Light winds appear to have robbed the British maxi City Index Leopard of any chance to challenge Wild Oats XI for line honours in the 63rd Rolex Sydney Hobart yacht race. Wild Oats XI had opened her lead to more than 20 nautical miles early this morning
Wild Oats XI started the day with a nine nautical mile lead over the British boat but with the wind swinging from the north to the south west this morning, City Index Leopard skipper Mike Slade believed he had a real chance of getting back five or six nautical miles in the race across Bass Strait this afternoon. This would have put him back in the race, and close enough to mount a challenge on the final leg down the Tasmanian coast tonight and tomorrow morning.
Unfortunately for the Englishman, Bass Strait has not co-operated. Slade, in a beamy yacht that is 10 tonnes heavier than Wild Oats XI desperately needed something of the traditional Bass Strait temper. Instead, this often fierce stretch of water has served up a breeze that has lightened over the course of the day.
By 5:00pm, instead of losing five or six miles to City Index Leopard, Wild Oats XI had opened her lead to more than 20 nautical miles.
Third placed Skandia trails City Index Leopard by around ten miles.
It has been a frustrating day for the big boats. Yesterday they were reaching more than 20 knots in ideal downwind conditions. Today the speedsters have often found themselves at single figures. And, as they have slowed, the chance of a race record has evaporated.
With the wind expected to freshen as it swings around to the north tonight the maxis will pick up speed again, but the 7:40am race record deadline tomorrow morning just looks out of reach. A late morning finish seems more likely.
Meanwhile, Spirit of Koomooloo, the 40 year old S&S 49 that is racing in her 22nd Rolex Sydney Hobart has been leading the fleet on handicap throughout much of the afternoon. And in another nod to history the yacht that has been dicing with her for the lead has been the 12 year old Cavalier Morna, which bears the name of the last boat to take line honours three years in a row, back in 1946 to 1948.
Also in the mix for handicap have been Matangi, a Frers 39 that is almost 20 years old and the Farr 1020 Zephyr, one of the smaller competitors, which began its racing career in 1984.
It is a remarkable situation in a fleet that features one of the hottest grand prix divisions in years, but it reflects the impact the variable weather conditions are having on the fleet. While the fastest yachts have encountered frustratingly light winds in Bass Strait today the handicap leaders have been making good speed in stronger breezes along the New South Wales south coast.
Alas, it is a situation that may not survive tomorrow's stronger northerlies.
But it has been entirely appropriate that Spirit of Koomooloo was in the lead today as she passed the place where her new owner, Mike Freebairn, was forced to abandon his beloved Koomooloo last year while she was leading the race on handicap. For the fiercely competitive Freebairn, who was shattered by the loss of the magnificent 40 year old timber ocean racer, the performance of his new charge will be a great fillip. Freebairn and his crew laid a wreath at the spot this morning. Leading positions - DTF - Speed - 08:50 27 December 2007
1 Wild Oats XI Mark Richards (3) NSW 189.6 13.2
2 City Index Leopard Mike Slade (2) UK 211.2 12.4
3 Skandia Grant Wharington (19) VIC 222.5 12.1
4 Ichi Ban Matt Allen (18) NSW 282.2 10.2
5 Rosebud Roger Sturgeon USA 287.2 10.2
6 Toyota Aurion V6 Andrew Short (14) NSW 319.5 7.7
7 Quantum Racing Ray Roberts (16) NSW 322.2 7.6
8 Ragamuffin Syd Fischer (37) NSW 322.4 7.8
9 Yendys Geoff Ross ( 12) NSW 325.4 8.1
10 Wot Yot Graeme Wood (2) NSW 332.5 7.7
Full positions - http://rolexsydneyhobart.com/default.asp