Freshening north-easterly winds this afternoon have caused a major change in overall handicap positions in the IMS and IRC divisions of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as the leaders power sail across Bass Strait.
Neville Crichton’s 90-footer, Alfa Romeo, still heads the fleet reporting her position at 2pm as 76 miles south of Gabo Island but some 50 miles east of the rhumbline (direct) course between Sydney Heads and Tasman Island.
However, because some of the leaders are sailing down the rhumbline and others, including Alfa Romeo and Canon are well to the east, the computer assessment is showing that Nicorette is holding second place in distance to go to Hobart, with Brindabella in third place.
The smaller boats in the fleet, in particular those that have sailed a course well out to sea, gained first use of the nor’easter this morning, compacting the fleet of 55 boats and dramatically changing handicaps positions.
During today the fleet has been sailing in 10 to 15 knot nor’easters carrying spinnakers with the breeze expected to lighten overnight but increase sharply again tomorrow.
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a strong wind warning for Bass Strait waters tomorrow, with east to north-easterly winds increasing to 20/30 knots well offshore on Saturday afternoon and evening. Seas will reach 3 metres well offshore.
Alfa Romeo, which had not only been leading the fleet but was also placed first on corrected time in the IRC division, has slumped to 21st place while Brindabella, which had been first in the IMS division is back in 19th place.
The overall leader in the IRC division is, in fact, one of the smallest boats in the fleet, the well-sailed 31-footer Toecutter, skippered her designer, Melbourne yachtsman Robert Hick, and sailing under the burgee of the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.
Based on positions at the 1405 “sked” with the fleet, Toecutter, is provisionally first on progressive corrected times, ahead of Pippin, a Farr 37 skippered by David Taylor, from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. In third place is Terry Mullens’ Farr 50, Fitness First Sting.
Fitness First Sting, the former Sydney Hobart Race winner Yendys, is leading boat in the grand prix IMS division, just ahead of her arch rival, Ragamuffin, skippered by veteran Sydney yachtsman Syd Fischer. Pippin is third on IMS handicap.
Under the rules of the 2002 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race, eligible yachts can enter one or both of the two rating divisions, IMS and IRC.
In the IMS division, Fitness First Sting is first overall and first in Division A while Pippin heads Division B and Toecutter Division C. In the IRC division, Toecutter is first overall and first in Division C, while Fitness First Sting heads Division B with the New Zealand veteran 66-footer, Starlight Express, is best placed in Division A, although 12th on corrected time.
Speaking by satellite phone from Fitness First Sting, owner Terry Mullens acknowledged the boat was a long way east (37. 24 Lat 151.18 Long), “we know we are taking a risk but we feel it will make us some big gains.”
As the call to Rolex Media Centre ended, Mullens said “we have just hit an object in the water that sent a shudder through the boat…but we are OK to continue.”
There have been no further retirements since Valheru and Trump Card were forced to retire after collisions at the start and near Sydney Heads yesterday.