The 13 skippers competing in the 2010 Fitzroy Yachts Solo Tasman Challenge had a slow start from New Plymouth yesterday.
Thousands of spectators thronged the foreshore as lack of wind left several of the fleet becalmed and others were forced to start their motors to avoid being set on the harbour breakwaters.
The start was at 1:00pm but three of the fleet did not round the turning mark, about 1.6nm from the start, until 5:30. The course from there was 1300nm to the finish line at Mooloolaba.
Auckland entrant Trish Lewis anchored her Whiting Reactor, Wishbone, about 50 m from the port until about 5:30 when the forecast south easterly winds set in.
Bruce Arms made an early break in his 14m catamaran, Big Wave Rider, but parked offshore while the freshening SE’ly chased other boats in the fleet to catch up. Once the wind reached his position, however, he was off and by 3pm on Monday he had covered 170 nm and was averaging 9.5kts.
At the current rate of progress his elapsed time to the finish line is five days, easily eclipsing the 1986 record of 6d 8h 50m set by Ian Johnston in Bullfrog Sunblock.
His cousin Steven, sailing a more conservative race in his freshly launched 10.5m Chamberlin catamaran, Nitro, had averaged 7.8 kts to hang on in second place.
Third placed skipper, Ross Buchanan, in his 10.5m Holland design, Scoundrel, retired from the race last night. 'All the boats around me were hoisting their spinnakers,' he said, 'but I just couldn’t be bothered. And, I thought, 'if you can’t be bothered – you shouldn’t be here,' so I pulled out and returned to Port Taranaki.' Buchanan also sailed the 2007 solo Tasman race.
Weather forecasts predict southerlies over most of the course and most of the fleet is steering south of the rhumb line to Mooloolaba.
Rick Morgan’s lightweight composite flier, Dream Lover, was reveling in the fresh reaching conditions, sailing at 8.6kts, 160nm from the start line. Mooloolaba entrant, Jennifer Fitzgibbon, was also sitting on about 8.6kts, just eight miles behind him in her Sayer 10.6m sloop Soothsayer.
Popular Auckland skipper, Ian Lillie, sailing his Farr 1220 Island Girl, was the first solo monohull skipper home in 2007, and on Monday night he was 156 miles from the start and averaging 7 knots to head off fellow Farr skippers Trevor Hill (Apriori) and Matt Paulin (Island Time).
Wishbone, the baby of the fleet sailed by Trish Lewis, had driven hard from an inauspicious beginning, to average 5.9kts and cover 120 miles from New Plymouth but last night had slowed down as the wind lightened.
The overnight spinnaker run had spread the fleet out, organizing committee chairman, Ron Scott said, and most of the fleet were already out of sight of each other.
'People can follow the action on www.solo-tasman.org.nz
,' he said, 'it’s exciting racing and will get even more thrilling when they’re more spread out and the different skippers’ tactics become more obvious.'