Things are starting to heat up in the world of southern hemisphere offshore racing with just two day left to the start of the 2004 Ingles Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race

Things are starting to heat up in the world of southern hemisphere offshore racing with just two day left to the start of the 2004 Ingles Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race.

This 384-nautical mile race is a feeder to the northern racing programme, including Hahn Premium Race Week at Hamilton Island. The current number of entries is 75 – the largest fleet since 1999 when 82 boats took part.

This week’s run-up to the event has seen the arrival of the two 98ft super maxis Konica Minolta (Stewart Thwaites), formerly known as Zana, from New Zealand, and Skandia (Grant Wharington) from Victoria, at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. The two state-of-the-art yachts will pit themselves against George Snow’s Jutson 79, Brindabella, the boat that still holds the race record of 27 hours 35 minutes set in 1999.

Their arrival in Sydney marks the beginning of the CYCA’s eight-race Bluewater Pointscore series, including the pinnacle: the 60th Rolex Sydney to Hobart.

Grant Wharington’s Skandia will have a skeleton crew onboard for the race up north . Wharington said: “We have decided to reduce our crew number by 50 per cent and go with 10 for the next race. Our focus is on performance and also building our crew for the next Volvo Ocean Race, and as such we need to start getting used a reduced number of hands and an even more intense race experience. We are aware that this reduction puts an even larger strain on the crew and some may argue that it puts us at a disadvantage. It is difficult to analyse the performance increase of weight reduction versus performance gain through more efficient sail handling, but at the end of the day, it’s all about trying different options and learning from our experiences.”

Meanwhile, Konica Minolta’s skipper Stewart Thwaites will have Nicorette’s skipper Ludde Ingvall onboard for the battle going north . Ingvall currently has in production a new 90ft maxi yacht. The new Nicorette maxi will be a triple moving foil system, incorporating a canting keel and is due to launch on 20 October to begin her campaign for Hobart. Thwaites is looking forward to Ingvall joining him on Konica Minolta for the trip north, saying: “Ludde has always been very hospitable when I have come over to do the Sydney to Hobart’s and Ludde is without a boat at the moment, so as a friend I invited him along. He is going to do that and then also Hamilton Island with us.”

Once Konica Minolta has completed the northern programme, she will return to Wellington, New Zealand, and spend about a month there before she heads to Auckland to race in the Lindauer Coastal Classic. From there she’ll head straight back to Sydney for the 60th Rolex Sydney to Hobart, as well as competing in the pre-Hobart programme including the Canon Big Boat Challenge. Thwaites continued: “I want to do that this year because we just had no preparation time last year for Hobart. Last year there were three of the crew who stepped on the boat the morning of the race, they’d never even seen the boat before. That made it hard.” With all of Thwaites’s preparation for the coming offshore season, it looks like Konica is going to present its competitiors with some pretty stiff competition this year.

The race weather – a forecast is due from the Australian Bureau of Meterology in the next couple of days – will determine whether Snow’s Brindabella can hold her record for another year.