Favorite ‘Wild Oats XI’ leads Sydney to Hobart yacht race

AP, SYDNEY, Australia

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 - Page 20

Favorite Wild Oats XI led a 76-yacht fleet out of Sydney Harbor and held a 4 nautical mile (7.4km) lead over fellow super maxi and defending champion Ragamuffin Loyal late yesterday on the first night of the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

With spinnakers up, the fleet weaved its way around thousands of spectator craft in the harbor before heading out to the Tasman Sea for the 628 nautical mile race south to the island state of Tasmania.

Late yesterday evening, Wild Oats XI led Ragamuffin Loyal, with Lahana in third place as the yachts sailed down the coast of New South Wales state into a strong southerly wind. Ichi Ban was in fourth place, followed by Black Jack and Loki.

Many yachts were reporting bigger waves and swells than were initially forecast.

The leaders were well off the 2005 race record pace of Wild Oats XI (1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes, 10 seconds), although they were expected to gain speed if the forecast northerlies arrive today.

“It’s a hard tactical race,” Ichi Ban sailing master Michael Spies said. “There won’t be too much sleep for the decision-makers.”

Ragamuffin Loyal was being skippered by 85-year-old Syd Fischer, who is taking part in his 44th Sydney to Hobart race.

Two hours before the start of the race, officials said super maxi Wild Thing, the 2003 line honors winner, would not be allowed to compete because it had not provided necessary documentation following hull modifications.

Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Howard Piggott said the boat’s owner had failed to provide paperwork after the length of the yacht’s hull was extended.

“The race committee has worked with the owner of the boat to allow him up to three hours prior to the start of race to provide the documentation required,” Piggott said. “However, this has not been forthcoming. The race committee has no option but to not accept the entry of Wild Thing.”

“We are absolutely devastated to be told at the 11th hour that we are unable to race to Hobart,” Wild Thing skipper Grant Wharington said. “We’re a bit stuck for words as to why it happened.”

Wharington said he had his mobile phone switched off during a pre-race briefing to his crew when Piggott tried to call yesterday morning.