The super maxi, Alfa Romeo, left no doubt about her hot favouritism for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with a brilliant runaway win today in Sydney Harbour's annual spectacle of the maxi yachts, the Canon Big Boat Challenge.
However, in particular the British 97-foooter, Canon, the Swedish 83-footer, Nicorette, and the Melbourne 83-footer, Australian Skandia Wild Thing, showed they will be distinct threats over the 630 nautical miles of the race to Hobart.
A fleet of 18 boats, the largest in the nine year history of the Canon Big Boat Challenge, contested the 14 nautical mile dash around Harbour marks in a typical Sydney hot summer's day, tempered by a 12 knot north easterly sea breeze.
The Canon Big Boat Challenge has become an integral part of the sailing festival that surrounds the Sydney Hobart Race, the one time when the big maxi yachts that normally sail offshore can put a show on spectator on and lining the Harbour foreshores.
It is also a different type of racing for the maxi yachts, racing a tight course when mark roundings can be extremely crowded. These big boats need room to move and on the harbour room is at a premium, as is crew work. Any mistakes with the massive sails is not only costly in terms of the race, it is also very public.
That's what makes the race special for George Snow, the skipper of Brindabella who has won the event five times. Ïts one of Sydney's great sailing days: he declared back at the club. "Its great to share a little bit of the excitement of ocean racing with the public."
Helmed by owner Neville Richton, Alfa Romeo, a Reichel/Pugh 90-footer, displayed a deadly combination of exceptional boat speed and almost faultless crew work to overhaul Canon, the giant British 97 footer widely regarded as Alpha's biggest threat for line honours in Hobart.
Helming Canon today was Neil McDonald who last year skippered the Volvo 60, Assa Abloy, to a narrow line honours win the in the Sydney Hobart, which was part of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world.
The Volvo 60, Merit Navigator, skippered by Ian Treleaven, won a spectacular downwind start as two halves of the fleet charged at each other on different tacks to the start line, just squeezing out Broomstick and Magnavox, with Canon leading Alpha Romeo across the line as the two giants charged towards the first mark off Point Piper.
Canon held onto a narrow lead at the mark as the two boats launched themselves towards the Opera House and the second mark at Fort Denison under shy spinnakers.
The two boats raced neck and neck at speeds of more than fifteen knots in the twelve not breeze, but Alpha was able to hold onto her kite just fractionally longer than Canon, giving her a slight edge as the two rounded into the first windward leg up the harbour.
As they hardened onto the wind Alpha found the groove and steadily pulled away from the bigger boat, and from then on the race became something of a procession.
It all very nearly came unstuck for Alpha Romeo after she rounded the Sow and Pigs mark for the spinnaker run back down the harbour.
During a gybe a spinnaker brace went under the boat, wrapping itself around the keel. Throughout the drama Alpha managed to stay in front of Canon, though, and once the boat settled back down she began to build her lead, eventually crossing the finish line five minutes ahead of Canon.
Crichton gave full credit to his crew for yet another double victory for the new maxi that is starting to look unbeatable. "This is a good team of guys,"
he said. "They don't make many mistakes,"
although he conceded that if Canon had been able to retake the lead while Alpha wrestled with the fouled spinnaker brace the race could well and truly have been different.
1st Alfa Romeo (Neville Crichton)
2nd Heaven Can Wait (Warren Johns)
3rd Aftershock (Colin O'Neil)
1st Merit Navigator (Ian Treleaven)
2nd UBS Wild Thing (Geoff Lavis)
3rd Australian Skandia Wild Thing (Grant Wharington)
1st Alfa Romeo
2nd Canon (Mike Slade
3rd Nicorette (Ludde Ingvall)