The crew of the Farr 53 had to abandon the yacht in a sinking condition after Georgia broke her rudder

As the two canting-keeled maxis Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley) and Skandia (Grant Wharington) swapped the lead overnight as the Rolex Sydney Hobart pace slowed with the nor’easter fading along the south coast of New South Wales, drama was unfolding further back in the fleet. The crew of the Farr 53 Georgia, owned by Rolex Sydney Hobart veterans John Williams and Graeme Ainley, had to abandon the yacht in a sinking condition after she broke her rudder and rapidly took on water through the rudder shaft last night.

Georgia was about 19 nautical miles east of Ulladulla on the southeast coast of New South Wales when she sent out a Mayday distress call at around 2120 AEDT. The crew sent up a red flare and activated the yacht’s EPIRB distress signal. With the CYCA radio relay vessel JBW communicating instructions, the Volvo 60 Telcoinabox Merit (Les Rodriguez), which was just a mile away and the veteran yacht Ragtime (USA/Chris Welsh), four miles away, answered the distress call.

As the situation onboard deteriorated, Georgia launched her life raft and, in two relays of seven, her 14 crew members transferred via the life raft to Telcoinbox Merit, with the text-book rescue completed at 2300. Merit headed towards Batemans Bay intending to transfer the Georgia crew to the police launch Nemesis at daylight. Georgia, when they left her, was floating with water at deck level and the mainsail still set. Nemesis intends taking the crew into Ulladulla.

Williams and Ainley, who is a former president of Yachting Australia, are two of the fleet’s most experienced sailors. Williams has raced to Hobart 25 times and Ainley 24. From Sandringham Yacht Club, Melbourne, the two previously shared ownership of Bacardi, a veteran Peterson 44, which placed second in the rough 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart race. They bought Georgia, originally owned by Auckland sailor Jim Farmer, in 2007 and raced her in the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart.
At 0500 AEDT, Skandia was leading Wild Oats XI by 2.8nm as the two leaders passed Gabo Island, off the NSW/Victoria border to begin crossing Bass Strait to Tasmania, with 388n miles to go on the 628nm course. The wind at Gabo Island was blowing at 12-14 knots from the north-east. Skandia, was 55nm east of Gabo doing 13.5 knots on port gybe while Wild Oats XI, another two miles further east, was heading back in towards her rival on starboard gybe at 14 knots.

Third, 15nm behind the largest in the fleet was Peter Harburg’s canting-keeled Reichel/Pugh 66 Black Jack, further inshore but heading out on port gybe at 20 knots, followed closely by ASM Shockwave (Andrew Short), a fixed keel 80-footer, also designed by Reichel/Pugh.
The overall IRC handicap leader was calculated to be Quest, a TP52 owned by Bob Steel who won the Rolex Sydney Hobart’s major handicap prize, the Tattersalls’ Cup, with a previous Quest in 2002. Second was Bill Wild’s Welbourn 42 Wedgetail and third the 55-foot Yendys (Geoff Ross). The backmarkers in the fleet, including the smallest yachts racing south, Maluka of Kermandie (Sean Langman) and Nest Property (Murray Wilkes) are 150nm behind the leaders. American yacht Ragtime is first foreign yacht on the water and lies 12th in the overall handicap standings. A few miles behind lies Walross IV (GER), in 8th on handicap, with Gery Trentesaux’s Lady Courrier (FRA), close by. Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI established the current Course Record of 42 hours 40 minutes in 2005. In order to better this time the first yacht needs to be at the finish in Hobart before 0740 AEDT on Sunday 28th December.


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