The pace slowed at the head of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as the three leading maxis sailed into southerly headwinds crossing Bass Strait on the approach to the northeast coast of Tasmania.
At 20:00 local time on Thursday (27 December) Wild Oats XI
was still leading City Index Leopard
by approximately 19 nautical miles with another 13nm to Skandia
This morning's moderate to fresh southwester which put the three 98ft canting-keeled maxis on a fast and wet "firehose" close reach under large specialist reaching headsails eased and slowly headed them. The speeds of 12-15 knots they were hitting in the morning eased back to 8.5-12 by lunch time.
The close reaching in a moderate wave pattern suited the beamy Farr-designed Leopard. She has a chine in the aft third of her topsides when the boat is two-sail power reaching.
Owner/skipper Mike SLADE from Great Britain explains: "If the boat is balanced properly she will heel a little bit and sit on the chine which gives you a much cleaner wake on the leeward side. It makes the boat think that it is longer than it actually is."
However throughout the morning Leopard
was unable to make any gain on the 11nm lead that Wild Oats
established in the straight downwind VMG running conditions overnight after the Boxing Day start.
did hang in with Wild Oats
, sailing a similar track and within distance and could be a real threat tonight in the light winds expected along the Tasmanian coast. During the day Leopard
steadily stretched her lead over Grant WHARINGTON's four-year-old Don Jones-designed Skandia
to 11nm. By evening, with winds lightening and shifting southeast, Wild Oats
drew away again.
While Bob OATLEY's Reichel/Pugh designed Wild Oats XI
, skippered by Mark RICHARDS, is well-positioned to be first to finish for the third year in a row, her chance of breaking the race record she set in 2005 looks to have slipped away with the heading winds.
To beat the record time of one day 18 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds she would have to finish before 07:40 tomorrow morning. Throughout today, Wild Oat'
s estimated finish time blew out from 2 hours outside the record to 5 hours.
Forecasts and weather observations from Tasmanian coastal stations were not promising for the leaders closing in on Tasmania in the last critical miles of the 628nm course. Variable 5-15 knot winds were forecast for the waters east of Flinders Island in Bass Strait and the upper east coast of Tasmania.
Eddystone Point at the northeastern tip of Tasmania reported 15-19 knots from the southeast and St Helens, a third of the way down the east coast, had a south-sou'easter of 9-14 knots. A light southeaster is blowing in Hobart this evening.
IRC handicap overall leader was reckoned to be Huckleberry
, a 25-year-old S&S 34 owned by Steve HUMPHRIES of Perth and one of the smallest boats in the race, followed by the maxis Wild Oats XI
and then Rosebud
, American Roger STURGEON's Farr-designed STP 65.
Race Fleet Shifts Into Reaching Mode
Earlier today, the race fleet passed through light transitional winds between the strong overnight northerly, of up to 22 knots and into a weak southwest change.
The three maxis leading the fleet were close reaching in the southwester at good speeds between 12.4-15.1 knots across Bass Strait.
Yachts further back in the fleet slowed badly after the fresh northerly died ahead of the southwest change. Between 05:00 and 06:00 the TP52s Wot Yot
(Graeme WOOD) and Cougar II
(Alan WHITELEY) were doing 3.8 and 2.7 knots respectively and the British Volvo 70 Hugo Boss II
(Ross DANIEL) 2.7 knots.
This afternoon, Cougar II
retired from the race with chain plate damage and headed to Eden on the New South Wales south coast, bringing the total number of retirements to three in this unusually benign Hobart race. Seventy-nine boats are still racing.
Event Website - www.rolexsydneyhobart.com