Team Australia runs aground
This morning’s gloomy forecast gave way to a glorious day of Whitsunday racing at its best as wet weather gear was packed away on the penultimate day of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, replaced by t-shirts, shorts and wide smiles.
Yesterday’s fog cleared and sailors were treated to a glamour day of flat seas, light 6-8 knot sou’easters and tropical conditions, photographers voting it the best of the annual Whitsunday series that began last Saturday and concludes tomorrow.
Sean Langman’s Race Week has come to an abrupt halt, literally. The bottom three metres of Team Australia’s daggerboard is now missing after the giant trimaran ran aground off Fitzalan Island in the narrow channel to the west of Hamilton Island.
"We were trying to avoid a sleeping whale and her calf. We saw them as we approached and we thought we had enough room, but we didn’t. It was a simple navigational error, we can’t blame the whale we can only blame ourselves," said Langman back at the marina. "That’s the end of the regatta for us however we pack up taking away more positives than negatives, we’ve learnt a lot this week.
"I have a 100 percent record of hitting the bottom here with my own boats,’ said the dejected skipper who will have to make minor repairs before taking the boat back to Sydney. Luckily for him, he owns his own boatyard.
The ORMA60 hard up on the bricks wasn’t going to come off easily and two Team Australia members were sent overboard trying to make the daggerboard line up so they could retract it. "We ended up having to snap the centreboard and the bits away," said Aaron Hampo, one of the crew who dived over the side to free the boat from its shackles.
A tow from a passing media boat pulled them off the rocks and they were able to motor home unassisted.
The Audi IRC Australian Championship classes have just finished racing windward/leewards on the eastern paddock and the performance racing, cruising and non-spinnaker classes, with their full spectrum of coloured spinnakers flying on the downhill runs, are in the closing stages of traversing a new course set by the race committee to make the most of the early forecast.
The Audi IRC Australian Championship Class A has a new leader, Peter Harburg’s Queensland 66 footer Black Jack, which is going into tomorrow’s final deciding race with a three point advantage.
Olympic gold medallist Tom Slingsby is again making his mark, the combination of the master tactician and brilliant crew work, plus boat modifications designed to produce a podium result the perfect recipe for Black Jack.
Tomorrow’s final Molles Islands Race will decide who takes home the prized IRC Class A silverware after a week-long campaign in the stunning Whitsunday Islands.
"There are five or six boats that could win tomorrow," said Mark Bradford, who drives for Harburg. "It’s good to see that the 52s are still competitive, but we have shown you could win in a bigger boat, which I don’t think has happened anywhere for a long time.
"We’ve sharpened up as the week’s gone along," he said, heaping plenty of praise on the guru, "you can see why Slingsby won the gold medal, he dug us out of a pretty big hole in today’s second race after a bad start, and got us into third."
Geoff Ross’ chartered TP52 Yendys is three points behind Black Jack after today’s two windward-leewards. In a big wrap for organisers, Yendys’ helmsman Gavin Brady this afternoon declared "the standard of racing here is higher than the Med Cup."
Third and fourth placed TP52s, Rob Hanna’s Shogun 5 and Marcus Blackmore’s Hooligan are neck and neck on 23.5 points. Hooligan was involved in mediation this afternoon with Darryl Hodgkinson’s Victoire after allegedly touching a mark of the course.
Mediation is currently underway however Hooligan’s navigator, Tom Addis, recently returned from the Volvo Ocean Race on Puma, was relaxed about the outcome. Assuming the protest is dismissed and the points table doesn’t change Addis said: "it’s hard now because when you are fourth you’ve got three boats you’ve got to do better than. It only takes one of those three to have a good run as well and you don’t go anywhere.
"There’s three latest generation 52s here now so close in performance and with tiny handicap differences, but the numbers are so small....there’s nothing in it really.’
The IRC Class A boats are not only gunning for the honour of the Audi IRC Australian Champion title, they are also racing tomorrow for a new trophy dedicated to ABC helicopter pilot Gary Ticehurst, who was killed in a crash last year and who was well known among the sailing community.
"Gary Ticehurst was a vital part of every Rolex Sydney to Hobart race," said Hamilton Island owner Bob Oatley who was on board his supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, for today’s short races. "Gary’s presence in that race meant so much to so many of the sailors and with so many them competing here at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week this year we thought it only appropriate to take the opportunity to pay tribute to such a great man."
Wild Oats XI has an unbroken line honours record in IRC Class A at this year’s Audi Hamilton Island Race Week and is using this regatta to prime for this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart and a sixth line honours attempt.
South Pacific Cup
The South Pacific Cup is slipping away from the Kiwis, not helped by individual recalls in today’s second race for Jim Farmer and Chris Mead’s Georgia and Chris Hornell’s Kia Kaha, both New Zealand boats.
The top wind recorded on the eastern course area was 9 knots out of the south east and the seas were calm.