Yachting: Wild Oats XI Leads Sydney to Hobart
Sydney. Wild Oats XI was leading the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Tuesday after battling rough conditions overnight, with the fleet facing a gripping tactical dash to the finish due to a lack of winds.
The supermaxi Wild Oats XI, hot favorite to take its sixth line honours win, was just 10 nautical miles ahead as fellow 100-footer Investec Loyal gathered speed in the 628 nautical mile classic from Sydney to Tasmania.
The fleet had sped down Australia’s south coast, helped by strong winds churned up by a storm system to the south and tropical cyclones to north, race organizers said, but was facing a lack of wind late Tuesday.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Garry Linacre said the boats were still in the southerly stream, but it would soon die out and the yachts would struggle to maintain their pace.
“[It] looks like it could be a lack of wind and some conditions which may and may not provide some passing lanes and some catch up opportunities,” Linacre told reporters in Hobart.
“That means it could be a really difficult night of sailing.”
Weather forecasters had expected strong winds and high seas for the first night of the prestigious annual race, and the top 15 yachts reported winds of up to 30 knots late Monday.
The event claimed the lives of six sailors in 1998 when catastrophic weather hit and sank five yachts.
Four boats pulled out Tuesday — Accenture Yeah Baby due to gear failure and line honours contender and supermaxi Wild Thing, first to Hobart in 2003, forced out by sail damage.
Hong Kong-based Ffreefire 52 had to return to Sydney with mainsail problems while 52-foot Duende retired to disembark a crewman with a dislocated shoulder.
Celestial, a Rogers IRC 46, retired on Monday night after breaking its gooseneck, which connects the mainsail boom to the mast.
That leaves 83 boats in the race, which starts every Boxing Day and sees yachts head down the Australian coast, cross the Bass Strait to the island of Tasmania, and sail up the Derwent River to Hobart’s Constitution Dock.
As much as crews can expect dangerously rough conditions, the Sydney to Hobart is also known for the maddening calm of the final stages of the race, particularly the journey along the Derwent.
Linacre said navigators would now be hoping to find a kind of “private breeze” which would help their boat reach the finish line quicker while eluding competitors.
He said boats could be almost becalmed in low wind conditions when “all of a sudden for no explanation you pick up a private breeze which carries you for four or five hours when everyone else is sitting still.”
Wild Oats XI, holder of the race record at one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set in 2005, was far enough ahead of the pack that the lighter conditions would make it difficult for a rival to overtake it, he said.
Sensing that it would be difficult to run down Wild Oats XI, second-placed Investec Loyal moved further west of the leader’s path in hopes of skirting around the light weather.
“Tonight is going to be mentally tough for everyone on the boat as we track through the light weather and cover Loyal,” Wild Oats XI co-navigator Ian Burns said.
“They are probably going to try and sail us into a flat spot.”
Behind Investec Loyal was Lahana, leading the handicap race which takes into account each boat’s dimensions, age and other factors.
The first boats are expected into Hobart late Wednesday.