Course record looks doubtful

Bruce Montgomery previews one of Australia’s great blue water classics, the Brisbane-Gladstone Race.

Thursday April 13th 2006, Author: Bruce Montgomery, Location: Australasia
Forecast light northeasterly to easterly winds off the Australian coast at the start of Easter bode ill for a record run in the 58th Brisbane-Gladstone Race that starts at 1100 local time (0200 GMT) on Good Friday.

If the forecast holds up, the breeze will be too light and too far forward of the beam for the maxi Skandia’s 2004 record to fall. Then she set a time for the 308-nautical mile race of 20 hours 24 minutes and 50 seconds, averaging more than 15 knots.

Skandia will be back to have another go, but owner Grant Wharington will not be on board. He used Skandia in the recent Sydney-Gold Coast race to test the mettle of his Volvo 70 Brunel crew as they prepared to resume hostilities in the Volvo Ocean Race in Baltimore.

He has left Skandia in the capable hands of Queensland yachtsman Kerry Spencer, who twice held the race record in the early 1990s with his maxi chaser Bobsled. Its fastest trip was 21-59-43, an impressive time for a 60 footer. Its average speed of 14 knots is made all the more remarkable by the course, which is not a pure ocean passage. The fleet has to navigate its way out of Brisbane’s Bramble Bay before skirting around Fraser and Lady Elliot islands and then sailing 15 miles up a harbour to the finish line in Gladstone.

Wharington reckons that with ideal winds Skandia could shatter the record. “I believe Skandia could, with the right conditions, become the first yacht to crack the 18 hour barrier,” he said. Spencer will have six of the normal Skandia crew on board. The rest will be Bobsled veterans.

The Brisbane-Gladstone Race has a rich history. Poker machine king Jack Rooklyn won line honours eight times with his boats Apollo, Ballyhoo and then his maxi Apollo; Ian and Bill Wright have won the race seven times between 1986 and 2005; while winners of both line honours and corrected time in the same year include Ballyhoo (1975), Kyeema (1950), Solo (1958/59) and Grundig (2002).

For corrected time honours this year, it is difficult to look past Wedgetail, Bill Wild’s 12.8m sloop that had a sensational Hobart race in December, averaging more than nine knots for the 628-nm trip to finish second in IRC division B. Five months earlier she had finished second in her maiden race from Southport to Mackay and she finished third overall in the recent Sydney-Gold Coast race.

Wedgetail’s competition will come from four-time Gladstone race winner Wistari (Ross Patrick), the sentimental favourite Michael Freebairn’s Koomooloo, which was winner of the 1968 Hobart race and a divisional winner again last year, Quest of Queensland (Kevin Miller) and Michael Spies’ Sirromet Life Style Wine.

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