Four metre seas and gale force winds yesterday pounded the 12 skippers sailing the Fitzroy Yachts sponsored solo Tasman challenge yacht race to Mooloolaba.
Bruce Arms, leading the fleet in Big Wave Rider reported that he was down to four reefs in the mainsail and had no other sail area up, to help his catamaran cope with the conditions, but last night he had hoisted a reefed jib and was going well in 30kts SSW winds.
Even so he is maintaining a speed of 10 knots and, if he continues to do so, should break the race record by about six hours. Yesterday he reported speeds of over 21 knots as he surfed before the brisk south easterly breezes, but last night he said it was 'wet and wild out here.'
Arms has pulled out a lead of about 185km on the rest of the fleet but has hard charging Auckland skipper Ian Lillie chasing him up in Island Girl. Lillie was first singlehanded monohull home in the 2007 race and proved he was tough enough to keep driving the Farr 1220 hard in conditions that had others reducing sail.
His closest competition is the race grandfather, Australian skipper Rick Morgan (65), sailing his high tech three year old composite sloop Dream Lover. Morgan made an early break north from the fleet, no doubt hoping to take advantage of the northerly winds predicted for later on in the race and last night he was charging along at close to 10 knots in the rough conditions.
Further back in the fleet, Steven Arms, was starting to get into his stride. He was expected to sail a prudent race in the brand new 10.6m catamaran, Nitro, but he may be about to prove the punters wrong and last night had it cranked up to 11.5 knots despite the rough conditions.
Matt Paulin, skipper of island Time, arrived at Port Taranaki for the start claiming that he was using the race as the start of a Pacific cruise and his boat was too heavy to do well. After talking to other race skippers however, he was observed unloading extra anchor chain and other heavy items and this may have paid off. Last night he was just over 1852km from Mooloolaba and maintaining a slim lead over Alan Yardley in Mephisto.
Jennifer Fitzgibbon was buried in the middle of the fleet in Soothsayer and the next day or so will be a test for the 32 year old Mooloolaba local. The 10.6m Sayers design doesn’t have a furling headsail and she needs to go on the foredeck for every sail change.
Wishbone, the baby of the fleet at 7.6m, is also handling the rough conditions well and has averaged 5.8 knots since the start at New Plymouth on Sunday. The dimunitive boat is immaculately prepared and this may make up for Lewis’s lack of offshore experience.
Another 185km back Inglewood engineer Blondie Chamberlain in An Cala had also picked up the pace and was sailing at 5.9 kts. An Cala is the only ketch in the race and is expected to thrive in the rough.
Rhys Boulton, from Lyttelton, in his heavy, steel Ganley Chevron is bring up the rear of the fleet. 'Well,' he said resignedly last night, 'if anyone gets in trouble, I’ll be back here to help out.' Further information is available at: www.solo-tasman.org.nz