Big conditions force Sydney Hobart retirements

Competitors in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race which started yesterday are demonstrating prudent seamanship as the fleet continues to encounter rugged sailing conditions in the Tasman Sea and Bass Strait. Seventeen boats have officially retired because of broken gear and some injuries, including seasickness, but a further eight boats have made the tough call to seek shelter in Twofold Bay at Eden on the NSW south coast.

While the supermaxis and maxis, including the five round the world V060s, appear to be coping well with the 25-30 knot south-westerly headwinds in Bass Strait, the rest of the fleet are now encountering tough conditions. Sailing mid-fleet is ‘the active factor’, a heavy steel boat, which is beating towards Green Cape where, according to skipper Brett Perry, they will “regroup” given there are a few crew on board suffering extreme seasickness. “We’ll go inshore and get some food into the guys and see how they feel. We are not competing for anything other than being in the race,” said Perry.

Meanwhile, a further five yachts have retired this afternoon including Kickatinalong with a torn mainsail, the veteran campaigner Phillip’s Foote Witchdoctor which is heading to Ulladulla, and the Sydney 38 Zen, which has been forced out with crew sea sickness. Maurice Cameron’s tough campaigner Phillip’s Foote Witchdoctor has also retired as has Jim Watson’s Windsong of Mornington and Shane Kearns Komatsu a Few Good Men.

While the mid-fleet boats are being pounded, they are also copping it hard in the handicap stakes with the biggest boats dominating the top placings. At the front end of the fleet, Grant Wharington and Stewart Thwaites, the skippers of race leaders Skandia and Konica Minolta, might be rivals on the racetrack but they are still gentlemen. When race leader Skandia hit a sunfish this morning that stopped the 98-footer in her tracks, they received a call from Konica Minolta checking to see if they were OK. “They radioed us, and then they shot through ahead of us,” laughed Skandia’s skipper Grant Wharington this afternoon.

The two boats are still neck and neck but unlike last year, when Konica Minolta trailed Skandia for most of the entire 628 nautical mile race, this year the New Zealand skipper is being more aggressive. “This year they are being a lot more innovative and it’s working for them,” admitted Wharington, who is sailing with a reefed main and a number four jib while Thwaites sticks with the larger headsail. He is unsure whether the collision with the sunfish has caused rudder damage but said that his “steering is feeling a bit funny.”

While Wharington reported sailing in quite a comfortable 20 knot south westerly this afternoon, they are “expecting it to get nasty”. Wharington is also prepared to be aggressive, despite the forecast. “If they keep the throttle down, so will we”. Grant has estimated they will finish late tomorrow afternoon and he believes the race will be decided overnight. “What happens between now and ‘the corner’ (Tasman Island) will decide the race.”

Retired (in order)

1. Targé (Stephen David)

2. Kontrol (Peter Blake)

3. Pla Loma IV (Rob Reynolds)

4. Wiseman’s Ferry (Roger Williamson)

5. EZ Street (Bruce Dover)

6. KAZ (David Pescud)

7. Delta Wing (Bill Koppe)

8. Quest Travelscene 66 (John Bennetto)

9. Hidden Agenda (Graham Gibson)

10. Grasshopper (Graham Jackson)

11. Prime Time (David Mason)

12. Yellowtail (Michael Cranitch)

13. Phillip’s Foote Witchdoctor (Maurice Cameron)

14. Zen (Gordon Ketelbey)

15. Kickatinalong (Mike de Berg)

16. Windsong of Mornington (Jim Watson)

17. Komatsu a Few Good Men (Shane Kearns)

Headed inshore to reassess

1. Toecutter (Robert Hick)

2. Outlaw (Ray Semmens) 3. Pretty Fly II (Colin & Gladys Woods)

4. By Order of the Secretary (George Shaw)

5. Stormy Petrel (Kevin O’Shea)

6. Yeah Baby (Mick Hinchey/Dennis Hume)

7. Horwath BRI (Tony Levett)

8. Sailmaker (Jason van Zetten)