Handicap contenders chase time in the final stages of the Rolex Sydney Hobart

Time is running out for the mid-sized yachts hoping to win the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart on handicap, but the small boats still have time to spoil Bob Oatley’s party by denying Wild Oats XI an historic treble.

While theoretically a number of 12 to 20 metre yachts are still in with a chance, the task before them is becoming mountainous.

Quantum Racing, for example, will take the lead from Wild Oats XI if she can be in Hobart by 0419 Thursday, but at her present speed, her estimated time of arrival is 0635 and that does not take into consideration any extra distance she would have to sail if she has to tack across Storm Bay or up the Derwent River. In the prevailing westerly, that is precisely what they will have to do. In other words, Quantum Racing has roughly nine hours to pick up two and a quarter hours on her race time. Not an impossible task, but a tall order nevertheless.

Similarly the Irish 50-footer Chieftain has six hours to pick up two and a half hours on her currently estimated race time, Wot?s Next has 15 hours to improve on her current estimated time of arrival by three hours and Heaven Can Wait has seven hours to pick up three and a half hours on her estimated race time.

Wedgetail, the new Queensland 40-footer, has the best chance of disappointing Wild Oats XI. She has 11 hours to reduce her current estimated time of arrival by the 45 minutes she needs.

Looking at those figures, it is not surprising that Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards is pretty relaxed in his Hobart hotel. But he still has a long wait before he can pop open some more Champagne with certainty.

On paper at the moment, the smallest boats of the fleet have the most time to recover to take the lead, but they also have the most time in which to do it. At present they are battling unhelpful westerlies in Bass Strait but a strong enough wind out of the north-east could change the picture entirely. They could accelerate down the Tasmanian coast and of course they wouldn’t have to battle across Storm Bay against the wind.