Overall IMS winner of the 2002 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race hangs in the balance with two of the smallest yachts in the fleet sailing their final 100 miles knowing the prize is within their grasp.
The Nelson/Marek 46-footer Quest, from NSW, skippered by Bob Steel, has the best corrected time of the 10 yachts already finished in this premier Division for the historic Tattersall's Cup.
The veteran small yachts Zeus II and Impeccable, both from NSW and both skippered by long-time competitors of this ocean classic, appear to have good chances of displacing Quest from provisional first place.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the lower east coast contains a strong wind warning
with north to northeasterly winds 15 to 25 knots reaching 30 knots offshore at times. In Storm Bay, the winds will be lighter at 10-20 knots, lighter in the west and increasing to 15-20 knots overnight.
However, in the critical final dash up the Derwent River the forecast is for variable winds of about 10 knots but tending northwesterly overnight at 10-20 knots.
Quest finished at 9.03 am today and to beat her, Impeccable, a Peterson 34 skippered by 80-year-old John Walker from Middle Harbour Yacht Club has to finish before 12.46 am to beat Quest.
At this afternoon's position report from the fleet, Impeccable gave her position as 26 miles north of Tasman Island with 70 miles to sail, with a computer giving her ETA at 11.12pm this evening based on her current speed.
Zeus II, a Currawong 30 which won this race on the IOR rating system in 1981, has until 10.08am tomorrow to beat Quest.
At the 2 pm sked today Zeus II, skippered by former Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron Commodore Jim Dunstan, was second last boat in the fleet giving her position 15 miles north of Freycinet Pt, 115 miles from the finish.
What will confront these boats are the conditions that plagued finishers today - light and variable winds in Storm Bay and the Derwent River that gave several crews their slowest sailing of the race and eliminated several likely contenders for top Overall positions. Among these was Lou Abraham skippering his Sydney 38, Another Challenge in his 40th personal race.
"We parked around the Iron Pot and that cost us an hour to an hour and a half," said Abrahams on arrival in Constitution Dock.
"You race from Sydney, and then you've got another race happening in the Derwent working hard with sails up and sails down trying to capture every breath of wind," he said.
There is a similar situation to decide overall top placings in the IRC Division with the veteran New Zealand Davidson 55-footer Starlight Express, skippered by Stewart Thwaites, currently the best-placed yachts of the 18 boats which have finished in the Division.
Another of the mosquito fleet, the Victorian 31-footer Toecutter, skippered by her designer and builder Robert Hick, faces a difficult task this afternoon, having to finish before 6.26pm to displace Starlight Express.
With eligible yachts able to compete under both IMS and IRC Handicap Systems, Impeccable, is also a good prospect to win, having until 12.25 am tomorrow to finish as has the veteran Victorian boat, Bacardi, skippered jointly by Australian Yachting Federation president, Graham Ainley and co-owner John Williams. The Victorian Peterson 44, built in 1978 and sailing her 20th race had until 5.42pm this evening but late this afternoon still had not had entered the Derwent River.
Another smaller boat with a late-finishing prospect in both the IMS and IRC Divisions is David Taylor's Farr 37 Pippin, from Sydney, which has until 9.18 pm to finish and move to the top of the leader board in the IMS Division. At 2 pm this afternoon, she was eight miles north of Tasman Island and unlikely in the conditions to achieve this target.
At 5.30 pm three yachts, Loki (NSW), Krakatoa (NSW) and Nips 'N Tux (NSW) were in the Derwent River in very little struggling for the line.
Protest hearings tomorrow
The International Jury will hear two protest hearings tomorrow morning arising from collisions at and soon after the start of the 630 nautical mile race.
Neither protest has any implication regarding the top placings in either handicap divisions.
The first hearing, starting at 9.30am, is by the Queensland yacht Trumpcard against the Sydney yacht Loki, citing international racing rules 2, 11, 12, 14, and 16 mostly covering part two of the International Racing Rules of Sailing - concerning right of way situations when boats meet.
However, Trumpcard is also protesting under Rule 2 - fair sailing.
At 10.30 am the International Jury will hear the protest by the Tasmanian yacht Valheru against the French-Australian entry Peugeot Racing, arising from a collision as the yachts were leaving Sydney Harbour.
Both hearings will be heard by the International Jury, comprising Chairman Ronnie McCracken, from Hong Kong, John Kirkjian (Aus), Tony Mooney (Aus), Rob Green (New Zealand) and Donald Brooke (New Zealand).