Monday, 28 December 2009

RSHYR: Alfa Romeo in box seat rival skipper concedes, big test looms this evening

Neville Crichton's RP100 Alfa Romeo this afternoon, past Gabo Island. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Jim Gale

Mike Slade, the skipper of the British maxi ICAP Leopard concedes that Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo may have opened the winning lead in the dash for line honours in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Speaking from his yacht this afternoon in the middle of Bass Strait, Slade said Alfa Romeo’s crucial break came around 9am this morning near Gabo Island after hours of frustratingly light winds.

“We were all just splashing about, there was no breeze whatsoever, and it’s always the case that someone will get that little extra puff,” Slade explained. “Alfa Romeo was in the right place to get it. We didn’t get it. Wild Oats XI didn’t get it, and Alfa put 10 miles on us both very quickly.”

Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said that Alfa Romeo was just three miles away when she made her break. “We were unfortunate to get into a hole. We could see Alfa when she got her nose into the new breeze. These things happen. There is always an element of luck and things went his way. It’s one of those frustrating things - a role reversal of 2005.”

In that race it was Wild Oats XI that got first use of the new breeze, opening up a lead that Alfa Romeo was never able to bridge.

However, this year there are still variables ahead of the boats that were absent in 2005. Both Slade and Richards see a huge hole in the wind just above Flinders Island, and Alfa Romeo will be the first to sail into it.

“This patch will be deathly quiet,” Slade predicts. “We will all just have to sit and put up with it for three hours, going nowhere again.

“It’s a weather transition and there is no way round it. It might stop Alfa Romeo dead in the water. Usually though it is first boat in first boat out, though, and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Slade is keeping his fingers crossed that the transition will allow him to get back in the race, close enough to Alfa Romeo that he can strike when the boats get to Tasman Island, where he again expects lighter, tricky conditions.

ICAP Leopard's bowman in action. Image copyright Rolex/Daniel Forster.

Richards, too, is hoping he can make the most of the hole ahead of them. “We hope Neville (Crichton, Alfa Romeo’s skipper) runs into the hole, and then we do a better job getting out of it this time. There is still 350 miles of sailing and we will keep pressing hard.”

Richards believes he is still in with a good chance, but Mike Slade thinks that the crucial break this morning could have decided the race. “I would be surprised if Alfa Romeo does something that lets us back in the hunt. At the moment if your money is on Alfa you’re a happy bunny.”

Slade has been both delighted and surprised that his own heavier ICAP Leopard has been ahead of Wild Oats XI for so much of this race. While this afternoon the boat has been sailing at speeds of around 16 knots in a 12 knot east/nor-easterly, so much of the race has been in frustratingly light wind - exactly what a heavy boat does not want.

“I don’t quite understand why Wild Oats XI is behind us,” he said. “In all conscience she should be beating us easily in these conditions.

“This transition ahead of us is going to be very exciting.

“There’s a lot of golf left in this hole yet.”

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

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