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6 December 2004, 11:27 am
Multi-million Dollar Fleet In Hobart Build-up
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Canon Big Boat Challenge
Sydney

When it comes time for the biggest and fastest racing yachts in Australia and New Zealand to flex their collective muscle on the world's most beautiful harbour, it's hard to escape the fact that the serious countdown to the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race has begun.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race line honours contenders, including last year's line honours winner, Grant WHARINGTON's 98-foot super maxi Skandia from Victoria, runner-up Konica Minolta (Stewart THWAITES), and third over the line, AAPT (Sean LANGMAN) will be on the start line of the 2004 Canon Big Boat Challenge this Friday, 10 December.

The Canon Big Boat Challenge, one of Sydney's most spectacular sporting and harbour fixtures, has attracted another multi-million dollar fleet which will go head-to-head on Sydney Harbour for the 14 nautical mile race, which starts off Steele Point at 12.30pm and takes the fleet twice around the harbour before finishing at the Opera House.

Athens Olympic butterfly finalist, former World Champion and 2000 Olympic Silver and Bronze medallist Geoff HUEGILL is used to setting a cracking pace in the water but this Friday, he will be on it and in the experienced hands of the New Zealand crew on the 98-footer Konica Minolta as they try to gain the psychological advantage of a line honours win over rival Skandia, also a 98-footer.

Over the event's 11 year history, it has attracted many sporting stars to be part of the day including Cathy FREEMAN, Pat RAFTER and Kostya TZU.

For the second year running, yachts sporting canting keel twin foil technology, such as Bob OATLEY's new Reichel/Pugh 66 Wild Oats, which finished second overall at this year's Rolex Maxi Worlds, and his previous Wild Oats, now called Wild Joe and skippered by Stephen DAVID, will compete, as will high rating IRC grand prix racers.

Oatley's crew, which includes America's Cup and World Match Racing Champions, are hoping for a back to back handicap win but aren't discounting a line honours upset having nearly pipped Skandia last year.

'We are 30 feet smaller but if it goes light and the 98 footers get into a sticky spot we could do some serious damage,' said helmsman Mark Richards this morning.

America's Cup helmsman and successful designer Iain Murray will also bring his vast experience to the starting line as the helmsman of Denis O'Neil's black-hulled Atomic, one of his more radical creations.

The new Lyons/Cawse 60 Vanguard, owned by the boat's co-designer Dick CAWSE, is also hoping to rattle the bigger boats with his hi-tech performer that has proven itself early with several harbour and offshore wins since its launch in October.

For last year's 10th anniversary Canon Big Boat Challenge, the 19th Century replica cannons used to start the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race were dusted off early for the occasion and this year, the same will happen with Canon's managing director Mr Tsukahara sending the fleet off at 12.30pm with a blast of cannon fire.

Spectators are encouraged to view the action from the water or the many foreshore vantage points including Bradleys Head, Darling Point, Mrs Macquarie's Chair and the Opera House.

Peter Campbell (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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