Monday, 28 December 2009

RSHYR: Downwind conditions on the way as Alfa Romeo turns up the heat

Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard in clear water. Image copyright ROLEX/Daniel Forster.

by Di Pearson

With winds swinging to the north-east in the vicinity of South Cape just after midday, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is really on, as Alfa Romeo extends her lead over ICAP Leopard and Wild Oats XI in the race of the 100 footers to be first yacht to the finish line in Hobart.

Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton’s Reichel Pugh design from New Zealand, has extended her lead to 11 miles over Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard, a Farr design from Great Britain, with a further 4 nautical mile gap to Wild Oats XI (NSW), Bob Oatley’s Reichel/Pugh skippered by Mark Richards.

According to Alfa Romeo’s strategist, Tom Addis, the nor-east breeze is very light and the top three are sailing with cracked sheets, travelling at just over eight knots.

However, the Bureau of Meteorology says the front half of the fleet can expect an east/north-easterly at 10-15 knots on a slight swell for the rest of the day, which should allow those in the right place to set spinnakers and put some speed on.

It is still early in the race, but if Crichton can continue the trend of putting some distance between his yacht and the rest of the fleet, Alfa Romeo will break the stranglehold that Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI has had on the 628 nautical mile race for the last four years.

Crichton and his crew of luminaries such as Addis, Michael Coxon, Noel Drennan, Peter Merrington and Stu Bannatyne, are 18 nautical miles east of South Cape, almost ready to enter Bass Strait. They still have 396nm to make the finish line though, and anything could happen between now and then.

In other news, it was a understandably devastated Limit crew that arrived back at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) this morning. A halyard was the cause of Alan Brierty and his crew’s retirement from the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race late last evening approximately 35nm east of Jervis Bay.

Arriving back at the CYCA, which organises the race, this morning at 10.15am, Brierty was so upset he left the Reichel/Pugh 62 designed yacht and the talking to his project manager and strategist Rodney Keenan, a well-respected international yachtsman from New Zealand.
"When we broke the first one (halyard), it damaged the second one and we thought we'd get away with it for a while, but we didn't,” explained Keenan of the halyards that connect the headsail to the top of the forestay. The yacht only has two, and without them, the yacht is effectively out of action.

"The ropes go through a lock system inside the mast and it's pretty hard to repair at sea. We tried to push on, but we decided when the second one failed, and we were in a seaway where it wasn't safe to send someone up the rig, to pull the pin,” he said.

“After a big year is pretty unfortunate,” said Keenan of Limit’s exceptional performance during the year, including winning the Rolex Trophy Rating Series from near-sistership and main rival for this race, Loki, Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel/Pugh 63, which is still in the race.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

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