Nine retirements so far including two dismastings and a sinking 27/12/06

Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, the 2005 line honours, handicap and course record setter, continues to lead the 69 remaining boats competing in the Rolex Sydney Hobart towards the finish line.

At 7.10pm local time today the race favourite was mid-way across Bass Strait, the famous channel separating Tasmania from mainland Australia, having extended her lead over Grant Wharington’s second placed Skandia to 18 miles.

This afternoon round the world navigator Adrienne Cahalan, on board Wild Oats XI, described the sea state as “very rough” with the wind up to 25-30 knots. “It is a close race with Skandia so both boats are fighting very hard,” she said.

While the race may have been close between the 30m supermaxis in the race for line honours, this is unlikely to remain the case for long. At 13:35 local time today, while she was just three miles astern of Wild Oats XI, Skandia broke her canard, the single centrally mounted daggerboard, used to prevent leeway when going to windward. “We have no idea what happened – we may have hit something, we really don’t know at this stage. All we know is that we heard a very loud crack and then the guys saw it floating away,” commented Skandia skipper Grant Wharington.

While they will still be able to reach Hobart in this condition it will considerably diminish their ability to go to windward efficiently. “We are currently experimenting with the level of keel cant to maximize our performance,” Wharington continued. “I guess given the carnage of last night we should be grateful – but it’s really frustrating given how well were going, and the conservative way we have been sailing.”

Wharington will have to fend off their second place on the water from his old steed, Matt Allen’s Volvo Open 70 Ichi Ban, 15 miles astern of her at the latest update.

A tactically complex night lies ahead for the front runners as a weak cold front is set to pass over the eastern Bass Strait tonight and into tomorrow morning. This is likely to see the wind drop, fill in from the northeast giving them a few brief hours of running before the wind drops again and reverts once again to the south as they feel the first effects of the high pressure system over the Great Australian Bight coming their way.

After 78 yachts started the Rolex Sydney Hobart yesterday, the fleet is now down to 69 yachts following the latest retirement of Philip King’s Salona due to steering problems. The Cookson 50, Living Doll, David Pescud’s Lyons 54, Sailors With Disabilities, Bruce Taylor’s Sydney 38, Chutzpah, and Peter Mooney’s Sydney 47, Endorfin have also retired with steering or rudder issues while the 40-footer Mr Kite has retired with rig problems.

Following the dismastings earlier this morning of ABN AMRO and Maximus, the Australian rescue authorities were once again alerted this morning to the plight of Mike Freebairn’s 1968 overall Sydney Hobart winner, Ray White Koomooloo.
Sailing in a 22 knot south-westerly, Freebairn’s 41 footer fell off a backless wave and soon after started flooding. “We did everything we could to save the boat. We started ripping up the floorboards trying to find where the water was coming in. We couldn’t locate the problem. We started bailing for a while, then I decided for the safety of the crew that we’d better abandon,” said Freebairn.

Ray White Koomooloo’s skipper and crew transferred via liferaft to the British services 67ft Challenge yacht, Adventure at 1100 local time. While the yacht was still floating at the time they abandoned her, Freebairn was not expecting her to stay afloat for much longer. From Adventure the stricken crew were transferred to a police launch at 1300. The police launch was then en route to the 1988 overall Rolex Sydney Hobart race winner, Illusion, to transfer off skipper Graham Jackson, who is believed to have broken some ribs.

This evening Maximus is in Ulladulla, 100 miles south of Sydney. All but one of her crew are now out of hospital. ABN AMRO One is currently under engine and jury rig and is also due into Ulladulla this evening to pick up fuel.

Under IRC handicap the tables are turning regularly with Matt Allen’s Volvo Open 70 Ichi Ban currently leading from Alex Whitworth’s Berrimilla, with Wild Oats third. The top three have pulled out a slight lead over Geoff Ross’ fourth placed Yendys on corrected time.