Aera, the Ker 55 owned by London-based yachtsman Nick Lykiardopulo and skippered by Jez Fanstone is currently in line for overall IRC handicap honours

Aera, the white-hulled Ker 55 owned by London-based yachtsman Nick Lykiardopulo and skippered by English round-the-world sailor Jez Fanstone, crossed the Sydney Hobart finish line on the Derwent River this afternoon to become the boat to beat on IRC handicap in the 60th Anniversary Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Aera had until seven o’clock tonight to shunt line honours winner Nicorette out of first place but a strong westerly pushed her up the Derwent River with hours to spare. She crossed the line at 3:43.43 pm after racing for 3 days 2 hours, 33 minutes and 43 seconds. (The race started at 1:10pm on 26 December 2004).

Aera has beaten Nicorette by four and a half hours on corrected time and heads the provisional IRC Overall standings for the historic Tattersalls Cup. Once ashore, skipper Fanstone said that his strategy was all based on beating the other 50-plus footers in the fleet. The theory was simple; win that contest and if it turns out that the weather conditions favour a boat around that size then you win the race outright. He said: “Our gauge was the two or three boats around us. We couldn’t do anything about the bigger boats ahead of us or the smaller ones behind us.” While Nicorette won the race for line honours by stickng as close to the Tasmanian coast as possible, Aera’s tactics took her 150 nautical miles out to sea. This was where the winds and the waves were at their most ferocious, forcing them further and further offshore.

Then they got a perfect shift to the east, a shift that boats closer inshore were not able to pick up: Fanstone added: “It was a lovely left-hander that enabled us to lay Tasman Island from 150 miles out. We had been trying to get closer inshore but the wind and wave conditions had kept pushing us out to sea up to that point.”

Despite his round-the-world experience, Fanstone said that this 2004 Rolex Sydney Hobart had been a very tough race. At times they were down to carrying a very small storm trysail instead of their regular mainsail. “Downwind in 40 knots with the Volvo race is very different from going into it as we did for most of this race. We have never raced the boat in these conditions before.” While theoretically a number of smaller boats still out at sea can still beat Aera on corrected time, including last year’s winner Michael Spies with his new First National Real Estate, the Sydney 38, Team Lexus, and the veteran Love and War, they will need near ideal sailing conditions to so. Still, Jez Fanstone knows what a shift in the weather can do, so he is not cracking the Champagne just yet. “If one of the smaller boats has a blinder they could still beat us.”