Wild Oats XI set for record in Sydney-Hobart race
SYDNEY (AFP) –
Wild Oats XI was on track to beat the Sydney to Hobart yacht race record and claim a sixth line honours win as controversy raged over the expulsion of supermaxi Wild Thing.
The favourite led the 76-vessel fleet out of Sydney Harbour on Wednesday in the annual 628-nautical mile bluewater classic, boosted by a strong southerly wind.
A lighter breeze during the night saw second-placed Ragamuffin-Loyal close the gap, but as northeasterly breezes kicked in, Wild Oats XI pulled away again in near-perfect downwind conditions.
At 0415 GMT, its lead had been extended to 35 nautical miles as it ploughed across the treacherous Bass Strait in freshening 25-knot winds towards the finish line at Constitution Dock in Tasmania.
With 234 nautical miles to go, Wild Oats was well on the way to beating its own race record of one day, 18 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds, set in 2005.
Fellow maxi Lahana was running third, ahead of Black Jack and Loki, with no retirements so far.
“We’re just going to go faster and faster as the day goes on today,” Wild Oats skipper Mark Richards told Channel Nine.
“Its going to be a great ride. It all depends on what happens with the southerly front at the other end.”
According to reports, a south-westerly change was expected some time this evening. If it brings calm conditions, then Wild Oats could fall short of the record.
The crew had a busy night constantly changing sails and the boat also hit an unknown object and damaged one of its daggerboards beneath the hull.
Second-placed Ragamuffin-Loyal, skippered by 85-year-old Syd Fischer, was doing everything it could to chase Wild Oats down.
According to the official race website, Fischer has been on deck “cracking the whip” in a bid to defend the boat’s line honours title, having beaten Wild Oats XI by three minutes and eight seconds in 2011.
But they have been facing problems with a headsail fitting breaking. There was also damage to the furling system.
Navigator Andrew Cape said the crew could not see Wild Oats but were trying to make the most of brisk north-northeast winds.
“We can’t see (Oats). We’d like to see them, we’d like to be in front of them. But we’re not. So we’ll just have to keep going,” he said.
As the race continued, so did the fallout over the disqualification of Wild Thing, the 2003 line honours winner which was among the top three race favourites.
Officials banned it just three hours before the start, citing incomplete documentation of major modifications which extended the vessel to 100 feet.
Veteran skipper Grant Wharington said he was “dumbfounded” at the decision and told ABC television Thursday he believed he had the right documentation.
“I think they are trying to manipulate the words around to make it difficult to comply with their particular wording,” he said.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia commodore Howard Piggott insisted it was Wharington’s fault.
“There is no conspiracy, this club has done everything to assist Mr Wharington,” he told the ABC. “That document was not given to us in an acceptable form within the time limit.”