Two yachts went within metres of being smashed onto rocks in separate incidents when a 30-knot southeasterly tradewind brought a spectacular finale to the Joico Big Boat Series at Hayman Island today.
Might proved all powerful in the challenging conditions with Warren Johns' new IRC 50ft racer, Heaven Can Wait, surfing at up to 18 knots to score another double victory - first place in the IRC division and line honours.
The Hugh Wellbourne design won five of the seven races and went unchallenged in its quest to become the champion yacht in the IRC division.
In the IMS division a third place in today's Sir James Champagne trophy race was enough to confirm Kevan Pearce's Ausmaid as the series' champion.
And there was considerable celebration on the dock when it was confirmed that the new Aspect Computing, sailed by David Pescud and a crew representing Sailors with disAbilities, had won the PHS section.
The forecast strong wind arrived at Hayman just before the fleet set off on the 25-nautical mile dash to Double Rock - to the east of the Whitsunday Passage - and return. From the outset there was plenty of action, but most came as the yachts neared the turning point. Just off Pinnacle Point, Wayne Millar's 41-footer Zoe went close to first losing its mast then grounding on rocks when a running backstay broke.
In a bid to save the mast a quick thinking Millar slammed the yacht onto the opposite tack. Zoe was then heading for the rocks, which were just metres away to leeward. Some members of his crew, which included America's Cup sailors Skip Lissiman and Scott McAllister, grabbed the broken rigging and tied a knot in the rope tail. This allowed Millar to tack again and avoid disaster.
Rob Kothe's Sword of Orion went close to suffering a similar fate at the same spot on the run home when a steering cable broke. The yacht broached and lay on its side for almost four minutes while the crew struggled to regain control.
'Had we gybed a minute earlier, as we originally planned, we would have been washed onto the rocks,' said Kothe. As it was Sword of Orion's keel scraped over a rock when the yacht rounded Langford Reef three miles from the finish.
The spinnaker run from Double Rock back to Hayman Island provided some of the most thrilling sailing seen among the Whitsunday islands. Internationally recognised Australian sailing photographer Ian Mainsbridge, who was above the fleet in a helicopter, saw unprecedented scenes.
'It was the most spectacular sailing I've seen in more than 20 years,' he said. 'It was even better than what I've experienced in Hawaii.'
The biggest smile on the dock at the end of the series was on the face of American yachtsman Jim Richardson. The former Farr 4O world champion took second overall in both IMS and IRC divisions. He was sailing a new Farr 40 that was launched for the big Boat Series.
'This series far exceeded all my expectations,' he said. 'The highlight was beating the bigger boats and taking line honours in the light weather fifth race.'
Zoe was third in the IMS championship and Ausmaid third in the IRC.
To mark the end of the series the crews were presented with their trophies at a Five Star outdoor awards dinner on the palm tree fringed lawn in front of Hayman Island Yacht Club.
Hayman Island Yacht Club commodore, Sir James hardy, announced that entries were already being lodged for next year's series including one from Sydney-Hobart race winner and Australian Kenwood Cup team member Geoff Ross with his Farr 47, Yendys.
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