Australian maxi Alfa Romeo claimed line honors in the 58th Sydney-Hobart yacht race yesterday when it surfed across the finish line under spinnaker after making the most of unusually benign conditions. \nSydney-based New Zealand businessman Neville Crichton's carbon-fibre boat took two days four hours 58 minutes and 52 seconds to complete the 1500km race down Australia's east coast to the island state of Tasmania. \nAlfa Romeo surfed under a huge white spinnaker at speeds of up to 18 knots in favorable conditions through Storm Bay and down the Derwent River to Hobart. \nDespite its fast finish, Alfa Romeo's time was still well outside the race record of one day 19 hours 48 minutes and two seconds set by Danish flyer Nokia in 1999. \n"We didn't break the record but we didn't break the boat either," Crichton said. \nThe sleek grey carbon fibre boat was a clear pre-race favorite and led a fleet of 55 yachts out of Sydney Harbour on Thursday. It crossed the finish line in the Derwent River just before 6pm, surrounded by spectator craft. \nAustralian downwind flyer Grundig finished second about two hours behind Alfa Romeo, with British super maxi Canon Leopard likely to claim third ahead of maxis Nicorette of Sweden and Australian Skandia Wild Thing. \n"This morning the closest boat was 20 miles behind us and they had no tactical advantage. We sailed conservatively," said Crichton, whose experienced crew included British America's Cup helmsman Andy Beadsworth. \nNotoriously rough race \nCrichton's 27.4m yacht was the biggest-ever to claim line honors in the bluewater classic. Tiny Australian yacht Toecutter, at 9.5m almost a third the size of Alfa Romeo, was well placed to claim handicap honors. \nBoats in three of the last four Sydney-Hobart races were hit by appalling weather with strong winds whipping up huge seas in the notoriously rough Bass Strait between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. \nSix sailors died in the 1998 race, prompting a raft of stringent new safety regulations. \nBut the 2002 race has been unusual for the relatively calm conditions experienced since Thursday's chaotic start in rain, mist and poor visibility in Sydney Harbour. \nThis year's race was still not without incident. Nicorette bowman Mitch White hit his head and was knocked unconscious while working on the boat's mast on Friday. \nAustralia's Sting reported yesterday it was continuing in the race despite having its rudder badly damaged in a collision with a whale. The Farr-50 Sting also hit a sunfish on Friday. \nCanon Leopard also hit a whale on Friday. \nOn Thursday, Australian boats Valheru and Trump Card were forced out after separate collisions near the start. Valheru almost sank and both boats have lodged protests. \nAlfa Romeo remains unbeaten since it was launched last August. Crichton's boat will now sail across the Tasman Sea to Auckland, where it will be reconfigured before taking part in the Millennium Cup Regatta in conjunction with the America's Cup. \nIt will then sail in the TransAtlantic race from New York to La Rochelle in France and other European maxi regattas.
* This year's race was still not without incident. `Nicorette' bowman Mitch White hit his head and was knocked unconscious while working on the boat's mast on Friday.
* Australia's `Sting' reported yesterday it was continuing in the race despite having its rudder badly damaged in a collision with a whale. `Canon Leopard' also hit a whale on Friday.
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