Alfa continues to lead the charge

Five miles separate lead trio in the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Saturday December 26th 2009, Author: Lisa Ratcliff, Location: United Kingdom
Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo is leading the hunt for line honours victory in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race early this morning (ie Saturday night GMT), but it is a three-boat war on the race track, as only five nautical miles separate the New Zealand leader from ICAP Leopard, owned and skippered by Britain's Mike Slade and four-time line honours winner Wild Oats XI, skippered by Mark Richards.

The three 100ft yachts are travelling at just over 11 knots off Montague Island on the NSW south coast sailing in a 12-14 knot E/SE breeze as they push towards Eden just after 5.00am (1800 GMT) on day two of the 628 nautical mile ocean classic. Alfa Romeo is sailing the rhumb line route and of the three, ICAP Leopard has chosen to sail furthest east of the rhumbline as they hurtle south.

At 6:30am Alfa Romeo was ahead but with ICAP Leopard beside her a further three miles out to sea and Wild Oats XI five miles astern. "They actually look quite nice from this angle," Alfa Romeo’s navigator Tom Addis said tongue in cheek early this morning. "Right now we are dribbling along under our upwind code zero (an oversize, lightweight furling headsail), in 6 knots of breeze."

The easing conditions are unlikely to please Mike Slade and his crew on the heavier ICAP Leopard, which so far has sailed an exceptional race, while Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns, co-navigator on Wild Oats XI is hoping it will turn their race around.

" Alfa was going really well upwind in the stronger stuff. The fact we will head back into the light stuff gives us a bit of a chance," Burns said. "It's pretty light, between 6 and 10 knots and quite variable. The seas are flatter now - it was a little rough at times last night. We had quite a few wind shifts and some big lulls, and at one stage the guys behind, RÁN and Lahana, ran almost up to us. Leopard is doing a great job for a big boat in the lighter wind, but the race hasn't really started yet…the hard part….that will be today."

Matt Allen’s Volvo 70 Ichi Ban has also had a very good night, keeping in touch with the highly fancied RÁN in conditions that have better suited the British boat. Ichi Ban is currently sitting behind RÁN both on line and on the current IRC handicap score sheet. “ Ichi Ban had a good night, we managed to keep pace with RÁN and gain some height offshore,” said navigator Conrad Humphreys this morning. “We’re well placed in the current. Bass Strait looking very light ahead of us though.”

Addis summarised, “plenty of comments going around the crew to the effect of ‘it’s not normally like this."

For the crew of YuuZoo, everything is going to plan. “We knew that the heavy conditions we experienced yesterday suited the 100 footers better. Our plan was to stay in the top five so that when the lighter conditions come through today we can try to claw back some of the lead of the top three ( Alfa Romeo, ICAP Leopard and Wild Oats XI),” said Ludde Ingvall, skipper of YuuZoo.

"It will be a very tactical day for us today in the lighter conditions. Our crew work needs to be perfect to ensure minimal mistakes. We will try to overtake Ichi Ban first and then we will work on catching the top three," added Ingvall.

There has been a further retirement overnight, making it four retirements from the original 100-yacht fleet. Alan Brierty’s Limit, retired due to rigging issues late last evening, approximately 35nm east of Jervis Bay. One of the main favourites for overall honours following her recent triumph in the Rolex Trophy Rating Series, Limit will arrive back at the CYCA this morning.

In the race for overall honours, Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll from Melbourne is the current leader, having hauled in Niklas Zennstrom's British-crewed JV72 RÁN, which had been leading until this morning. However, there is very little in it and these are early days.

Ray Roberts’ Evolution Racing is currently third placed overall in the race for the Tattersall’s Cup, with Ichi Ban, the Jones 70 belonging to CYCA Commodore Matt Allen in fourth place. Ichi Ban has sailed inside the top eight or so since the race started, revelling in moderate upwind and off the breeze conditions the fleet has seen so far.

The entire fleet is sailing either on the rhumb line or anywhere between 30 to 80nm east of it, to take advantage of the stronger breeze and current offshore.

Chris Dawe’s Polaris of Belmont is trailing at the back of the fleet, 20nm east of Kiama with 575nm miles to go – a long way from the Rolex Sydney Hobart finish line. The Gosford-based 39 year-old Cole 43 has amassed an incredible 24 Hobart races. Her last place on line means nothing in the scheme of things, the yacht having racked up a number of divisional wins and placings in this race in the past.

Currently, the Bureau of Meteorology predicts south-easterly winds at 10-15 knots tending east/north-east at 10-15 knots on a one metre south/south-easterly swell for the rest of the day. These conditions are good news for the big boats especially, as they will travel downwind fast under spinnaker.

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