Grant Wharington and his crew on the 98ft Skandia may not have broken their own record of 1 hour 40 minutes 7 seconds set in 2006, but they were happy to take line honours in the 2008 Skandia Geelong Week Passage Race today when they finished off the host venue, Royal Geelong Yacht Club shortly after 1.00pm.
The Don Jones designed super-maxi from Mornington in Victoria finished at 13.04.47 this afternoon, in other words, it took 3 hours 34min 47secs to complete the 34.3 nautical mile course sailed in mixed winds, nearly two hours outside her race record.
“We started beautifully and we were shooting along at 20-22 knots – everything was looking rosy, then the breeze shut down,” Wharington said.
The race started off Williamstown this morning at 9.30am when John Brumby, the Premier of Victoria, fired the start cannon to send the fleet on their way in ideal conditions; flat waters under a clear blue sunny sky. Under spinnaker, the huge fleet made a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour across the Williamstown start area with hundreds of spectators enjoying the spectacle.
Early forecasts suggested 5-6 knot breezes from the north and north-west. Wharington said although it started light, the mostly north-westerly breeze picked up to around 18 knots. “Until half way down the course when it lightened, which was a shame, because we were holding our time on the fleet until then (leading on handicap),” Wharington said.
“At times it went between north and east and it got sticky for the second half of the race. At least we didn’t see the three lemons,” said Wharington referring to the possibility of seeing nil knots of boat speed register on his electronic equipment. “We did get down to 0.8 of a knot, but kept the boat moving. We’re just happy to win line honours,” he said.
Sydney sailor Bob Steel sailed his recently purchased TP52 Quest to second place over the line, helmsman Jamie McPhail telling: “We had a good start, we started where we wanted to and stayed with our game plan.”
Quest is looking good for a second overall, which would enhance their lead of the Audi Series to-date. “We chose the right sails and got away from the other TPs. We peeled three times as the breezes died and that was when the fleet sailed back to us – in the light stuff. “Wot Yot and Beau Geste sailed a lot out of us in the second half – they still had consistent breeze. We’re in good shape though – this regatta is a good first trip for us,” McPhail said.
Beau Geste, a Reichel/Pugh 45 owned by Hong Kong department store owner Karl Kwok, was third to cross the line this afternoon and looks likely to win the race overall. Race Officials will calculate the scores once the entire 351 boat fleet finishes the race, which should be late this afternoon.
Kwok, his helmsman Mark Bradman and tactician Gavin Brady, both highly respected America’s Cup sailors, were feeling somewhat confident.
“We had a good run coming down. We stayed well left of the course at the start – we wanted to get clear air. We managed to avoid all the stops (many boats got caught in windless holes and ‘parked’ for some time), we kept moving the whole time,” Kwok said. “The crew sailed very well. We stayed away from the forecast holes. We were lucky we had such good weather. I’ve never seen so many boats on a start, nothing like it before – it was unbelievable. This is my first time at Skandia Geelong Week, I definitely want to come back here,” said Kwok who will head back to Hong Kong at the end of the regatta to get ready for the busy Chinese New Year on February 7.
The second TP52, Graeme Wood’s Wot Yot (NSW) was next home. “We had an interesting start – we were On Course Side, so had to go back with great difficulty and start again,” Wood, a first timer at Skandia Geelong Week said this afternoon.
“It wasn’t part of any plan we had, or any plan I heard about anyway,” the jocular Wood said. “After that, we were on fire! We sailed over the top of Cougar II (the third TP52 in the fleet) and kept going. We didn’t park at all; just kept the boat going the whole way. “It was a great race – sunny, flat and a great breeze – up to about 18 knots. It eased gradually.” Tactician Sean Kirkjian said: “It eased about one hour into the race and we lost a couple of knots every 10 minutes or so.”
Wood said he is enjoying is first Skandia Geelong Week experience. “Yes, I’m enjoying the regatta very much – we’ll be back to defend our title,” he said tongue in cheek. Well he might – a hoped for third overall today leaves Wood in a very advantageous top three overall for the Audi Series so far.
For those yachts contesting the prestigious Audi Series, The Passage Race counts as their fifth race and the series continues on Corio Bay tomorrow.
Event website - www.geelongweek.com