Alfa hangs on, while Leopard chases and Ran takes IRC lead

Rolex Sydney Hobart Race leader Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo leading over the final miles to the finish of the 628 nautical mile classic and with a healthy 17nm advantage over nearest rival Wild Oats XI faced a final hurdle — a strong sou’-wester that will give his weary crew a final hard upwind workout.
Through another day of stop-start sailing, Alfa retained the race lead she has held since clearing Sydney Heads. Wild Oats XI, a near sister Reichel/Pugh 100ft maxi, passed Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard and gained on Alfa, which had led her by up to 30 miles throughout the morning.

The three supermaxis had opened a huge 80nm gap on the remainder of the fleet by emerging first from calms and light air created by a high pressure ridge in Bass Strait, then ran into more frustrating light patches off the east coast of Tasmania.

Leopard, the heaviest boat of the three, suffered most, down to just over a knot of boat speed at noon while Alfa and Oats also lost time “parking” in the soft spots.

Wild Oats XI passed Leopard and gained on Alfa to be 13nm behind off Maria Island, 70nm from the finish, with both yachts under spinnakers and traveling at about 14 knots on a nor’-wester that swung northeast under the influence of coastal sea breezes.

But the with the southwest change looming, the race for line honours was not over, Crichton warned. “We still have a lot of racing to do because we are 30 miles from Tasman Island, with another 40 miles into the Derwent and the forecast is for 20-30 knots on the nose, so anything can happen.

“It’s difficult because we are going to run into the southerly first and they are still under spinnaker. I guess we will have to wait until we get into the sou’-wester and see where they are, but we will certainly cover wherever possible.”
Australia’s most respected yachting forecaster Roger Badham sees another hurdle in the wind pattern: a curtain of total calm descending on the Derwent River over the last 11nm to the finish after 2100-2200 hrs.

Wild Oats XI tactician Iain Murray said there were still opportunities to catch Alfa after rounding Tasman Island. “It’s a difficult part of the day; sailing into the night. We’re in a north-easter; we know there is a sou’-wester around the corner, there will be a transition zone. It’s been a very challenging race, keeping the boat going the whole time, obviously doing a lot of tacking and gybing, changing sails. It keeps you right on your toes.”

At 1800, Alfa was only 5nm from Tasman Island, 17nm ahead of Oats and making 12.4 knots to Oats’ 11.9 kn with Leopard another six miles behind.
The next-sized group of boats, the 50-70 footers, got going again through the day after clearing the Bass Strait doldrums, to make fast progress in the nor’wester which freshened to 15-20kn off Flinders Island and 20-25kn off Eddystone Point at the north-eastern extremity of Tasmania.

On the final miles of the Bass Strait crossing they reached at speeds of 15-17kn under reaching headsails and staysails. One of them, the British Judel/Vrolijk 72 Ran (Niklas Zennstrom), jumped to the top of the overall IRC handicap calculations at 1800, followed by Yendys, Geoff Ross’ Reichel/Pugh 55, the TP52 Shogun (Rob Hanna), Reichel/Pugh 63 Loki (Stephen Ainsworth) and Farr 55 Living Doll (Michael Hiatt). Alfa Romeo, which until this morning had led the corrected time calculations, was back in 16th place. But this group still had to traverse the light patches along the Tasmanian coast.

For much of the day, the smaller boats in the back end of the fleet remained stuck in the Bass Strait doldrums or in light southerly headwinds. This afternoon Love & War, the 1970s vintage Sparkman & Stephens 47 that won the Tattersall’s Cup IRC overall in the 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race in strong upwind conditions, was doing only 3.8kn and was calculated to be 72nd on overall IRC corrected time.

Another 1970s S&S design, the 41-footer Pinta-M (Atse Blei) from the Netherlands, was down to 2.7kn and 54th overall on IRC.

Ninety-five yachts are still racing, from a fleet of 100 starters, with five boats retired. The Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race fleet has crews representing the USA, UK, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, and New Caledonia as well as every Australian state.

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