Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race, organised by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, started from Sydney Harbour today, Saturday 30 July.
Even though it was only a light five knot nor-easterly wind that got the 69 yachts away at 1.00pm, the battle was no less exciting, as Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal and Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI set the scene for a thrilling chase to the finish of the 384 nautical mile race.
The fleet bunched at the committee boat end of the line, with the two 100ft super-maxis the most leeward of the boats along with Loki.
Investec Loyal, with Billy Merrington at the helm, and to windward of the Mark Richards skippered Wild Oats XI, had the upper hand, but as the two 100 footers headed north, a tactical decision to sail Loyal close to South Head did not pay off in the CYCA hosted race.
Once the two were around the corner and heading north, Wild Oats XI, with Adrienne Cahalan and Grant Simmer in the afterguard, was in its comfort zone at the head of the fleet.
Just before the two turned at North Head to aim for Southport, the north-easterly picked up to approximately eight knots, but it still took the two leaders nearly half an hour to exit the Harbour.
Behind them, with just the 98ft Lahana (Peter Millard/John Honan) separating them from the super maxis, a similar stoush was taking place between three TP52’s – the Marcus Blackmore driven Hooligan chose to aim at North Head, while Syd Fischer’s Ragamuffin had her bow pointed at South Head and David Pescud’s Wot Eva chose a route between the two. As they exited the Heads, Wot Eva just trailed Hooligan, one of the race favourites.
Just after the start, Principal Race Officer Denis Thompson advised that seven yachts had prematurely started the race; Living Doll, Shogun, Loki (the reigning Audi IRC Australian champion), Balance, NSC Mahligai, UBS Wild Thing (Geoff and Pip Lavis), Wizzard (Mick Hinchey) and Merit (Leo Rodriguez), which was at the tail end of the fleet.
All eventually returned to the start line, which cost them vital time, but with a race that is predicted to be a stop-and-start affair, the seven should get their chances to fight back.
The difficulty was trying to line-up with the outgoing tide and the incoming wind to be taken into consideration – a delicate balancing act, best described the CYCA’s Vice Commodore, Howard Piggott, who commented from his Beneteau F40, Flying Cloud: 'I’m like Nelson – I’m going out with the tide.'
As the bulk of the fleet neared the Heads, the breeze dwindled away to almost nothing on the western side of the Harbour and caught out the Volvo 60, Southern Excellence (Andrew Wenham), which was almost becalmed, along with Corinne Feldmann’s Stampede, which was doing anything but!
At 1.30pm Denis Thompson reported four whales had been sighted just off North Head and asked the fleet to keep an eye out and stay clear. It is migration time and like the yachts, the whales are headed north to warmer climes.
At 3.00pm Wot Eva’s David Pescud reported: 'We’ve seen a few whales and we’re getting roughly 10 knots from the north-north-east.'
The fleet will now settle into a rhythm as the yachts wend their way up the coast and crews prepare for the cold night ahead.
The 2011 Audi IRC Australian Championship will go to air on ONE HD from Saturday 3 September at 6:00pm. This year's series will comprise of eight 30 minute episodes. The TV series is produced by Audi Australia and Fuzzy TV. Network Ten sports presenter, Rob Canning, is the host of this year's series and will be joined by expert commentators, Will Hagon and Neville Wittey. Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race website