Alfa Romeo on course for victory

As Neville Crichton's purpose-built maxi closes on Hobart

Saturday December 28th 2002, Author: Peter Campbell, Location: Australasia
On schedule for an early evening line honours finish in Hobart, at 3 pm the New Zealand maxi Alfa Romeo was surfing at speeds in excess of 17 knots in a 20 knot northerly sea breeze down the edge of Tasman Island and just 40 miles from the Rolex Sydney Hobart finish line.

The leader passed Tasman Island at 3.30pm and gave her ETA in Hobart as 6.15pm.

Eighteen miles behind her, the 66-foot “skiff on steroids” Grundig (Sean Langman) was matching her in speed in a last desperate attempt to close the gap. Mike Slade’s Canon, the biggest yacht in the 55-strong fleet is ten miles further back.

These two boats have sailed an extraordinary race but no more extraordinary than that of the tiny Hick 31 Toecutter, 150 miles behind them and leading both the IMS and IRC handicap divisions. For all crews in the race, this year’s event has been sailing at its best.

Sailing in a 25 knot northerly and averaging 17-18 knots of boat speed, Andrew Heaney from Canon said the boat had struggled to hold on to second place with Grundig carrying its huge Code zero spinnaker in perfect conditions for the oversized skiff.

“We’ve got a lot of the Grundig crew on board our boat and they’re pulling their legs that they have chosen the wrong horse,” laughed Canon’s owner-skipper Mike Slade this afternoon.

Timing of the finish will hinge on winds in the lee of Cape Raoul on the south eastern corner of the Tasman Peninsula and 30 miles from the finish, and what the frontrunners will experience during the 30 mile run to the entrance of the Derwent.

Mid afternoon winds at Tasman Island were nor/northeast averaging 20 knots and gusting to 27 and the forecast is for continuing inshore sea breezes until early evening when north to northeasterly winds prevail at 10 knots gusting to 20 knots.

With all boats now in Bass Strait and making quick time in the favourable breeze, the tussle for line honours is just one of a series of contests emerging back in the fleet for handicap honours and divisional trophies.

In the four-boat Sydney 38 division, spirits on board the Sydney entry Andrew Short Marine Mercury were high. “Everyone is in very high spirits and we’re doing 12 knots under spinnaker and this is great sailing,” said skipper Andrew Short.

The fleet is now spread over 250 nautical miles with the last boat, Alex Whitworth’s Berrimilla 60 miles north of Flinders Island and a third of the way across Bass Strait.

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