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15 December 2005, 11:27 am
Steady Start For Stand In Maxi Skipper
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Rolex Trophy 2005
Sydney, Australia

Alfa Romeo showed a clean pair of heels to the fleet, winning both Division 0 races on the opening day of the Rolex Trophy Ratings Series on a beautiful sailing day in Sydney, Australia. Neville CRICHTON (AUS) was unable to helm his boat today as he was confined to his sickbed after a bout of food poisoning, but British tactician Adrian STEAD stepped up to the wheel and did an admirable stand in job.
Racing in light easterly breezes in a two-metre swell, the Reichel/Pugh canting-keeled Super Maxi led her near-sistership Wild Oats XI by over a minute at the first turning mark of the first race, She extended to a winning margin of 1 minute and 29 seconds by the top of the second beat, where the race committee shortened the race.

STEAD was delighted with the day, but by no means has he counted Wild Oats XI out of the reckoning. 'I'm pleased we raced at Hamilton Island a few weeks ago, because it means we know the boat that much better. I think we sailed the boat very well today, and we're learning a lot about how to change gears through different conditions. But the boys on Wild Oats are good sailors, and I see them now at the level that we were at in Hamilton.'

Alfa Romeo had a rocky moment off the second start, however, when STEAD found himself boxed out of the windward end of the line by Mark RICHARDS, the helmsman on Wild Oats. 'I realized I'd not made the final approach to the line as well as I should, so the goal then was to work ourselves into a place where we could tack and get a clear lane out to the right,' STEAD admitted. This they managed, and again used their superior knowledge and experience to extend on Wild Oats and the rest of the fleet as the wind increased to 15 knots.

Loki, a fixed-keel Reichel/Pugh 66 owned by Stephen AINSWORTH, sailed a good day behind the two Maxis, and lies second equal overall on handicap with Wild Oats XI behind Alfa Romeo.

The organizing club, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA), have split the fleet into canting-keel and fixed-keel boats, which meant that Stewart THWAITES'S conventional Maxi, Konica Minolta, was not racing directly with the Reichel/Pugh boats. But the Kiwi Maxi was still sailing around the same race track and after the first windward leg of 2.45 nm, Konica Minolta was almost six minutes behind. The sailing community is staggered at the margin of development that this latest generation of computer-controlled canting-keel technology has delivered, and the two new Reichel/Pughs must rank as clear favourites for the battle for line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race which starts in eleven days.

Against the other big boats in Division 1, Konica Minolta had an inconsistent day. Fifth out of six was not a good start for a team that includes former Whitbread Race winner Ross FIELD (NZL) and America's Cup helm Gavin BRADY (NZL), but they made amends in the stronger breezes of the afternoon, taking the race on corrected time by just 14 seconds from Geoff ROSS's 52 foot Judel Vrolijk Yendys. Added to her victory in the first heat, Yendys sits at the top of the Division 1 leaderboard ahead of Vanguard, a 60 footer designed and skippered by Richard CAWSE.

Roger HICKMAN was racing aboard Yendys today. 'It was a good day for Yendys and a good sailing day for everyone out there,' said the CYCA vice-commodore. 'We've divided the canting keels from the fixed keels because we think it's the right division to make. We can't yet say if it's the right answer, of course, but we are at least trying to make this enjoyable racing for everyone.'

In the smaller boats of Division 2, Ray ROBERTS' (AUS) DK46 Quantum Racing lived up to its billing as one of the event favourites, winning both heats ahead of Leslie GREEN's Swan 45 Ginger. 'It was champagne sailing out there today, the best conditions I've seen in Sydney all year,' said ROBERTS, newly returned from victory at the King's Cup in Thailand. ROBERTS put his two wins down to the lessons learned from that regatta in light-air rig set-up, and also in their correct reading of the currents off the Sydney coastline. 'We recognized quite early that it paid to be on the northerly side of the course,' said ROBERTS, 'and it also paid to use that current for as long as possible downwind. That's why we always gybed each time soon after the windward mark.'

Quantum Racing would not have looked so smart, however, if the media boat had not answered a last minute call from ROBERTS out to sea, when the crew realized they had left the mainsail headboard on their spare main back on shore. Without it, they would have been unable to use the mainsail in any but the lightest of breezes. Marina manager Frank BERGMANN hunted around for the spare main on shore and produced the headboard for the media boat to take out to sea. 'Had the start not been delayed then we wouldn't have made the first race,' admitted ROBERTS, who added with a smile, 'Not to name names, but suffice it to say that Steve MCCONAGHEY was issued a yellow card by the skipper for that little incident.'

Two more races are scheduled tomorrow, with the Rolex Trophy Ratings Series due to conclude this Sunday.

Event Media (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Alfa Romeo got off to a flying start:© Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex
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