Fri, Dec 31, 2004 - Page 24 News List

`Nicorette' wins stormy Sydney to Hobart yacht race

AFP , SYDNEY

Super-maxi Nicorette won a storm-lashed Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Wednesday but skipper Ludde Invgall said he may not defend his crown next year because the bluewater classic had become a "demolition derby" that left him fearful for his crew's safety.

The 30m race debutant limped into Hobart's Constitution Dock at 5:10am, the only surviving super-maxi after raging seas forced out last year's champion Skandia and joint favorite Konica Minolta.

Almost half the 116 yachts that left Sydney last Sunday retired as swells of up to 9m and squalls hitting 50 knots battered the fleet in the worst conditions since 1998, when six sailors drowned and seven boats were lost.

Nicorette finished the 628-nautical-mile bluewater classic in 64 hours and 44 seconds, well outside the race record of 43 hours and 48 minutes set by Nokia in 1999.

Ingvall said his main concern was merely surviving the race with Nicorette in one piece, rather than taking risks to chase the record. Nicorette hugged the coast of the island state of Tasmania in the race's final stretch, sacrificing speed to escape the worst of the weather.

"We made a tactical decision to do something different," he said. "We thought it was going to be a demolition derby."

Ingvall said Nicorette, launched just three weeks ago, sustained damage after the weather turned ugly early in the race but the crew managed improvised repairs using nuts and bolts from their sleeping bunks.

The Finnish-born, Sydney-based skipper, who won line honors with Nicorette's 27m namesake in 2000, said he was considering whether he would compete again in what he described as the toughest yacht race in the world.

He said this year's race was the hardest period he had ever spent on the water, including round-the-world and trans-Atlantic races.

Ingvall said he was concerned about the fate of rival super-maxi Skandia, whose crew was for-ced to abandon ship in mountainous seas before the yacht capsized and lost its keel.

"I would hate to lead 15 smart, beautiful young men into that kind of disaster," he said. "At the end of the day, if it goes pear-shaped and people get hurt that's my responsibility and I take that responsibility very seriously."

The 24m AAPT, skippered by Sean Langman, finished second, with race veteran Brindabella poised to claim third place.

Nicorette was a chance to become the first yacht since 1887 to claim both line and handicap honors, although Jez Fanstone's British 20m Aera appeared in a strong position to claim the handicap title.

Despite his success in an untested yacht built at breakneck speed over six months in Sydney this year, Ingvall was concerned hi-tech super-maxis placed more emphasis on speed than achieving the durability needed to compete in the Sydney to Hobart, which has been marked as one of the most dangerous yachting races in the world.

"They are so fast that in the wrong hands they'll be very dangerous," he said.

A salvage mission was due to be launched on Wednesday to retrieve the uninsured, US$3.1 million Skandia, which is drifting upside down in the notorious Bass Strait.

New Zealand super-maxi Konica Minolta was leading the race until a rogue wave split its cabin and damaged its keel support structure early on Tuesday and forced it to retire.

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