both yachts are Beneteau First 45s, with Richard Fisher's Believe representing the TYC and Michael Pritchard's Audagrère sailing under the burgee of the RYCT.
While Fisher is a widely experienced offshore racing yachtsman, Pritchard is a relative newcomer having previously enjoyed racing his Porsche in the Targa car rallies.
However, Pritchard and Audagrère impressed with their debut event, the Maria Island race last month.
The seventh annual Launceston to Hobart Race starts off Inspection Head Wharf at Beauty Point at 10am today with a fleet of 28 boats from Northern and Southern Tasmanian clubs and also from Victoria.
Fisher believes the unusually early start will change the nature of the 285-nautical mile race down Tasmania's East Coast.
``The early start, ensuring an ebbing tide for the fleet heading down the Tamar from the start at Beauty Point, may mean light weather early in the race, but it should ensure the faster boats are through the notorious Banks Strait in daylight,'' he said.
Adding to the complications of changed tactics for the early start will be weather later in the race, including a forecast 40-knot plus south-westerly front at Tasman Island and the effect of an ocean eddy to the east of Tasman Island.
The latest in a constantly changing forecast for Bass Strait and East Coast waters is for very light north-westerly of 5-10 knots on Friday morning, with the breeze slowly freshening to 15 to 20 knots from the north as the fleet sails down the East Coast on Saturday.
The crunch could come on Sunday morning with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting a 30 to 40 knot south-westerly at Tasman Island.
``The early start should get us (the bigger boats) through Banks Strait before dark on Friday evening, and if we get reasonable winds down the East Coast, also put us around Tasman Island in daylight,'' Fisher said.
The L2H race results are calculated under three handicap rating systems, with the winner of the AMS category the overall winner.
While Gary Smith's The Fork in the Road is hot favourite for line honours, the AMS corrected time results will hinge on the weather.
Both Believe and Audagrère come from a winning line of French-built yachts, but AMS handicap competition will come also from The Fork in the Road, Jeff Cordell's Host Plus Executive, John Mills's NexEdge, Stuart Denny's The Protagonist and from the smaller boats, Malcolm Coopers Kiaulani, Ian Gannon's Take Five and Stewart Geeves Footloose.