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Leading Sydney-Hobart Yachts Surge Into Bass Strait

Leading yachts surge into Bass Strait, Slade still hopeful of record

The three maxis leading the Rolex Sydney Hobart fleet entered Bass Strait around 4am this morning with Bob Oatley's Wild Oats XI still in the lead.

At 0500hrs the Sydney maxi, which is aiming for a hat trick of line honours wins, held a 9 mile break on Mike Slade's British maxi City Index Leopard, with Skandia another 6 miles astern. Nevertheless, with the wind now on the nose, Slade is hopeful he may yet wind the local race favourite in.

"We're trying hard to pull back Wild Oats XI after her splendid downhill run. We are in reaching conditions now, doing 14 to 15 knots with our reaching sails up," Slade said at 0500hrs this morning. "We have 12 knots of breeze and there is plenty of west in it.

"The 10 hour downhill run was not our best suit but we quite like this. We are trying to get some separation from Wild Oats XI by going east looking for stronger wind and at the moment we are getting it.

"We have the whole of Bass Strait ahead of us and these are conditions we like so we must make the most of it."

Slade said his plan at this stage is to get close enough to Wild Oats XI by the time they reach Flinders Island that they can take advantage of any opportunities that may come their way in the quirky winds off the Tasmanian Coast. "We've got no idea what will happen when we get to Tasmania. At the moment it is a pure speed race."

Slade believes that, with the amount of ground the maxis covered in the first 10 hours of the race the record is still a possibility even though the front has slowed them down. At their present speed City Index Leopard would expect to arrive in Hobart about an hour and a half too late to break the record, but if the breeze freshens during the day "we could easily gain that hour and a half."

Roger Sturgeon's Farr STP 65 Rosebud is hanging onto fourth as the American boat prepares to enter Bass Strait, narrowly ahead of Matt Allen's Ichi Ban in fifth.

The three Volvo 60s in the now 80 boat fleet have fought their own private battle overnight. On board the Volvo 60 DHL - The Daily Telegraph, nerves were frayed at 0430hrs this morning while the crew sat out the lull after the northerly breeze dropped out south of Montague Island on the NSW south coast.

Navigator Julie Hodder, who has reached the 10 race milestone for women with this race, says "it's all over the shop. We went inshore to pick up the SW breeze so hopefully it will come in soon. We wanted to be inside the other Volvos, we just hope they do not have too much wind out wide."

A short time later, they were off and running again having picked up a sou'easter.

On the all important handicap stakes, Bruce Taylor's brand new IRC 40 one-off Chutzpah was leading the IRC fleet at 0500hrs this morning. Taylor, who has placed second and third overall from the 26 Rolex Sydney Hobarts the Victorian has contested, had an inkling pre-race that they would do well given the forecast.

While the frontrunners charge into Bass Strait, the small to mid sized boats have claimed the top three IRC results as their own, Chutzpah leading Morna, the name of the boat that last took the triple line honours in 1946, 1947 and 1948 but not the same boat. At 0500hrs this morning, Lake Macquarie boat Inner Circle was third on IRC results while Rick Scott-Murphy's ACT boat Namadgi was leading the PHS leaderboard.

The fleet is now spread over 141 nautical miles with Steve Humphries' West Australian S&S 34 Huckleberry the backmarker as they sail south of Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast.

Michele Colenso's Capriccio of Rhu is still in Wollongong Harbour but plans to resume racing this morning. The unnamed crewman went ashore last night for an x-ray on a severed finger having received medical attention from a doctor on board.

Today's forecast for the approach to Bass Strait is west/southwesterly winds 10/20 knots easing to 5/15 knots during the afternoon and becoming variable to 10 knots at night. Afternoon inshore seabreezes to 15 knots. - Jim Gale/Lisa Ratcliff


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