“We have a beautiful breeze, we have our large spinnaker up and we are slowly heading out to sea as the wind is moving towards the north. We are doing 16 knots and the world is a wonderful place.”
Bruce Taylor could have been speaking on behalf of everyone on board the competing yachts this afternoon as the fleet rushed down the New South Wales coast at a frantic pace.
By 5pm, just four hours into the 628 nautical mile race that began at 1pm this afternoon from Sydney Harbour, Wild Oats XI was two thirds of the way between Kiama and Jervis Bay and just ahead of Skandia, the next group of TP52s and 60 footers were already abreast of Kiama, and the main body of the fleet was already off Wollongong and Port Kembla.
“We have been sailing between 16 and 20 knots for the past three hours and making good progress,” said Mark Bradford from the Queensland Reichel/Pugh 66 Black Jack. “We are getting ready for tonight, we are expecting 25 knots of wind. In the dark it’s trickier to keep the boat on its feet but we’re pretty comfortable at 22 knots true and have had no problems.”
Despite being the third yacht out of Sydney Heads Bradford thought their start was less than perfect. With Peter ‘Billy’ Merrington doing a great job on the helm they eventually found clear air and began passing boats. While the spectator craft swarmed around Wild Oats XI they left Black Jack pretty much alone. “We had no problems with the spectator boats,” he said, “though it seems the further south we got the more drunk the spectators.”
At 1700hrs this afternoon Bryan Northcote, navigator aboard Ray Roberts’ Cookson 50 Quantum Racing was also pleased with their progress. “We had a good start and were happy to lead (the bigger Reichel/Pugh 55) Yendys out of the harbour,” he said. “They are abeam of us now and all the TP52s are astern and closer into the coast. We are currently doing 17 knots with some slight assistance from the current.
“We plan to stay east of the rhumbline (the shortest route to Hobart) and set up for Bass Strait. Depending on the trough that is expected tomorrow the critical entry into Bass Strait will be the main tactical decision.”
At 1900hrs this evening Geoff Ross’ Yendys was leading the IRC handicap chase, navigator Will Oxley commenting, “We are just rolling on here. We were very happy with our start and trying to set ourselves up to make the best use of the southerly current. Spirits are high on board.
“Fantastic downwind sailing and the modifications we made to the boat are a big improvement to our downwind performance so we are happy about that!” added Oxley, who reported 20-22 knots of NE breeze.
Chutzpah has emerged as a firm handicap favourite, running second to Quantum Racing in the betting. Taylor is very pleased with how the day has gone so far. “We had a nice start," he reported. "We went out the heads with boats bigger than us and
that’s a happy place to be. Right now we are going along with some Volvo 60s
and 50 footers so we are very comfortable.”
For the faster boats, Bass Strait is speeding towards them sooner rather than later, and with a front that will bring lighter westerly winds due to move through the Strait tomorrow, important tactical decisions will need to be made during the next few hours.
How far into Bass Strait they are when those lighter winds settle in, and how well they have set themselves up for the angle in towards the Tasmanian coast will be critical to the race record hopes of Wild Oats XI and the handicap fortunes of a great many wannabes.
For the smaller boats, who look to be out of the running this year for a shot at the Tattersall’s Cup, life is a little more relaxed although the goal is still the same.
Following a meal of wife Cathy’s meat and potato stew washed down with chocolate Yogos, Sean Langman and his crew of five aboard Maluka of Kermandie, the smallest and oldest boat in the fleet were tonight approaching Kiama ahead of a 15 knot northerly breeze.