Head winds foil Solo Tasman fleet

Steven Arms helming Nitro at the start of the 2010 Solo Tasman Race
Lindsay Wright

Fickle weather patterns in the Tasman Sea look set to foil Bruce Arm’s bid to break the New Plymouth to Mooloolaba solo yacht race record.

Last night he was 580 km from Mooloolaba but sailing at only eight knots on a course that will take him in south of the finish line. To beat the record, set by Bullfrog Sunblock in 1986, he will have to arrive before 9:50pm today (Sat – subs) but he’s now predicted to finish his race early on Sunday morning.

The 49 year old skipper is also project manager and mentor to Jessica Watson, the 16 year old Australian who is nearing Tasmania on the final leg of her bid to be the youngest solo circumnavigator. Arm’s plan was to cross the finish line, embark fresh stores and his wife Suzanne, then sail to Tasmania and accompany Watson up the Australian coast to a hero’s welcome in Sydney.

Strider (Carl Harmer) at the start of the 2010 Solo Tasman Race
Lindsay Wright
The trans-Tasman speed record would have capped what’s been a busy year for Arms but, failing a dramatic change in conditions, it looks like he’ll be sailing south empty handed.

According to Barrie Vivian, radio operator for the Fitzroy Yachts sponsored race, Arms had also reported some minor rips in his brand new mainsail.

Meanwhile, further back in the fleet, Ian Lillie’s (Island Girl) hard charging heavy weather tactics had paid off and he was maintaining a nine kilometer lead from Trevor Hill sailing Apriori. Strong north westerlies had affected the whole fleet though and neither yacht was laying a course for Mooloolaba, which is straight into the wind, so who will be first monohull home is still a raffle.

Jenny Fitzgibbon is just 5km astern of Hill in Soothsayer and is keeping her two male counterparts honest despite the strong head winds. Island Time, sailed by Matt Paulin, is back on track after snapping a spinnaker halyard on Thursday. The strong windward conditions will suit the Farr Phase 4 which is kitted out for the cruise he plans to make with his family after the race.

Waitara’s Steven Arms reported battery charging problems with Nitro and was nursing his brand new 10.6m high tech Chamberlin catamaran along at just a few knots last night, about 1075 km from Mooloolaba. The violent conditions will be testing the lightweight boat and her experienced skipper to the max.

Mephisto, sailed by Aucklander Alan Yardley, is 1120km from finishing and should also be thriving in the tough conditions. If the north westerlies continue Yardley may well pick up some of the lighter boats as their skippers button off to avoid breakage.

Rick Morgan’s Dream Lover is about 120km from Lord Howe Island after he retired with a recurring health problem. He’s expected to arrive today (Sat – subs) to embark crew for the delivery trip home to Brisbane.

At the tail end of the fleet, Rhy Boulton’s Spellbound, a 10.5m steel Ganley design, had forged ahead of the fleet afterguard. He had about 1290km to go but if conditions ease, he may be threatened by the babes of the race; Carl harmer (29) in the 8.4m kauri sloop Strider and Trish Lewis (48) in the 7.6m Whiting Reactor Wishbone.

At the present rate of progress, Blondie Chamberlain’s An Cala is expected to cross the finish line at about 5pm next Friday, just in time for a prize giving function hosted by the Sunshine Coast Yacht Club the next day.