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10 December 2004, 09:41 am
Kiwis Outgun Aussies
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Canon Big Boat Challenge

New Zealander Stewart THWAITES launched a broadside at his Aussie rivals on Sydney Harbour today with a runaway victory in the Canon Big Boat Challenge, the annual classic race around the buoys for the biggest and fastest yachts currently racing in Australia.

Thwaites' 98-footer, Konica Minolta, led virtually all the way over the 14 nautical mile course in this unique opportunity to see super maxis, maxis and pocket maxis show their paces within a working port.

Apart from being one of the most prestigious events on the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's yachting calendar, the Canon Big Boat Challenge is regarded as a guide to line honours' fortunes in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race starting on Boxing Day, December 26.

However, Stewart THWAITES did not want to read too much into his win, commenting: 'I never feel confident about the Hobart Race, I'll never be confident until we get there first.'

He admitted, however, that he felt the boat was going faster, the crew work was better and the adding of a bowsprit had proven a great success. 'We have now taken line honours in our last seven races in Australia, beating Skandia twice at Hamilton Island, winning all four races in the Savills regatta and now winning today,' he added.

The next clash between the two super maxis will be in the Rolex Trophy Rating Series from December 16-19.

Although only a short race, a lot of gamesmanship is centred on the Canon Big Boat Challenge and that was clearly apparent today.

Big disappointment of the event, sailed in a 10-15 knot north-easterly on a humid overcast day was Skandia, Grant Wharington's 98-footer, which lost ground early in the race, then became embroiled in a luffing duel with Sean Langman's AAPT that took them both right off the course.

Skandia's problems began soon after the start when a new halyard twisted around the spinnaker sock as the crew attempted to gybe the asymmetric spinnaker. The huge sail tore and had to be pulled down, with Skandia quickly losing boatspeed and being passed by other boats.

Konica Minolta hit the start line at full speed with America's Cup sailor Gavin Brady on the helm, hoisting her massive spinnaker from behind the line before the gun and quickly taking the lead from Targé, the ex Wild Joe, ex Wild Oats, with Iain Murray on the helm.

Converging on the first mark, off Point Piper, Konica Minolta, with owner Thwaites now steering, gybed around ahead of Bob Oatley's latest Wild Oats, the canting keel Reichel/Pugh 66 that earlier this year finished second in the Maxi World Rolex Cup in Sardinia.

Wild Oats, with Mark Richards on the helm, chased Konica Minolta around the Harbour course and finished just over three minutes astern in what was her first race in Australia. Third to finish was Skandia which did recover well, overtaking Targé and AAPT, but she was still four minutes astern of Konica Minolta at the finish.

Wild Oats' performance was so good that she won the IRC division on corrected time from Targé, Konica Minolta and Skandia. Wild Oats is not racing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, instead competing in the shorter Strathfield Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race which has no restrictions on her canting keel configuration.

AAPT, Sean LANGMAN's radical Open 66, won the PHS division from CYCA Commodore Martin James' Farr 65, Maserati, which will be skippered to Hobart by Ian 'Buggsy' Potter, and the harbour racer Bashfull, skippered by former CYCA Commodore David Fuller.

Langman did not attempt to fly his controversial kite-sail spinnaker which he plans to use on long offshore runs in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race.

Peter Campbell (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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