Victorian yachtsman Grant Wharington has set his crew nine consecutive races as their final preparation aboard the 98-footer Skandia in his bid to win line honours in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Today was the first, the Canon Big Boat Challenge sailed in fickle winds and thunder storms on Sydney Harbour; tomorrow will be the first three races of the eight-race Rolex Trophy Series over the weekend.
Unlike the Big Boat Challenge which was sailed in flat water and light winds around fixed marks on Sydney Harbour, tomorrow's racing for the Rolex Trophy Series will be offshore, in rising seas and freshening sea breezes, more akin to the Hobart Race conditions.
"We have a new boat, it is going well and the crew work was great today, but we are looking forward to the Rolex Trophy Series over the weekend as our final race preparation for the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race,"
In a day which saw violent thunderstorms create fickle winds, Skandia came from astern to catch the runaway leader, Bob Oatley's Wild Oats, in the final 60 metres of the 10 nautical mile race.
Wild Oats is only 60-feet LOA but has established a remarkable record, including setting a record for the Pittwater to Coffs Harbour Race in Australia and leading the winning Australian team at the 2003 Admiral's Cup in England.
Although widely different in size, both boats have canting keels, with Wild Oats recently been fitted with a new canting winged keel.
At least eight grand prix yachts with the potential to win the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on handicap will also sail their final preparations for the ocean classic this weekend.
The eight race regatta starts tomorrow with three races, followed by three on Sunday and two on Monday, sailing courses on Sydney Harbour and off Sydney Heads.
While Skandia is the favourite for line honours in the 627 nautical mile Rolex Sydney Hobart, she is not eligible for the overall handicap trophy, the historic Tattersalls Cup which is decided on IMS (International Measurement System) handicaps, because she has a canting keel.
The Rolex Trophy Series has attracted most of the major contenders for the Tattersalls Cup including Geoff ROSS' new Yendys, a champion Portugese racing yacht he has imported from Europe, and Bounder, his original Yendys, which has been chartered by Chris LITTLE, Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club in England.
Other contenders for the Tattersalls Cup include Melbourne boats Chutzpah (Bruce TAYLOR) and Terra Firma (Nick BARTELS) and local Sydney boats Ichi Ban (Matt ALLEN), Nips N Tux (Howard de TORRES), Ragamuffin (Syd FISCHER) and Krakatoa (Rod SKELLET).
These boats will race in the IMS and IRC divisions while a smaller but classy fleet of Farr 40 One Design yachts will race in their own division.
Known as an owner/driver class, these yachts will be driven by their owners, who include champion American skipper Jim RICHARDSON (Barking Mad), New Zealand super maxi owner Neville CRICHTON (Team Shockwave), Australian champion Marcus BLACKMORE (Emotional Hooligan) and Lang WALKER (Kokomo).