Skippers of the three leading line honours contenders in the 2002 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race today agreed that five or six yachts, even as many as a dozen, were capable of getting the gun on Derwent River.
They said that Alfa Romeo (formerly Shockwave), Leopard of London and Nicorette ranked as the top favourites, but emphasised the depth of competition from boats like Australian Skandia Wild Thing, Brindabella, Grundig, Broomstick and the former Volvo 60s, Merit and Magnavox, were all potential line honours winners if weather conditions favoured those particular boats.
"As a competitor, it is fantastic to be part of a race with extremely proficient sailors and an impressive fleet,"
said Neville Crichton, owner/skipper of the 90-footer Alfa Romeo. "Challenges like this brings out the best in our crew as we are in this to win."
Ludde Ingvall, owner/skipper of the 79-footer Nicorette, further added: "The quality and professionalism of our crew this year is of the highest standard, since we have a number of sailors from the America's Cup challengers and the Volvo Ocean Challenge race around the world sailing with us."
Chris Sherlock, boat captain and helmsman of the 97-footer, Leopard of London, said, "We have come a long way to participate in this race and we are looking forward to the challenges of the southern ocean including racing against such strong competitors."
"The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is renowned as one of the world's toughest ocean races and we are thrilled with having one of the best line-ups of grand prix IMS and IRC rated yachts of any long ocean race worldwide,"
said Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore John Messenger.
The fleet of 57 represents a cross-section of Australian ocean racing boats, plus overseas entrants, crewed by some of the world's leading professional sailors as well as by amateur sailors.
Yachts and crew are coming from Great Britain, France, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States of America. These, along with Australian yachts from New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victorian, will all be challenging the 630 nautical mile south from Sydney.
Commodore Messenger added: "The competition will be tough in all classes and the overall winner will be very deserving of the prestigious Tattersalls Cup."
Also present at this morning's announcement was the oldest skipper in the fleet, 80-year-old John Walker (Impeccable) and one of the youngest, Marcus Jones, who is sailing on Ichi Ban. Walker said, "after 18 years of competing, there is still the same challenge and the same feeling of satisfaction in finishing the race."
Short odds line honours favourite is Sydney-based New Zealander Neville Crichton's Reichel/Pugh-designed Alfa Romeo. However, Alfa Romeo will have strong competition from the other maxi yachts in the fleet - Ludde Ingvall's Nicorette from Sweden, which took line honours in the 2000 race and placed a close second to the Volvo 60, Assa Abloy, last year, along with Sydney yachtsman George Snow's 80-footer Brindabella, also a former line honours winner, and the 83-footer, Australian Skandia Wild Thing, owned by Victorian Grant Wharington and line honours winner of the Sydney - Gold Coast Race in August.
Then there is Leopard of London, the racey-looking Reichel/Pugh designed super maxi that has been lengthened to 97-feet LOA, making her not only the biggest boat in the fleet but also the biggest racing yacht to have ever contested the Sydney Hobart Race. Her English owner, Michael Slade, has spent around $3 million in refurbishing the yacht before shipping her here to Sydney where she arrived last week.
Snapping at their transoms in a hard downwind race will be the Open 66s, Grundig (Sean Langman) and Broomstick (Michael Cranitch and Ray Wallace) and the former Volvo 60s, Merit (Ian Treleaven), which recently broke the race record in the 408 nautical mile Gosford to Lord Howe Island Race, and Magnavox, owned by the partnership of Stan Zemanek, Mark Gray, Julie Hodder and Peter Sorensen.
Picking the Overall Winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the best performing boat on corrected time (handicap) under the IMS (International Measurement System) is like picking the winner of the Melbourne Cup. Commodore John Messenger, an experienced ocean racing yachtsman, said today the fleet was the not only the best but the most open he has seen in many years.
"Virtually any boat in the fleet has a chance of winning under the IMS or IRC handicap categories, or indeed both categories if they are eligible,"
he said. "There will be great competition right across the fleet with more emphasis also being placed on divisions within IMS and IRC and, of course, the boat-for-boat contests between the one-design Sydney 38 and Farr 52 classes."
The IMS/IRC fleet ranges in size from 30-footers Red Rock Communications (Chris Bowling) and Zeus II (Jim Dunstan) through to the Sydney 38 One Designs headed by Australian champion, veteran Lou Abrahams in Another Challenge, the grand prix 50-footers such as Ragamuffin (Syd Fischer), Sting (Terry Mullens) and Quest (Bob Steele), the Farr 52s Ichi Ban (Matt Allen) and Hollywood Boulevard (Ray Roberts) through to the super maxis, Alfa Romeo (Neville Crichton) and Leopard of London (Mike Slade).