Excitement was mounting as the 88 boat fleet prepared for the 1.00pm start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Yacht Race.
Spectators used every vantage point along the Sydney Harbour shoreline to watch the start of this iconic Blue Water Classic.
At the ten minute warning gun, conditions were grey and overcast and the breeze was building to around 14 knots.
Wild Oats XI, (Bob Oatley) the line honours favourite, suffered an electronic winch failure just minutes before the start, the drive motor for the mainsheet winch failing in the final manoeuvres.
As the start gun was fired Wild Oats XI, with a reef in her main was on the pin end, the second 100 footer Investec Loyal (Anthony Bell) beside her, then 63 footer Loki (Stephen Ainsworth) next down the line, then Betchoice.com Lahana (Peter Millard/John Honan).
Wild Oats XI tacked onto port, Investec Loyal on starboard and forced Wild Oats XI back into the large spectator fleet. Investec Loyal then tacked back.
Wild Oats XI was clearly suffering from her winch problem, she was slow to tack. Betchoice.com Lahana and Loki were both well placed. Wild Oats XI was pointing higher than Investec Loyal, but Loyal tacked ahead of Oats, forcing her rival to do the same.
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After transferring the mainsheet to secondary winches, John Hildebrand and Ian Smith made a temporary repair to the winch motor as they sailed out of the harbour.
At Sow and Pigs, Wild Oats XI held just a boat length lead and was unable to cross Loyal. But she was soon pointing higher, but on the first cross attempt the power of the right paid for Loyal; she forced Wild Oats XI back again. But Richards' crew shook out the reef and suddenly the 'grey ghost' had superior straight line speed and she powered into the lead.
At the inner mark Wild Oats was 10 seconds ahead of the 'Zebra', having slightly over stood the mark. In third place was Grant Wharington's pitch black Wild Thing, with her 12 crew working hard across the boat, then Loki.
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Betchoice.com Lahana had to put in a tack up to the mark, Loki was looking good but she may yet arrive at the wrong times or day at the end of the race.
Next came Jim Cooney’s Brindabella, then Chris Bull’s Jazz, Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin, Jason van der Slot’s Calm, with Rob Hanna's Shogun further back. Then came Robert Date's Scarlet Runner, Matt Allen's Ichi Ban was back further than she should be with Hong Kong entry Anthony Daly's FreeFire 52 (TP52) and Colin Woods Pretty Fly II, the Cookson 50.
The division 0 entrant Hugo Boss was back in the fleet but winding up, however she was just ahead of Justin Well’s IRC 2 competitor Dump Truck, the Ker 37.
Bruce Taylor’s Caprice 40 Chutzpah was well advanced but unfortunately for her, there is not likely to be enough 'downhill' in this race for this downhill flyer.
On the inside the Sydney 38's began streaming by. TSA Management was well placed and Chris Lewin’s Deloitte As One was midfleet ahead of Jessica Watson's Ella Bache. Just ahead in IRC division 4 was Roger Hickman’s' Wild Rose.
On the inside of the course, Rives Potts McCurdy& Rhodes 48 footer Carina was doing two penalty turns.
From the PHS 1 fleet Bruce McKay’s Sayer 12 Wasabi was well back. In the PHS 2 fleet, the orange hull of the Jones 40 Quetzcoatl was well placed, behind her the stars and stripes of Jeffrey Taylor's C&C41 Nemesis.
Laura Roper's Petersen 41 Natelle Two, was in the next bunch.
Back in the fleet there was grief. The Chris Bowling skippered Davidson 34 Illusion, a former overall winner 22 years ago, hit the turning mark and had to do a 360 penalty turn.
The smallest boat in the fleet, the Peter Laingman skippered 30 foot, 79 year-old Maluka of Kermandie (Sean Langman) and Jarrod and Catrina Ritchie’s big Beneteau 57 cruiser Alchemy III, were over the starting line early.
The penalty was severe, they were not notified until the harbour turning mark and both had to sail back down to the startline, cross it to extinguish their misdeeds and head back up the harbour for a second time.
But they finally rounded the Zulu (sea mark) and at last the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet was heading south.
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