Super-maxi Wild Oats XI, eight times winner of the Sydney-to-Hobart, had to pull out of the race last night after fierce weather split her mainsail.
A severe southerly buster has played havoc with the fleet, forcing a series of retirements through the night and morning. The predicted southerly squalls hit with a vengeance as the evening wore on, giving competitors a seriously rough night. Calmer weather awaits the fleet in Bass Strait, but how many will get that far is anyone’s guess.
The race was afflicted by drama from the start: a three-boat collision on the line caused severe damage to all involved, forcing the immediate withdrawal of Lupa Of London, Tasmanian entry Cougar 2 and the Chinese yacht Ark 323.
The American maxi Comanche, owned by Australian supermodel Kristy Hinze and her billionaire husband, also briefly late in the evening with a broken rudder after running into 44-knot squalls. No sooner had the race organisers announced its withdrawal than skipper Ken Read decided to persevere, attempting running repairs at sea. Comanche had lost the lead to Rambler 88 by morning but seems to be able to “limp” extremely effectively.
Veteran yacht master Syd Fisher’s Ragamuffin 100 is close behind and Maserati is fourth at 10am on Sunday. The celebrity yacht Perpetual Loyal, carrying former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke, sports journalist Erin Molan and Wallabies winger Kurtley Beale on board in a charity fundraiser, was well in touch with the leaders until it too suffered storm damage overnight. It is now limping to port with a smashed rudder. In all, 19 yachts had withdrawn by noon on Sunday.
There are two main prizes in the race. Line honours go to the first yacht to finish. Handicap honours give every competitor a chance at glory. Each yacht is accorded a TCF or “time correctional factor” that is calculated following a complex formula taking into consideration the yacht’s length, weight and sail area. The unique TCF is applied to each yacht’s elapsed time to establish the competitor’s handicap time.
The early handicap leader was the 66-foot Reichal/Pugh-designed Black Jack which held absolute tenth place but was well ahead of the fleet on handicap – until it too retired on Sunday morning. – Report and photo by Jesse Mullens