Wild Oats XI draws first blood in Rolex Sydney to Hobart which started earlier today

In perfect Sydney summer weather the 85 boats of the 2005 Rolex Sydney-Hobart fleet staged an incident free start to the race earlier today.

In a light 8 knot north-easterly breeze, surrounded by a fleet of spectator craft and watched by hundreds of thousands from the foreshore the boats set off from the two start lines (one for the biggest boats, the other about 100metres astern) on time at 1320 AEDT.

Only two boats, Toecutter and Inner Circle, were recalled to start again, having crossed the line early. Both were starting from the second starting line.

As expected the two biggest canting keel maxis, Wild Oats XI and Alfa Romeo quickly pulled away from the fleet, with Wild Oats XI in command at the first mark. The newer of the two maxis showed astonishing speed in the smooth harbour waters, rounding the first mark almost thirty seconds ahead of her rival. Skandia, the rebuilt maxi from Melbourne rounded the mark about a minute behind Alfa Romeo.

Best of the smaller boats was the Queensland 50-footer Heaven Can Wait.

As first out of the harbour Wild Oats XI had won the first little contest of this long, 640-mile race, but as the two boats raced neck and neck towards the offshore mark neither Wild Oats XI seemed able stretch her lead nor Alfa Romeo to shave the gap. It did appear though that Alfa Romeo was a little more settled in the washing machine conditions created by the almost solid wall of spectator craft and the more open waters

Once around the seaward mark the strategy for both boats became clear. Find the shortest route to Hobart and go for it.

An hour into the race the two front runners were crossing Botany Bay, the rocks of La Perouse just a few hundred metres from Alfa Romeo as she finally inched ahead of Wild Oats XI on the inside.

At the start of the race Marion Cooper, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania dropped a white rose into the harbour in honour of John Bennetto, veteran of 44 Rolex Sydney Hobarts and one of the great characters of the race who died in Hobart just a few days ago. At the seaward mark the crew of John’s boat, Quest, also cast a wreath into the sea as they turned for home.

At time of writing, the leaders were halfway to Wollongong, with Wild Oats XI and Alfa Romeo match-racing down the coast, Wild Oats XI half a nautical mile behind current leader Alfa Romeo.