Favored supermaxi Wild Oats XI, winner of line honors in five of the past six years, led a fleet of 88 yachts out of Sydney Harbour at the start of the annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race yesterday.
Wild Oats XI sailed between Sydney Heads and into open ocean with a narrow lead over its main rival Investec Loyal and Wild Thing in the 67th edition of the race. Crew immediately hoisted a spinnaker and Wild Oats headed down the east coast of New South Wales state with a 20 knot (37.04kph) tailwind and on heavy swells.
The fleet was expected to sail into a southerly front yesterday night with headwinds of up to 40 knots, making any challenge to Wild Oats’ 2005 race record time unlikely.
Wild Oats XI struggled in the opening minutes of the race with a winch failure and had to give way to Investec Loyal as the yachts engaged in a tacking duel in the famous harbor. However, the race favorite eventually showed its speed and passed through the heads into the open ocean with a lead of several boat lengths.
Two yachts, Alchemy and Maluka of Kermandie, were forced to turn back and restart after breaking the start line early.
Yachts were expected to enjoy only a few hours of favorable sailing conditions before encountering the southerly front that passed through Victoria state on Sunday, bringing thunderstorms, high winds and hail.
“It is a pretty interesting looking forecast, there is a bit of everything in it, and it promises to be a tough race,” Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Garry Linacre said weather conditions could produce an intensely tactical race.
“There will be some fantastic speed set by the maxis down the coast,” Linacre said. “They will probably get 100 nautical miles [185.2km] under their belt before the change comes in, which is almost one-sixth of the race over, in just a few hours.”
Investec Loyal, which was second across the line last year and has since undergone modifications, looms as the largest rival to Wild Oats XI’s bid for a sixth line honors win. Lahana, which has finished second, third and fourth in previous years competing under three different names, is also seen as a leading chance.
The yachts and their crews often negotiate hazardous conditions during the Sydney-to-Hobart. Five boats sank during the 1998 race resulting in the deaths of six sailors.
On Saturday, Rob Webb, the New South Wales bureau of meteorology regional director, said the swell from Tropical Cyclone Fina was expected to affect the fleet on the first afternoon and evening, but won’t have a major impact on the race.
Adrienne Cahalan, the co-navigator aboard Wild Oats XI, predicted her boat could post a similar time to the two days, seven hours and 37 minutes it took to win last year.
However, she said the record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds set by Wild Oats XI in its 2005 debut would not be threatened.
VOLVO OCEAN RACE
AFP, CAPE TOWN
Spanish team Telefonica were reeling leg two Volvo Ocean Race pacesetters Camper back in on Sunday, halving their lead as the pair enjoyed a Christmas Day battle for points at the top of the leaderboard.
Telefonica, the overall leaders, were only 12 nautical miles behind Camper after a night of rain showers and high waves in the Indian Ocean.
The five-strong fleet, with France’s Groupama third, Puma fourth and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing bringing up the rear, are all nearing a secret stop-off location in the Indian Ocean from where they will be shipped to a restart position off the United Arab Emirates’ northern coast near Sharjah.