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Two dozen yachts on course for Sydney to Hobart record

Update: December, 27/2016 - 14:26
Wild Oats XI. Photo sbs.com.au
Viet Nam News

Yachting

SYDNEY — An unprecedented 24 boats were sailing on Sydney-Hobart record pace Tuesday as they flew down the east coast of Australia in favourable winds with eight-time winner and favourite Wild Oats XI in the lead, the organiser said.

But the race is far from over as Perpetual LOYAL, Black Jack, Hong Kong-owned Scallywag and Giacomo ran within striking distance of the local hero and holder of the record of one day 18hrs 23mins 12secs for the grueling 628-nautical-mile (1,163 kilometre) event set in 2012.

Skipper Mark Richards had his supermaxi Wild Oats just 64 nautical miles south-east of Gabo Island, sailing east of the rhumbline or shortest route.

The leading nine yachts were pushing around 15 knots in an easterly breeze, keeping well away from the coast.

The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia said the conditions were perfect for the Volvo 70’s such as Black Jack, just half a mile behind the 100-foot maxi Perpetual LOYAL, which in turn is seven miles behind the line honours leader.

Wild Oats XI was almost into Bass Strait, where strong easterlies await throughout the afternoon to whip the fleet along to Tasmania and a likely record.

Wild Oats and her rivals need to finish by 07:23 Wednesday morning local time (2123 GMT Monday) to beat the 2012 time.

Outside of line honours — the fastest yacht over the course — 77-year-old Robbo Robertson’s Beneteau 40, Bravo, leads in the overall handicap positions followed by the Chinese 52-footer named UBOX and crewed by a mix of Chinese and experienced French sailors, Rupert Henry’s Chinese Whisper and Travis Read’s China Easyway, which also has some Chinese crew aboard.

Perpetual LOYAL skipper Anthony Bell had predicted his heavy but powerful vessel would struggle in the light winds against leaner boats in Australia’s bluewater classic but his supermaxi shot out of Sydney harbour Monday into an early lead followed by Scallywag.

Bell, in a bid to be more competitive, has brought in half the world-class crew of last year’s winner, the US super boat Comanche, which did not enter for 2016.

Favourable winds

David Witt, at the helm of Hong Kong businessman Seng Huang Lee’s entrant, Scallywag, correctly predicted a record was on.

"If I had to write a forecast for us, it would be this one," he said Monday. "Light air just forward of the beam really suits us.

"Our routing puts us at the Iron Pot (mouth of Tasmania’s Derwent River) in 1 day 11 hours. That gives us 7 hours to do 14 miles and beat the record."

However the fourth supermaxi in the race — the untested CQS of Finn Ludde Ingvall, who took line honours in 2000 and 2004 — struggled to get the radical design going and was back in eighth place.

The hardest part of this year’s race could prove to be the finale along the Tasmanian Coast and up the fickle Derwent River leading to Hobart’s Constitution Dock where windless holes can halt a boat for hours, while others sail through on a breeze.

Line honours for the fastest vessel and the overall handicap winner could both be decided on a becalmed Derwent. Last year’s overall handicap winner, Australia’s 52-footer Balance owned by Paul Clitheroe, is hoping for a second successive crown for the TP52.

The clement forecast stood in stark contrast to 2015 when savage southerlies forced dozens of boats to pull out, including Wild Oats.

Storms are a regular hazard in one of the world’s most challenging races, with six men dying, five boats sinking and 55 sailors rescued on a fatal night in 1998 when a deep depression exploded over the Tasman Sea.

Within the first hours of the 2016 event, the organisers reported that two vessels had been forced to retire with Freyja, a 71-year-old timber cruiser blowing out her headsail just beyond the Heads and Dare Devil breaking a  rudder leaving 86 yachts at sea. — AFP

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