Bidding for a fourth race line honours, the maxi Wild Oats X1 took an early lead in the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
Maxis lead classic race
Australian maxis Wild Oats XI and Skandia led the 100-boat fleet in the early stages of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race today. Race favourite Wild Oats XI, bidding for race line honours for the fourth consecutive year, was first through Sydney Harbour Heads after the traditional Boxing Day lunchtime start, followed just over a minute later by Skandia. But Skandia, the 2003 line honours winner, narrowly forged ahead inside the opening hours as the fleet set sail for the 628-nautical mile race down the Australian eastern seaboard for the Tasmanian capital.
Wild Oats XI and Skandia were being pushed along by favourable 10-15 knot north-easterly winds. Ichi Ban, Black Jack and Loki were leading the pack chasing the two maxis. Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said his boat was set for a fast passage irrespective of whether it could finish inside the maxi's 2005 race record of one day 18 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds. "It should be under two days with a bit of luck," Richards said by radio late Friday.
"It's backing off a little bit. We're a bit worried about it going a bit light around Tasman Island (in Bass Strait), but we'll just have to see what happens." The pre-race forecast westerlies predicted for late Saturday could play a bigger part in the race than initially expected. "It's certainly going to slow down some parts of the fleet," Ichi Ban skipper Matt Allen said. "I think it's a little bit unclear as to which boats will be affected detrimentally or otherwise with that.
"I think it's actually going to make it a more interesting race in some respects." Skandia skipper Grant Wharington said the forecast was similar to last year's race, but felt it was a good one for his boat. "We've just got to hope we don't get dropped off in the light patch in the middle. It happened to a couple of boats last year," Wharington said. This year's race marks the 10th anniversary of the deadly 1998 race when six sailors were lost at sea in a powerful storm.
Five yachts sank and 66 boats retired in a fleet of 115 in a marine tragedy that generated world headlines. A subsequent inquiry into the race resulted in a considerable upgrade of safety requirements for competing yachts and their crews. *AFP