The 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race line honours podium filled this morning when Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI and Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard finished in second and third positions, whilst a strong southerly to southwesterly change sweeping up the Tasmanian coast slowed the 87 yachts still at sea.
Wild Oats XI finished at 00:05, 2 hours and 3 minutes behind her Reichel/Pugh 100 near-sister yacht Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo. Leopard, a Farr 100, finished at 05:45, 5 hours and 40 minutes behind Wild Oats XI.
Next to finish, at 07:34, was another 100ft maxi, the Greg Elliott-designed Investec Loyal (Sean Langman), which previously raced for New Zealand owners as Maximus.
Fifth home, at 09:27, was Niklas Zennstrom's Ran from Great Britain, a Judel/Volijk-designed 72-footer that was overall handicap winner in the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race.
Ran has a chance of winning the race's major trophy, the Tattersall's Cup, for the first yacht on IRC corrected time. She has certainly beaten Alfa Romeo, which led the IRC overall standings for a time yesterday, denying Crichton the rare handicap/line honours double.
Wild Oats' Mark Richards was gracious in defeat. "It was a tactical race and we never got a look in really," Richards said. "They had a little edge on us on the first night and the next morning we were in a big parking lot together. They got out first and put 30 miles on us before we knew what had happened."
Mike Slade had an historical perspective of the close three-way battle of the maxis: "When Napoleon turned up at Waterloo he knew he was in for a bad day, he had a bad day at the office didn't he? I've been a bit like that. It was a fantastic race and well done Alfa, bloody marvellous."
Slade said that Leopard had gambled by sailing farther offshore than Alfa and Oats down the east coast of Australia rather than sailing in Alfa's wake. "We went offshore because there was no point in covering Alfa's tracks; she had about 20 miles on us and we just got locked out. We had about four shut-downs and it was as frustrating as hell. We sat there for hours, watching them go away. That cost us. We got punished."
Rounding Tasman Island was the worst Slade had experienced. "There was no wind and appalling seas; really nasty because it's a lee shore, you've got no steerage because there's no wind, but the seas were huge and that took us a couple of hours.
"Alfa and Oats had already gone round. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer, that's what the game's all about. So it was a shocker but we loved every minute of it. We will be back to do another one I think - the boat's a glutton for punishment."
Ran, after performing well in the fresh upwind work on the first night, parked in calms before zooming back into handicap contention with a blistering run on the new nor'-west breeze off Flinders Island.
Ran's owner/skipper Niklas Zennstrom said: "The race at times was frustrating, we got parked up. Yesterday afternoon we had a fantastic run, we were reaching at up to 24 knots of boat speed, averaging 18 and 19 knots. It was excellent sailing.
"This morning was also very good; last night we had a few stops and goes. But we are happy with how the boat performed on corrected time and we will have to wait and see how the other boats are going on handicap.
"At times it looked really, really bad for us and really good for the small boats, but that's how it is. All you can do is sail as good as you can and avoid making as many mistakes as possible. I don't think we made too many mistakes."
Ran's tactician Adrian Stead said that after riding the northwester fast, Ran hit a light spot last evening, 20 miles northeast of Maria Island. "We got through that and sailed the last bit up here pretty well, very conscious that 10:20 was our deadline to beat Alfa," he said.
At 16:00, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a strong wind warning for the lower east coast, from Wineglass Bay to Tasman Island for southwest to southerly winds of 30 knots in open waters at first, easing to 5-15 knots by late evening, with two to three metre seas and a southwest swell of 2.5 to 3.5 metres.
The winds would then tend northeast to northerly at 10-20 knots during tomorrow morning before increasing during the afternoon to 20-30 knots by evening.
For the yachts covering the remaining miles of the 628 nautical mile race, the forecast meant a bumpy, wet night of tacking upwind before the strong northerly picks up the fleet still at sea and propels them towards Tasman Island at a very fast pace on a wild spinnaker ride.
That scenario removes any certainty about the computer calculations of the likely winner of the Tattersall's Cup for the overall IRC handicap winner.
But it is comforting for a leading contender for the Tattersall's Cup, already tied up at the Kings Pier Marina in Hobart. At 18:00, Zennstrom's Judel/Vrolijk 72 Ran, was showing up in 15th position on corrected time calculations.
Ran's tactician, Adrian Stead, said: "We're in good shape; we got Neville [Alfa Romeo] by 50 minutes or so, which is good and we sailed really well. All we can do now is wait and see how we shape up."
Also at 18:00, Tony Kirby's X41 Patrice 6 was calculated to be leading IRC overall handicap from an eclectic mix of designs and sizes. She was 12nm east of Cape Sonnerat, between the coastal villages of Swansea and Triabunna, making seven knots with 96nm to sail.
Second was Andrew Saies' Beneteau First 40 Two True, followed by Wicked (Mike Welsh), another Beneteau First 40. Then came the Spanish entry Charisma (Alejandro Perez Calzada), a 1970 Sparkman & Stephens IOR rule design that should revel in the strong upwind conditions.
One IRC handicap result that is certain is the win of Neville Crichton's 100ft super-maxi Alfa Romeo, the line honours winner, in IRC division 0 for canting keel-powered boats and the second place in that division for Matt Allen's modified Jones-design Volvo 70, unbeatable in second place on current position reports.
Allen said the Volvo 70 was a very good boat for upwind and in high-wind pressure sailing. In the southwester of up to 25 knots on the first night, she worked up to within a half mile behind Wild Oats XI.
"We were not overly surprised to see that, but we knew the next night in the lighter airs and with the bigger sails the maxis carry, giving away rating, they would get through that first light-air gate. Only the three boats got through and the next morning we were there with all our fellow-sized boats stuck for five or six hours."
Allen said that every night there were challenges. "You'd sail through the day, with quite a few wind shifts, but generally the night-time sailing was tricky. Every night we parked up. Tactically it was a very interesting race, because you had to work out where you were going to get through in the next transition.
"Last night we'd had a 30-knot northwesterly and we were doing 25 knots, white water coming over the boat. It lasted for an hour and-a-half and within minutes it went down really quickly: to ten knots, to five and then zero. So we went from having 30 knots to being in no wind with leftover swell and you could only go in one direction, with the waves.
"The big transition zones had the navigators really on their toes, playing the angles and trying to work out how to handle the next transition."
With eight yachts finished, and five yachts retired, there are 87 yachts still racing to the finish in Hobart.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet has crews representing the USA, Great Britain, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, and New Caledonia as well as every Australian state.
Find out more at www.rolexsydneyhobart.com.