New Zealand entry Konica Minolta pulled away from super maxi rival Skandia to take an extended lead Monday in the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race as rough seas battered some of the smaller and slower boats.
Last year, the 30m Skandia, skippered by Melbourne sailor Grant Wharington, beat Konica Minolta, then known as Zana, by 14 minutes in one of the tightest finishes in the history of the race.
"It's as close as it was last year," Skandia navigator Will Oxley said Monday as the two boats traded the lead throughout the day.
But Konica Minolta extended its lead over Skandia to about six nautical miles as nightfall approached on Bass Strait and both yachts had about 200 nautical miles to the finish line at Constitution Dock in Hobart.
Nicorette, launched three weeks ago, led a fleet of 116 boats out of Sydney Harbor on Sunday at the start of the 60th edition of the race to the island state of Tasmania, 1,163km away.
Nicorette slipped back to third and AAPT was in fourth, but neither yacht looked as if it could threaten the two leading boats.
Strong southerly winds forced a number of retirements yesterday, with 18 boats out of the race and seven more seeking shelter along the Australian coast to see if conditions improved.
The retirements included the Sydney 38 craft Hidden Agenda, which went to Eden on the New South Wales south coast with a slightly injured crewman. Last year, the same boat was dismasted during the race.
Also out is Tasmanian entry Quest Travelscene 66, skippered by John Bennetto, the yachtsman with 43 race crossings, the most of any sailor in the race.
The race record of one day, 19 hours, 48 minutes and two seconds was set by Nokia in 1999.
Wharington said before the race began that he expected his super maxi to finish in about 54 hours, at least 10 hours slower than Nokia's record. He is trying to become the first skipper in more than 20 years to win back-to-back races.
That finishing time looked to be accurate, although it could be Konica Minolta taking line honors.
In 1998, six sailors died and seven boats were abandoned or sank during a terrible storm that hit the fleet. Of the 115 yachts that started that year, 70 boats withdrew.