Sat, Dec 25, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race to begin amid heavy seas

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Three super maxis favored for line honors will lead the way tomorrow when 117 boats -- the largest field in a decade -- begin the annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race from Sydney Harbor.

The three big boats -- Skandia, Konica Minolta and Nicorette -- are likely to be at the head of the fleet when the boats sail around hundreds of spectator craft and through Sydney Heads en route to Hobart on the island state of Tasmania, 1,163km away.

Skandia, skippered by Australian Grant Wharington, and New Zealand entry Zana (now known as Konica Minolta) dueled throughout last year's race, with Skandia winning the final dash up the Derwent River and into Constitution Dock in Hobart by 14 minutes.

Owner-skipper Ludde Ingvall launched a new version of Nicorette only three weeks ago. He will be looking to take line honors for the second time, having won in 2000 with the old Nicorette.

Ingvall, raised in Finland by parents of Swedish heritage, moved to Australia in 2001 to begin a life of warmer-weather sailing.

"At this time of year in Finland the sun goes up for about two hours a day and I would go ice yachting," Ingvall told the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday. "When the sea breeze is up, it's so cold, if it were Sydney Harbor it would be like glass."

Given favorable winds, the three maxis could all threaten Nokia's 1999 race record of one day, 19 hours, 48 minutes and two seconds.

Competitors were warned Friday to expect gale-force southwesterly winds in the Tasman Sea off the New South Wales state south coast on Monday and further gales in Bass Strait off the east coast of Tasmania on Tuesday.

Wind gusts could range from 80kph to 110kph, the weather office officials said.

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