Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wild Oats XI leads fleet out of Sydney Harbour

[Source: Rolex Sydney Hobart] The Mark Richards skippered 100 footer, Wild Oats XI, shrugged off a cheeky challenge from Grant Wharington’s Melbourne 98 footer, Wild Thing, to stamp its mark early on the Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours battle.

Despite forecasts that this will be one of the toughest Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Races in years, the 87 strong fleet started in remarkably mild conditions on a flat Sydney Harbour at 1pm today in an 11 knot west-nor-westerly breeze.

Both start lines reported clean starts as nearly 1000 competitors began the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Aussie yachting classic under overcast skies in a light wind that produced a colourful spinnaker procession out of the Harbour before the fleet turned at the seaward mark to point south towards Hobart.

On the eastern side of the front start line, reserved for the largest boats, Grant Wharington staged a nail-biting and brilliant start with just seconds to spare at the helm of Wild Thing. The 100 footers, Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI and Sean Langman and Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal squared off on the western side, while Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki timed things perfectly about a third of the way down the tightly congested line.

Wild Oats XI leads the fleet. Sydney, 26 December 2010. Photo copyright ROLEX / Carlo Borlenghi

As Wild Oats XI and Investec Loyal sprinted down the western harbour shore, Wild Thing steamed along the eastern shore in better pressure past Vaucluse and Watsons Bay.

Wild Oats XI won the sprint to the sea mark, 13 minutes 48 seconds into the race despite trailing her jib briefly in the water as she changed to her light Code Zero sail minutes after the start. Once she turned seaward, Wild Oats’ Code Zero made way for a giant spinnaker as the four-time line honours winner gybed to find the shortest route to the seaward mark.
Two boat lengths behind Wild Oats XI, Wild Thing and Investec Loyal converged on the harbour mark, Wild Thing squeezing her rival out as she slipped inside.

Investec Loyal immediately headed towards South Head and Wild Thing held her course toward the north, looking for the pressure advantage they needed to have any chance of mowing down the leader in these flat conditions.

The gamble didn’t paid off for Wharington, who also had an incident with a media boat just inside South Head, and by the time Wild Oats XI was at the sea mark, the point at which the impressive fleet converged and gave chase and turned the sea into boiling whitewater, the thoroughbred had opened a handy break on her line honours rivals.

The last boat to leisurely leave Sydney Harbour was the Italian entry Onelife, one of two entries in the Cruising Division.

Sometime this evening the fleet will encounter a southerly change of 15 to 20 knots accompanied by scattered thunderstorms.

RAN at the start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Sydney, 26 December 2010. Photo copyright ROLEX / Carlo Borlenghi

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