The Sydney to Hobart yacht race has been thrown into chaos with nearly 20 boats being forced to retire, including line honours favourite and defending champion Wild Oats XI.
Gale-force winds and huge swells damaged rudders and sails overnight.
Rambler 88, skippered by Kiwi Brad Butterworth, is now in the lead but may not be for long. She limped slowly, sadly, back to Sydney harbour, less than 24 hours after she left to much fanfare.
Wild Oats XI, defending champs and the favourite to win Sydney to Hobart again, is now out, victim to the brutal overnight storm.
And there’s no sailing when the $200,000 mainsail is shredded.
“Yeah very disappointing – I said to the guys certainly a very different feeling to Constitution Dock, that’s for sure,” says Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards.
“But that’s part of the sport; it’s an equipment sport. We had a failure and that’s just the way it is.”
He’s not alone. Nineteen boats have, so far, have retired, including the highly touted super maxi Perpetual Loyal, with retired Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke on board.
Their sails, their rudders are simply no match for the huge, powerful swells and gale-force winds, up to 40 knots.
“It’s pretty full on, these big boats. In those conditions they feel like they are 200-feet long, not 100-feet long. There’s a lot going on; the loads are huge. It’s very, very windy. We had very heavy rain. It was hard to see,” says Richards.
Early race leader Comanche also withdrew, only to announce that crews would try to repair a broken rudder and dagger board and continue the race.
It proved the right decision, with the American boat catching Rambler 88, skippered by New Zealander Butterworth. It’s expected they will both cross the finish line tomorrow.
“The fact we are going through hard conditions is what makes this race the race that it is,” says John Cameron from Cruising Yacht Club Commodore.
“And it wouldn’t be the best race in the world without conditions to test everybody, to test the people, to test the boats and test the conditions and make the best of it.”
And it was tough conditions for the spectator boats too. A small boat with former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles on board started sinking and to the rescue were several nudist sunbathers.