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5 March 2004, 09:32 am
Two Favourites Struggle
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Joico Australian Offshore Championship

Bob STEEL, winner of the 2002 Sydney-Hobart race with his Quest, was beginning to wonder if he would ever be a winner in the Joico Australian Offshore Championship until the results were tabled tonight for the 50 nautical mile distance race.
Steel's beaming smile said it all. Quest had at last broken the drought in the IRC division. The yacht was a clear winner over Tony KIRBY'S well-sailed Bavaria Match 38, Game Set and the Elliott 11 metre, Veloce (Phil SIMPFONDORFER).

"The perfect result for a perfect race," said Steel back at Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. "It was one of the most pleasant races I've done for a long time, so it was good to come home to a win."

Steel had another reason to smile tonight. The victory also moved Quest, with 12 points, was the new outright leader for the Australian title. Kevin WOOD'S Beneteau 40.7, Ticket of Leave, was second on 13 while Game Set and Ichi Ban were tied on 14.

The surprise result of the day on the course that took the fleet from Palm Beach north to Bird Island and back to Broken Bay came from Matt ALLEN'S series leader, the Farr 52 Ichi Ban. The big boat finished ninth on corrected time, a place primarily brought about by a large clump of kelp that wrapped around the keel.

"It was a real dilemma for us. We had to decide if we should stop to get it off the keel or to keep going and hope it washed off," said Allen. "We chose the latter, and the weed stayed with us all the way. We probably would have lost 10 minutes if we had chosen to clear it."

Frustratingly for Allen, and sailing master Roger HICKMAN, the result sheet showed Ichi Ban more than 15 minutes behind the winner on corrected time.

Richard HUDSON'S Farr 45, Pretty Woman, suffered the same fate as Ichi Ban and finished tenth.

All crews enjoyed the coastal course, which saw the fleet start in a light southerly. Half way to Cape Three Points a typical Sydney north-easterly sea breeze moved in, and as they progressed towards Bird Island it strengthened to around 16 knots. That made for a very satisfying downwind slide to the finish.

After winning the day's first of three races in the Joico Sydney 38 One-Design Australian Championship, recently arrived Sydney resident and class newcomer Leon CHRISTIANAKIS went close to seeing his chances of taking the title disappear when the steering failed on his yacht, Cydon.

"A shackle broke and we went out of control just after we tacked," Christianakis explained. "We were in a really tight situation and there was just nothing we could do. Fortunately the crew on Cinquante saw we were in trouble and crash tacked to miss us. It could have been very nasty. They missed us by a very small margin."

With the steering repaired Cydon went on to finish sixth in the final race of the day, a result that saw them in third place on the points table without a discard. With a score of 4,1,3 on the day Rush, sailed by Cameron MILES and Steve ROBSON, became the series leader with a total of 21 points. Another Challenge, campaigned by 76-year-old Lou Abrahams, is second on 41 and Cydon third on 47.

The Australian Championship fleet of 26 is the largest gathering of Sydney 38s in the history of the class.

Tomorrow and Sunday an additional 42 yachts in four divisions join the racing. They will be competing for the Joico Cup. Their participation will take the combined fleets total to more than 80, making it the largest weekend regatta the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club has ever staged.

But the club's Race Officer, Denis THOMPSON, will be faced with some anxious moments with the weather tomorrow morning. An easterly gale and rising seas are forecast for the course area. Thompson said tonight that current indications were that the yachts might be able to complete the first of the two scheduled races offshore. Then, if the conditions did deteriorate, new courses would be established inside Pittwater.

Full results are available on the event website at the address below.
Rob Mundle (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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