|SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA-(26-12-2004) Ludde Ingvall’s brand new 90 foot maxi yacht Nicorette upstaged the two 98 foot supermaxis Skandia (Grant Wharington) and Konica Minolta (Stewart Thwaites) in a spectacular start to the 60th Anniversary Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
However, two-and-a-half hours after the start, Skandia was in front, north-east of Wollongong as the 115 boats enjoyed a fast spinnaker run down the New South Wales South Coast.
Skandia, along with Sean Langman’s Open 66, AAPT, sailed further to seaward after the fleet cleared the sea mark, one nautical mile east of Sydney Heads, looking for the fast running southerly current. Nicorette and Konica Minolta were on the rhumbline (direct) course down the coast.
“We are sailing in a 20 knot nor’easter…beautiful sailing, if only it could last,” said Skandia’s navigator, Will Oxley. “As soon as we were able to crack sheets we were away,” he added, referring to the close duel earlier with Nicorette.
One of the favourites for an Overall win, Steven David’s Targé, skippered by America’s Cup yachtsman Iain Murray, retired about two hours after the start because of electrical problems which were apparently affecting the mechanical operations of the sophisticated Reichel/Pugh 60..
Targé is returning to the CYCA, escorted by her tender, The Ute.
Despite initial concern that some boats on the southern line may have crossed prematurely, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Race Committee has subsequently declared there had been a “free and fair” start from both lines.
It is understood that three boats may have returned and re-started, as is their right.
The biggest spectator fleet in years packed Sydney Harbour with hundreds of fast powerboats escorting the supermaxis as they sailed, almost boat for boat, out to sea. Near the sea mark, the water was white with the wash of the yachts and powercraft.
On the headlands around Sydney Harbour, several hundred thousand people watched the biggest fleet in a decade tack their way down the Harbour in the light north-easterly breeze on a warm summer’s day.
Right from the start, Skandia and Konica Minolta renewed their rivalry, covering each other as they tacked along the eastern shore towards the Heads.
After the disappointment of last week’s Rolex Trophy, when he was beaten by Thwaites five out of six races, Wharington must have been delighted when he slipped ahead of his New Zealand rival.
But on the other side of the harbour, and completely ignored, Nicorette steamed along the western foreshore sailing his own race. Finally, he tacked across towards the Heads and the two supermaxis and, as they converged, it became clear new Simonis –designed 90-footer would be the first boat out to sea.
On port tack Nicorette slipped under Skandia’s stern, but well in front of Konica Minolta. Nicorette tacked again, picked up a little extra pressure, and suddenly it was Nicorette, Skandia and Konica Minolta as they turned at the mark and headed out to sea.
At the seaward mark, where the yachts turned to begin their long run south, just three seconds separated the two leading yachts, with Konica Minolta just a few more seconds astern.
Fourth out of the harbour and hot on the heels of the maxi’s was Sean Langman’s AAPT after a magnificent start, followed by Steven David’s Targé. Close astern came the British yacht Aera, skippered by Jez Fanstone.
For Howard Piggott and his crew on the veteran Wild Oats it was a frustrating morning. Ten minutes before the start an engine mounting collapsed, forcing the boat to return to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. However Piggott was able to locate replacement bolts quickly and rejoined the race two hours behind the rest of the fleet. “It’s a long race, we can catch them up,” he said. “We’ll just drive the boat harder.”